Morning light illuminates the icon-style mural above the altar at St. John the Baptist. The historic brick church was completed in 1917. (Catholic Herald photos by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

On a summery autumn morning, parishioners and visitors filled the pews at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Glenwood City, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary and rededication of their church building.

Sunday, Sept. 24, was also the parish’s Fall Festival and Dinner; a roast beef dinner, games and activities were held in the gymnasium after the 10:30 a.m. polka Mass with the Murtha Trigger Happy Band.

Bishop James P. Powers concelebrated the Mass with Fr. John Long, pastor of clustered parishes in Clear Lake, in Polk County, and Wilson and Glenwood City, in St. Croix County. Deacon Wesley Tuttle assisted.

In his homily, the bishop said Jesus’ message in the day’s gospel, the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16), defies human logic. Workers who’ve toiled all day are paid the same wages as those who’ve only worked a couple of hours in the vineyard, and the last to come are first to receive their wages, while the longest-working laborers must wait until last.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

But, he added, “It has nothing to do with fair and right … pure and simple, it’s about God’s infinite love for us, and his mercy.”

“If we were graced enough to be raised in a strong, Catholic, Christian family, attending Mass, receiving sacraments … going to Catholic school perhaps, attending CCD or religious education – if we have received that gift all of our life, we should fall down on our knees and thank God for the grace, the privilege, of laboring in his vineyard with him and for him from the early morning,” Bishop Powers said.

When we hear someone new comes to the faith, “We should rejoice with them, we should welcome them, rather than thinking they got away with something,” he added.

Bishop Powers also spoke of the history of the church. The first Mass in Glenwood City was celebrated in 1886 by a Capuchin friar from Mount Calvary. Then part of the Diocese of La Crosse, the parish had monthly Masses with the priest from Notre Dame, Chippewa Falls, until their first resident pastor arrived in 1900.

Land for the church was purchased in 1912; the frame church burned down before Christmas 1914, and construction of a new church began the following spring. The building was finished at a cost of $17,000 in 1917 and dedicated July 4, 1918.

The cost of building the church sounds small to modern ears, the bishop added, but the mortgage haunted the parishioners for 28 years, and many donated materials, labor and more during the construction. One of the local farmers built a special box for his wagon to transport the stained glass windows from Stillwater.

“One hundred years later, as we gather today, it’s absolutely impossible for us to fully appreciate, to really imagine that foresight, that sacrifice many of your ancestors made to leave this here, this beautiful church,” he said.

The bishop also reviewed repairs and upgrades to the building over the years, often delayed because of lack of funds, and reflected on the 100-year anniversary as a triumph for the parish community, past and present.

“Now, as we join in thanksgiving today, let us join our hearts in celebration with those who have gone before us,” he said. “Let us rejoice as these doors stay open … calling people to come to the vineyard of the Lord, whether it be early in the morning or whether it be late in the night.”