Restoration of iconic Westphalia church under way


Popular legend credits the architect of St. Joseph Church in Westphalia with what was originally inscribed over the door.

The Latin loosely stated, “What grows in accord, crumbles in discord.”

Namely, the flock would disperse without its Shepherd, and its buildings would fall into ruin.

“That’s not gonna’ happen,” said Father Anthony Viviano, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Westphalia and St. Anthony of Padua parish in Folk.

The people of St. Joseph have begun a multiyear process to repair, restore and solidify their distinctive, 170-year-old church building, visible for miles from its hilltop perch.

“The people here love being Catholic, and they love their parish,” said Fr. Viviano. “They want this church, whenever you walk in, to draw you into a profound expression of awe and magnificence for Almighty God.

“Now we’re seeing it happen,” the priest stated. “They’re doing it, praise be to God!”

December brought completion of the first step — the painting of the bell-tower clock, dormers and louvers, and structural repairs to and a new copper roof for the steeple.

The refurbished stainless steel cross, containing a new, airtight time capsule, was lifted back into it place, 160 feet above the ground, in early December.

Future milestones will include replacement of the roof and soffits, restoration of the resplendent stained-glass windows, a new electrical system and lighting, and a thorough restoration of the interior walls, ceiling, floors, pews and furnishings.

“This has been in the works for several years,” Fr. Viviano noted. “The church is and has always been beautiful, and the bones and structure are in good shape, but it’s in definite need of some serious T.L.C.”

Leaks in the roof and steeple have been slowly damaging the interior. Pews and plaster are worn, and some of the general systems that keep the building functional have outlasted their usefulness.

“The people have not only recognized the need to fix these things, they have been shockingly generous to help pay for it,” said Fr. Viviano.

He attributes their willingness to step up, help with the planning and give sacrificially, to “their love of God and their commitment to carry on the good work of the parish that was started by their ancestors in faith.”

Fr. Viviano said it’s important to ensure that the church building — a gathering place for God’s people to worship Him, a sacred venue for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Mass, a dwelling place of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and outward testament to God’s eternal presence — remains not only safe and usable but as beautiful and welcoming as humanly possible.

“It is the place where we as a local Church gather to connect with God and from which He sends us forth to be His Good News and make His presence known in the world,” he said. “It is incumbent upon us to give God the glory through this beautiful edifice that has been handed down to us from those who came here before us.”

He said the restoration work represents a promise to generations of people who are yet to be born.

“Think of all the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be baptized here,” he said, “who will be married here, and who will be buried from here. This is holy ground, sacred ground.”


“Restoring our Roots”

Chris Dickneite is chairman of the committee overseeing the restoration work and the capital campaign that makes it all possible.

A group of parishioners approached Fr. Viviano shortly after he became pastor in July of 2017 about assessing the needs for the church.

A committee of parishioners of various backgrounds began meeting regularly that autumn, eventually identifying 15 items that need attention.

“We realized right off that we have to make sure the outer shell of the building is taken care of before we do any work inside,” Mr. Dickneite noted.

Toward that end, they determined that the first phase should involve major repairs to the roof and steeple and to the system for channeling rainwater down from the roof and away from the foundation.

They also decided to include a complete overhaul of the electrical system.

“Through every step, we’re looking ahead at least 50 years and beyond in terms of the quality of the materials and workmanship,” said Mr. Dickneite.

The parish launched its “Restoring Our Roots” Capital Campaign early last year, and pledges have reached about 80 percent of the anticipated cost. Fundraising continues in order for each phase to be paid for before it begins.

Exterior work is scheduled to continue in the spring.

Once the roof and soffit work has been completed, the next phase will get under way.

This will include extensive stained-glass window repairs, painting and refurbishing of the interior, installation of new wiring and lighting, and the installation of a restroom in the back of the church.

None of the work on the church will interfere with the essential mission of evangelizing, educating, and engaging the greater community through outreach and charity.

“Although this is an incredible commitment by our parishioners to preserve our place of worship for years to come, we have other responsibilities as Catholics that must come first,” said Mr. Dickneite. “None of the contributions replace the tithing we’re expected to be doing as parishioners.”

He is convinced that God is pleased with the people’s intentions.

“He knows we’re preserving a house of worship not only for us and our kids but for generations to come,” said Mr. Dickneite.

An important aspect of the project is to ensure that all parishioners understand the reason for the parish and its church building.

“We want to stay focused on the things that are important — what we hear in the Scripture readings and what is made present to us — Christ’s gift of Himself, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the altar,” Mr. Dickneite stated.

He said he’s amazed by how generous the renovation committee members have been with their time, as the people of the parish have been with their money.

He noted that the work will take time, as there are always delays and unforeseen difficulties when working with a unique, older building.

“We’re taking on a very big project, and it won’t all happen overnight,” he said. “But the end results will be well worth the wait.”


Lift high the cross

Kevin Huber, a member of the restoration committee and of the Westphalia Historical Society board of directors, was in eighth grade at St. Joseph School in 1982, the last time the steeple was repaired.

He was looking forward to seeing the items that were deposited at that time in the time capsule in the steeple cross.

“The water got in, so it’s a big mess of wet paper right now,” he said. “I don’t know how much of it we’ll be able to recover.”

From what he can tell, the items include a class roster, possibly a parish roster, a church bulletin and an issue of the Unterrified Democrat newspaper.

It also included a dollar bill and a coin.

“We thought it would be up there for 100 years,” said Mr. Huber. “I didn’t plan on being alive when it was reopened. We didn’t know if people would still be using money by then.

“This time,” he added, “we’re expecting the steeple and the time capsule to last a lot longer.”

The new capsule includes a St. Joseph School class roster, a book of songs the students use in music class, a recent parish bulletin, a recent issue of the Unterrified Democrat, and some old-fashioned-looking photos of the church.

During the steeple restoration, the contractor pulled out some of the old, square-shaped nails.

Parishioner Brenda Rehagen collected the nails and fashioned them into cross-shaped Christmas-tree ornaments.

The parish Catholic Youth Organization sold them to help raise money for traveling to the National Catholic Youth Rally in Indianapolis this fall.

Mr. Huber has been a member of St. Joseph parish his whole life. His ancestors settled in the area before Jesuit Father Ferdinand Helias, whom locals refer to as the Apostle of Central Missouri, made his first visit in 1836.

Around that time, itinerant priests began offering Mass in homes until the simple log church that preceded the present edifice was completed.

Mr. Huber was serving as parish council president when the restoration committee began meeting.

“The whole historical society is made up of members of the parish,” he noted. “And Father has a great affinity for the history of this parish.”

He marveled at the artistry and craftsmanship of the people — many of them parishioners — who built the church in the mid-1800s.

The society’s collection includes several historical artifacts from the church, including sections of the old Communion rail, an ornate presider’s chair, and several hand-painted murals.

“We’re talking with a designer about possibly incorporating some of these into the church renovation,” he said.


For God’s greater glory

Enlarged and modified several times, St. Joseph Church is often referred to as “The Pearl of Osage County,” thanks to an 1883 poem by Jesuit Father Peter A. Krier.

The church has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.

“The people are proud of their German heritage and their faith here,” Father Peter Walsh, now deceased, who was pastor from 1974-84, told the Jefferson City News-Tribune in 1983. “The way they keep their church in a magnificent, beautiful condition is an example of that pride.”

Fr. Viviano noted that because the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic Christian life, the parish church — altar, ambo, tabernacle and pews for the faithful — is the epicenter of every parish.

“It does have a soul,” he said. “We have the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ reserved in the tabernacle.”

Throughout the millennia, people learned to harvest simple materials from the earth and fashion them into structures, colors, images and moods that help draw ordinary people into communion with their transcendent God.

Fr. Viviano noted that the grandeur of the most splendid Church buildings are a temporary foretaste of heaven’s eternal splendor.

“This is all about the glorification of God by the faithful!” he stated. “We’re into it. We’re involved in it because we want to do a good job.

“But we’re just a grain of sand flowing down the pike,” he said. “So many came before us. So many will come after us.”

He believes restoring aspects of St. Joseph Church’s antiquity while solidifying its structure and enhancing its functionality will offer parishioners a deeper sense of that timelessness.

“Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate something like fixing the roof,” he said. “But once you finish that and get into the interior finishing, that’s when you get to see the excitement materialize.”