About Our Parish History

The first parish to be established in Southern Nebraska to ease cultural tensions was that of Saint Mary in Nebraska City. These tensions developed wherever Catholics from two or more groups with different mores and ideals settled in large numbers. Such difficulties emphasized the fact that the Catholic Church is a religious institution and at the same time a social organism with roots that are deeply ethnic. Since the Church exists to serve all people, cultural differences could not be ignored without the risk of serious disruption. One method of dealing with the problem was the establishment of national or ethnic parishes that functioned as intermediate institutions helping settlers to integrate the new with the old. These ethnic parishes embodied the idealism, traditions and customs that united the people through the celebration of the liturgy and through social functions.

On December 8, 1869, Father Curtis, who was serving as administrator of the vicariate during the Bishop’s absence, reported to Bishop O’Gorman that some of the English-speaking Catholics of Nebraska City had requested the formation of a separate parish with an English-speaking pastor. They were unhappy because all the services at Saint Benedict’s Church in Nebraska City were conducted in the German language. Father Curtis understood the difficulty of these Irish people and encouraged them to proceed with their project.

As might be expected, Father Emmanuel Hartig, O.S.B., pastor of Saint Benedict’s, was disturbed with this development since he had depended on all the parishioners to help liquidate the debt. Cultural differences soon sparked strong emotions between the administrators of the vicariate and the pastor of Saint Benedict’s.

How much influence the opinion of Father Curtis had on Bishop O’Gorman is not known. The fact is that the Benedictine Fathers did withdraw from all the parishes south of the Platte River with the one exception of Saint Benedict’s in Nebraska City.

This conflict and many others that occurred reflected the spirit of the times when stereotyped images were applied to all members of a particular culture without questioning their veracity. These prejudices were fostered by the press, as well as by state and federal governments.

On December 4, 1869, (four days before Father Curtis wrote to Bishop O’Gorman) lots five and six of block 104, measuring 50x100 feet and located at the corner of Second Corso and Tenth Street were purchased as a site for the national church.

Father Curtis was then faced with the problem of finding an English-speaking priest for the new parish. He thought of John McGoldrich, a clerical student from the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was then in charge of Holy Angels School in Omaha. He found another teacher for the school so that McGoldrich might be free to continue his studies for the priesthood at Saint Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Immediately after his ordination in 1870, Father McGoldrich was appointed the first pastor of Saint Mary Catholic Church in Nebraska City. He celebrated Holy Mass in Hawk’s Hall on South Sixth Street while the small frame church and rectory were being constructed.

In the annual report of 1872, Father McGoldrich stated that the parish consisted of thirty families with a total of 65 adults. In addition to Saint Mary’s, Father McGoldrich attended the Catholics in Tecumseh, Brownville and Turkey Creek.

Despite previous differences, the Benedictine Fathers and the diocesan priests worked cooperatively in Nebraska City. In fact, when Father McGoldrich left Saint Mary’s, the Benedictines took care of the Irish parish and the missions until 1876, when Father John Hayes was named the pastor. His successors were Fathers B. Mackin 1877, Hugh Cumminskey 1878–1879 and Eugene Cussons 1879–1898.

During Father Cusson’s pastorate, the old Christian brick church at the corner of Sixth and Laramie Streets was purchased from the city at an auction for $1,100. The building, measuring 40x90 feet, had been erected in 1868 at a cost of approximately $12,000. Of that amount, $4,000 was borrowed from the State School Fund. Since the members of the Christian Church were unable to pay this loan, the state took over the property and donated it to the city schools. They in turn gave it to the city. The Catholics purchased the building from the city. Under the supervision of Father Cusson, the old colonial-style church was renovated and remodeled for the parish church.

In March 1886, the parish purchased property in Section 5 of Clifton Lawn for $500 to be used as a cemetery.

Father Cusson died on February 1, 1898. His successors were Fathers Walter McDonald 1898–1899, William McKenna 1899–1904, Joseph T. Roche 1904–1908, Bernard Ulbrick 1908–1909, and John E. Hahn 1909–1910.

During the pastorate of Father Roche, the proposal was made to consolidate Saint Benedicts’s and Saint Mary’s into one parish and then construct a new, large brick church. Because of vehement opposition, the proposal was soon abandoned.

The Precious Blood Fathers were in charge of the parish from 1910–1983. The pastors during that era were Fathers C. Vogelmann 1910–1911, Ambrose Dows 1911–1912, Bartholomew Besinger 1912–1914, Theodore Sauer 1914–1925, Rudolph Stolz 1925–1935, Albert Gerhardstein 1936–1938, Albin Bauer 1938–1953, Richard Steinmann 1953–1963, George W. Heinzen 1963–1968, Anthony Ley 1968–1979 and Paul Sattler 1979–1983.

The renovated Christian church was used as the place of worship for many years. In 1941, Anton Kettler designed a new church and rectory. The building committee included 45 men of the parish. The actual direction of the project was assigned to Father Bauer, Harry Bischof and Joseph Gangel.

The church and attached rectory were built at the corner of First Avenue and Sixth Street. The light brick Romanesque edifice was 72 feet wide and 126 feet long. The estimated cost was $72,000. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on July 6, 1941. Bishop Kucera blessed the cornerstone on September 1, 1941.

Saint Mary’s new church and rectory were dedicated by Bishop Kucera on July 12, 1942. The Very Reverend Joseph M. Maraling, Provincial of the Precious Blood Fathers, delivered the sermon. The bell given to the parish by Bishop Kucera was named in honor of Saint Anthony and was used for the first time on June 20, 1942.

The women of the parish who were named Mary accumulated funds for the purchase of a Daprato statue of the Blessed Virgin. The statue of Our Lady of Grace was cast of a solid mass of stone weighing 1,300 pounds. It was erected in front of the new church on February 3, 1943.

The stations of the cross donated by Eleanor Bischof and Clara Plumer were blessed and erected on March 7, 1943, by Bishop Kucera. The Bishop thanked the donors of the stations and also the “Marys” whose contributions made it possible to have the statue in front of the church.

In 1945, a statue of the Sacred Heart was donated by the Vanderheiden family in memory of Father Joseph Vanderheiden, O.S.B., Army chaplain, who was killed aboard a Japanese prison ship December 15, 1944.

Windows donated by the parishioners as memorials to their departed relatives were installed in 1947. The cost was $12,795.80. The same year, the interior of the church was painted. Bishop Kucera blessed the windows and the decorations in May 1947.

On June 13, 1976, the parish celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation with a Holy Mass of thanksgiving offered by Bishop Glennon P. Flavin.

Because of a lack of personnel, the Precious Blood Fathers withdrew from Saint Mary’s on June 15, 1983. They had served the parish for 63 years. Father Philip Rauth, who had been pastor of Saint Anne’s in Campbell, was appointed pastor. His assistant was Father Thomas D. McGuire.

Father Rauth served until 1993. Recent pastors have been Fathers Steven Major 1993–1998, Michael McCabe 1998–2018 and Jonathan Haschke, 2018-19, Thomas Schultes 2019-present. Their assistants have been Fathers John Cooper 1983-1985, Thomas McGuire 1985-1986, Mark Seiker 1986–1988, David Hintz 1988–1989, Michael McCabe 1989–1991, Bradley Zitek 1991–1993, Thomas Kuffel 1993–1995, Matthew Eickhoff in residence 1996–1998, David Drewelow 1997–1999, Finnian Nwaozor 1999–2000, Ramon Decaen 2000–2003, Joseph Bernardo 2003–2005, Brendan Kelly 2005–2006, Mark Cyza 2006–2010, Bradley Zitek in residence 2006–2008, Matthew Rolling 2010–2012, Steven Thomlinson 2012–2014; Michael Ventre 2014–2017, James Morin 2017–2019, Timothy Danek 2019-2021 and Mark Pfeiffer 2021 to present.

In July 2000, the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother moved to Nebraska City. They have been involved in the Catholic education of adults, CCD students and youth at Lourdes Central Catholic School.

On indication of the vibrant spiritual life of the congregation throughout the history of the parish is the long list of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The young men who followed Christ’s invitation to serve him as priests include Fathers John Cooper, Harry Eglsaer, S.J.; Robert Eglsaer, S.J.; Earl Greenburg O.S.B.; Alcuin Greenburg, C.PP.S., Robert Lechner, C.PP.S., Michael Volkmer, C.PP.S., Clement Wirth, O.S.B., Felix Wirth, O.S.B., Joseph Vanderheiden, O.S.B., Vincent Parsons, Steven Mills and Brian Wirth. Another young man, Brother Robert Roddy, made his religious profession as a Franciscan.

The young women who chose to serve God as religious included Sisters Emmanuel Bischof, Celine Gress, Theresa Marie Kreifels, Joan Marie Lechner, Johanna Lechner, Rose Emma Monaghan, Elizabeth Mary Moyer, Anne Louise Ramold, Diane Rawlings, Patricia Rhoten, Jean Richard Stukenhotz and Mary Cecilia Mills.

Parishioners of Saint Mary have been spiritually enriched through their participation in the SINE Parish Retreats, Parish Missions, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Disciples in Mission program, Cup of Grace, and Perpetual Adoration at St. Mary Hospital Chapel. Parishioners are very active in parish affairs through committees and organizations such as Christian Mothers/Altar Society, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Legion of Mary, Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, the Knights of Columbus, Area Catholic Middle School Youth Group and weekly Bible study.

Source: History of Diocese of Lincoln, V I & II