St. Mary's Willey marks 125 years
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
August 9, 2007
WILLEY - The population of Willey grew substantially for a day as hundreds of
people converged on the small rural community July 28 to celebrate the 125th
anniversary of St. Mary Parish.
According to Father Jim McCormick, pastor, the parish has about 350
parishioners and he estimated that more than 2,000 people participated in
various parts of the quasicentennial.
Activities kicked off that day with an 11 a.m. parade that drew about 200
entries. Businesses, families, antique fire trucks and even those with a
religious theme were among the floats in the two-hour parade.
In the afternoon parishioners and visitors played a variety of games and
participated in a talent show.
One of the highlights for the day was the 4:30 p.m. Mass that was celebrated
by Bishop R. Walker Nickless. Father McCormick and other priests who had served
at the parish or were native sons concelebrated the Mass.
The bishop recapped a little history of the parish, stating that the first
church, built in 1882, was 32-by-50-feet. He mentioned that through the years
St. Mary's gave 17 priests, 40 sisters and one bishop to the church.
"How blessed you are indeed that we have something to celebrate this
afternoon," said Bishop Nickless in the homily. "As a bishop, the most
important thing that we can do to celebrate God's blessings in our lives is to
pray. We gather here today, to celebrate the highest form of prayer - the holy
sacrifice of the Mass."
He pointed out that the common thread in the readings for the liturgy -
Genesis 18:20-32, Colossians 2:12-14 and Luke 11:1-13 - was prayer.
The story of persistence in prayer, "ask and you will receive, seek and
you will find, knock and the door will be open," the bishop said, tells the
people how much more God will give them if they just ask.
At Mass, Bishop Nickless said it was a time to not only thank God but was
also an occasion to ask the Lord "to be with us today - to be attentive to
our needs, give us what we want and what we need more than anything, to help
those in need and come to the aid of those who are ill, sick or suffering in our
world. We come to ask for forgiveness of our faults and direction in our
As children trust and love their parents, he said, people must acknowledge
their whole dependence on God. Like parents, God listens but might not always
answer their prayers right away or in ways that they have asked.
Prayer, noted the bishop, involved adoration of God, praise and intercession.
Bishop Nickless said it was important to remember that prayer is not
difficult. It mainly consists of people talking to God and letting him into
"This continues to be a community that prays. For over 125 years, this
parish community has been marked by prayer," he said. "Keep
The bishop asked them to pray "bold and persistent" for peace,
deeper faith, vocations, an end to abortion, end to war, holy families and good
Following the homily, Holy Spirit Sisters from Africa led a liturgical dance
at the preparation of the gifts. They sang an African song of offering, chanting
Pokea Bwana Sadaka Wetu - Receive, Lord, Our Sacrifice. The African sisters were
joined by children of the parish as well as sisters from India that are also
part of the Holy Spirit Community.
As the Mass drew to a close, Father McCormick offered a few comments. With
the temperature in the church at mid- to upper-80s, he joked that he had
promised the bishop a "warm reception and I think he got one."
He extended gratitude to the parishioners for their work on the event.
After Mass, festivities continued with games, a raffle, auction, wine
tasting, bingo and more. Proceeds from the event will go to repair of the church
steeple. In addition to the July 28 gathering, roughly 450 attended an alumni
banquet on July 27.
Esther Schmitz, a long-time parishioner, said it was a wonderful and
"It was so nice to see all of the people and the priests. The Mass was
exceptional," she said.
Carolyn Zortman of Hartford, S.D., came back to her hometown for the
"I have been looking forward to this because of all my classmates coming
back home and all of the people I grew up with. You come back home and it's like
you never left," she said.
Denis Heithoff, a lifelong parishioner, pointed out that everyone really
worked together for the celebration.
"The young people really took over. We did it for the 100th and now they
took over for the 125th," he said. "Everything was great. I had a lot
of comments from other places; they didn't know how a small parish could do
Father McCormick mentioned that in addition to parishioners from Willey,
people from area parishes helped. From setup to cleanup, the pastor said people
willingly chipped in. One of the new parishioners who came from Omaha told the
priest that people there would never work like this.
"It was a great testimony to 125 years of faith," he said. "We
have a very vibrant parish. It was looking not only back but ahead."