This article has been updated to include more information and further insights from parishioners:
By Jay Nies
Unforeseen graces started flowing when parishioners of St. Jude Thaddeus in Mokane set about shoring up and restoring their 128-year-old church.
More young families started coming to Mass with their children.
Inactive Catholics began returning to the fold.
And the work isn’t even finished yet.
“It’s not just about building and giving the church a new look,” insisted fifth-generation parishioner Heather Murphy.
“It’s about renewing our faith and returning to what we used to be at the beginning,” she said.
Attendance at Sunday Masses, currently being celebrated in the parish hall, has gone from about 25 to more than 50, and younger people are joining their stalwart elders in liturgical roles.
“People are seeing new momentum in the practice of our faith and worship,” said Mrs. Murphy. “We want to carry that forward, to use it to motivate the community to get back to our roots.”
The parish will hold an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, in the soon-to-be completed St. Jude Thaddeus Church, 401 Adams Street.
Snacks and fellowship will be served in the nearby parish hall. All are welcome.
“Take a tour, explore the beautifully renovated historic building, and walk through 113 years of parish history,” the promotional materials state.
A special invitation goes out to any “stay-at-home” Catholics in the area — those who for whatever reason have stepped away from the Church of their upbringing.
“We want to take this opportunity to invite people back and address whatever made them disassociate themselves from their Catholic faith,” said Father Joseph Abah, pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus Parish and of St. Peter Parish in Fulton.
“We want to take this time to re-energize our faith and refuel the Church and renew people’s confidence in salvation and eternal life,” the priest stated.
The late Father Frank Bussmann was pastor of the Fulton and Mokane parishes when St. Jude parishioners started planning and saving money for a new church seven years ago.
Their whitewashed house of worship on a hill had been expanded and renovated several times but seemed to be nearing the end of its useful life.
Structural problems and fraying utilities made the situation urgent.
Fr. Bussmann’s sudden death in 2017 set the project back. The COVID-19 pandemic created more delays.
Then came a clearer picture of the cost of building a suitable new church.
“We went through a couple of architects, and by the time the figures were run, we found out that it was way beyond what this small community can come up with,” said Father Abah.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight encouraged the parish to take another look at the church they already had.
“We went back and found out that the issues with it weren’t as bad as we thought,” said Fr. Abah.
The money that had already been raised for a new church would cover much of the cost of renovating the old one.
“As we moved into the hall temporarily for worship, the very idea that this small community in a small town was in the process of giving their church a new look — for whatever reason, we started seeing a gradual increase in turnout on Sunday,” the priest stated.
He recalled that when he first arrived as pastor, older members of a few families were carrying out all the liturgical roles every Sunday.
“Now, we have younger families who are stepping up, and that energy is being passed to their children,” he noted.
Babies routinely contribute their own accolades and laments during Mass.
“The church is alive with children, and they’re part of the worshipping community!” said Fr. Abah.
The farther along the renovation goes, the happier the St. Jude parishioners become.
“I think we’re all very, very glad that we went this route,” said Mrs. Murphy.
“I’m not sure any of us were fully prepared for what would come with it, including the emotions,” she stated.
Armed with two history degrees, Mrs. Murphy got busy documenting the restoration work, researching the building’s history and contacting descendants of early parishioners.
“I found out who was our first marriage here … and our first Baptism,” she said. “I found their families, and they provided us pictures.”
Descendants of that first Baptism drove to Mokane to deliver photos of him in person.
The family are members of St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Pettis County and regularly attended Mass in the St. John the Evangelist Chapel in Bahner before it was destroyed by fire Aug. 1.
“They had the best time coming here and getting to walk through the church and share those photos,” said Mrs. Murphy. “I think they were happy to realize what hasn’t been lost.”
The family also had photos of the old Yoest Hotel in Mokane, where Father George Hoehn of Starkenburg offered Mass one Sunday each month in the years before St. Jude Thaddeus Parish was founded.
A display cabinet in the church vestibule will highlight such ties to salvation history.
Mrs. Murphy also plans to provide copies of historical photos and documents to the diocesan archives for future research.
Old and new
As renovation work got under way, parishioners got their first glimpse of the church’s 1895-vintage vaulted ceiling that had been covered for decades.
Original stenciling on the ceiling has now been restored.
Replacing the bell-tower louvres offered rare views of the 1911-vintage bell and the inside of the tower.
“Watching people’s faces as they go into the church and see what it looks like now — I’m really enjoying that part,” said Mrs. Murphy.
A new altar, ambo, pews and repository for the tabernacle are being built.
However, the existing tabernacle, baptismal font, Stations of the Cross, statues and pedestals will be put back into use.
New woodwork and trim have been milled to match patterns from the time when the church was built.
“The general contractor has been really great about understanding the importance of retaining the look and feel of an old country church,” said Mrs. Murphy.
St. Jude Thaddeus Parish has no paid staff. The work that gets done gets done by parishioners.
“For many of us, this is very personal,” said Mrs. Murphy.
Fr. Hoehn presided at Mrs. Murphy’s great-great-grandparents’ wedding in Starkenburg. Her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and she were baptized in St. Jude Thaddeus Church, as were her children, who are now sixth-generation parishioners.
Many other parishioners also follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to Holy Communion, she said.
The church was originally built in 1895 for a local Presbyterian congregation.
Over the years, many of its members moved away, and the flock eventually disbanded.
Fr. Hoehn, who had family ties to the owner of the Yoest Hotel, began traveling to town for Mass aboard the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (“Katy”) Railroad, from which Mokane takes its name.
The town was once home to the railroad’s bustling division headquarters.
“Back then, the closest Catholic church was in Fulton or Starkenburg or Rhineland,” Mrs. Murphy noted. “If you were out here, you were pretty much by your lonesome.”
Years before that, Jesuit Father Ferdinand Helias, remembered today as the Apostle of Central Missouri, had presided at Mass at the nearby former French settlement of Cote Sans Dessein.
When St. Jude Thaddeus was established on April 1, 1909, as a mission of Starkenburg, Fr. Hoehn was appointed pastor, serving until jurisdiction was transferred to St. Peter Parish in Fulton in November 1925.
“I had the pleasure of founding a new congregation, namely, Mokane, a little town on the MK&T Railroad about 10 miles farther than Rhineland,” Fr. Hoehn wrote in his memoirs.
“I bought a neat little church belonging to the Presbyterians and arranged it for services. I had the good fortune to obtain a nice altar and placed on it St. Jude Thaddeus, the Apostle to whom so little honor is paid, but who is such a helpful saint in times of great distress.”
Fr. Abah noted that the renovation would not have been possible without the sacrificial support of parishioners Dan and Pat Dickneite.
He also called to mind the important role church buildings play in people’s spirituality “and in the way they see themselves as Catholics.”
He called to mind a man who had been baptized, received his First Holy Communion and served at many Masses in St. Jude Thaddeus Church, but had ceased practicing his faith many years ago.
The man happened to be driving on Highway C through Mokane one evening and pulled onto a side street to let the speeding car behind him get past.
He drove by the church of his childhood and noticed that the lights were on.
He went inside and saw the renovation work that was taking place.
Right away, he volunteered to pay for new pews.
He delivered a check a few days later, and he and Fr. Abah had a long discussion about faith.
The priest invited him to Confession and then to Mass.
The man returned to the regular practice of his faith several months before becoming seriously ill.
“I have to conclude that this is a sign from God,” said Fr. Abah. “We pray for him every week, and we hope he can make it to the dedication and the open house.”
Before and after
Parishioner Deb Bond said she’s extremely proud of the renovation and believes her ancestors would be, too.
“As a fourth-generation member of St. Jude, I feel a deep responsibility to my best to leave our church better than I found it,” she stated.
Ms. Bond has been thinking a lot lately about sacrifices her ancestors had to make in order to build and maintain “a safe and sacred place where the sacraments are there to be shared and we can all grow in our faith.”
She remembers her grandparents, Elvin and Bernadine (Eldringhoff) Clingman, talking about the two-mile trip by took by horse and buggy each Sunday for Mass.
“Now that is commitment!” she said, “not only to our savior and their faith but to their neighbors and friends who gathered as a church.”
Ms. Bond said she thanks God every week for the gift of her pastor and vibrant Church family.
She’s also grateful not only for all of her fellow third- and fourth-generation parishioners but also all the young families “who are blessing us with their dedication to their faith, to their children and to St. Jude Thaddeus.”
A time to build
Mrs. Murphy emphasized that for all the great history that’s been uncovered through the process, the renovation of St. Jude Thaddeus Church is much more about the future than the past.
“It was deeply important to us that we created and completed something that would leave our children with a parish that is not just surviving but is truly thriving,” she stated.
“We wanted to leave for them a building that was structurally sound and beautifully renovated to house them for generations to come while allowing them to focus their energies on growing and maintaining our parish,” she said.
She noted that every generation has contributed to improving and maintaining St. Jude Thaddeus Church.
“Now, it’s our turn to care for the building and for the parish and to leave it in better condition than we found it,” she said.
She emphasized that in every possible way, “this has been a labor of love.”
“We took care of the work of creating a comfortable and useable home for (the people) and we involved them every step of the way so that they could really understand what goes into making our parish viable and functional and growing,” she said.
For updates on the renovation of St. Jude Thaddeus Church, visit: stjudemokane.diojeffcity.org/renovations.