Final Sunday Mass honors parish’s rich history

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In his Jubilarian profile in 2015, Father Richard C. Kasznel described the blessing of spending nearly three decades as pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Mary — population 360, about 75 miles south of St. Louis and just west of the old Mississippi River channel and Illinois' Kaskaskia Island.

Father Kasznel called it "a marvelous thing to be a pastor in a place almost 30 years and see children that I've baptized become adults and get married. I've seen them from the beginning of life and along as they've matured. It's been a privilege to be here in a great, wonderful community."

Father Kasznel's assessment pretty much sums up the history of the parish, which was founded in 1874. Over 144 years, generation upon generation worshipped at Immaculate Conception and celebrated countless sacramental events — Masses, baptisms, confessions, First Communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals — at the small parish of 295 members in 105 households.

Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso honored these sacramental moments, as well as parishioners past and present, at the parish's final Sunday Mass April 15. With Father Kasznel's retirement after 53 years as a priest and 31 years as pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish has closed.

However, its story is woven inextricably into the fabric of the community's history. Just before the conclusion of the final Sunday Mass, Bishop Rivituso paid tribute to that rich history, visiting significant locations within the 1889 vintage church building and saying a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings received in these places:

Holy Water • At the fonts, donated by "Parochial School Children" and "Married Ladies," congregants were reminded of baptism — the waters of baptism — upon entering and exiting the sacred space, dipping their fingers in holy water preceding the Sign of the Cross.

Confessional • Father Kasznel and parish priests before him heard the faithful's confessions and, most importantly, offered absolution to wipe away the stain of sin.

Blessed Mother • A statue of the Virgin Mary and the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help honored Mary, whose birth without sin — the Immaculate Conception — was recognized in the naming of the parish.

Ambo • Through Scripture readings and homilies, the Word of God was proclaimed to the faithful.

Tabernacle • Jesus Himself inhabited this space, the True Presence in the form of consecrated hosts placed within a ciborium between Masses.

Altar • The centerpiece of worship, at which every sacrifice of the Mass celebrated the Resurrection.

With the special areas visited and blessed, Bishop Rivituso then offered the final blessing, of thanksgiving for the rich past and promise for future, ending the final Sunday Mass with one last, "Go in peace."

The hymn, "Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise," filled the church one last time as Bishop Rivituso processed out, followed by 110 souls at the final Mass. He stopped just outside the church doors to meet each of them upon exit. With smiles, handshakes and hugs, they briefly shared their special stories and universally gave him the thumbs-up for recognizing the significant places within the church and giving them a sense of closure.

For instance, Bridget Griffard has been present for two-thirds of the parish's existence, 94 years in all — soon to be 95. Baptized at the church in 1923, a year short of parish's 50th anniversary, she received First Communion, First Reconciliation and confirmation at the church. She graduated from the parish school, which closed in 1969, and married her husband, John, at the church in 1946. (John died in 2011.)

Similarly, Joan Marie Welker, nee Maloney, spent significant life moments at the parish, including her engagement. Husband Francis presented her engagement ring in front of the Blessed Mother statue, and they were married in the church in 1961. Her parents and brother also were buried from there.

"A lot of memories," she said, simply. "It's our life history." 

Stained-glass memorials

The stained-glass windows of Immaculate Conception Church memorialize parishioners:

• Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Friedman

• Mr. and Mrs. Louis Schaaf Sr.

• Louis E. Schaaf Jr. and Wife

• Mrs. Rose Tlapek

• Mary C. Bartels

• Married Ladies Sodality

• Mrs. Louise-Grither-Bartels

• Mr. and Mrs. John G. Jordan

• Rozier Family

• John Tlapek

• Our Deceased Pastors

• Young Ladies Sodality

• Mrs. Adelaide-Laville-Lawbaugh

Note: The stained-glass windows and other liturgical furnishings were donated to the parish for use in liturgical and/or sacred spaces, so that original purpose will be honored. If the items don't find a liturgical home in the immediate future, they will be transferred to the archdiocesan Reclamation Center, which safeguards and houses these types of items and provides them to churches, religious communities, missionaries and seminarians. 

>> Future worship

Three neighboring parishes are available to serve the parishioners of Immaculate Conception in St. Mary: Sacred Heart Parish in Ozora (7.7 miles from St. Mary), Christ the Savior Parish in Brewer (7.9 miles), and Ste. Genevieve in Ste. Genevieve (9.3 miles).

More information • For a directory of archdiocese parishes, Mass and reconciliation times, visit 


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