Tears flow following final Mass in Eland

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | January 12, 2017

ELAND — A bitter-cold morning and a faulty heating system could have spelled disaster for more than 150 people attending the closing Mass at St. William Church on Jan. 8. But the quick-thinking use of space heaters and a warmth generated by close-knit families who have kept the mission church functioning for 107 years made the final Mass inside of the mission church building one to remember.

Addisen Ploeger, Abe Ploeger and Sophie Carter share hugs and tears at the end of Mass at St. William Church in Eland Jan. 8. It was the final Mass at the mission parish. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“It’s an honor for me to be able to celebrate with you today,” said Fr. Dan Felton in his opening remarks. Fr. Felton, vicar general of the Green Bay Diocese, served as main celebrant and homilist at the Mass.

Joining Fr. Felton at the altar were Deacon Howard Bricco, Fr. Jose Castaneda and Fr. Charles Hoffmann. Fr. Castaneda, administrator of nearby parishes in Marion, Tigerton and Wittenberg, and Fr. Hoffman, a senior priest from Antigo, have offered sacramental services at the church, which has been open for Mass only a few times a year. (See story in last week’s Compass.)

“They represent all of the priests who have served St. William for 107 years,” Fr. Felton said as he introduced the priests.

In his homily, Fr. Felton referred to the day’s Gospel passage from Matthew and drew comparisons between St. William Church and the Christmas story.

“In the end, the Christmas story is telling us, it’s not about the house where (Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus) have dwelt,” said Fr. Felton. “It’s not even about the shepherds and the angels and the Magi. In the end, it’s God’s story and God’s story continues on in his tremendous love for us, the star of the Holy Spirit and inviting others to come to Jesus.”

He acknowledged the pain and grief that St. William parishioners were feeling.

“As painful as this is, and as sad as it is, we have to remember that, in the end, St. William Parish is not about a building. St. William Parish is not even about us. St. William Parish is about God,” he said. “It’s about God’s love for you and for me, which will never change and will never end.”

He said the “star of the Holy Spirit is not going to disappear when the church doors are closed at St. William.”

Fr. Jose Casaneda, left, Fr. Dan Felton and Fr. Charles Hoffmann offer a final blessing over the congregation at the end of Mass Jan. 8 at St. William Church in Eland. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Fr. Felton ended his homily singing a hymn, “You Are Mine” by David Haas. He interspersed words of comfort for the community and left them silent and, for some, in tears.

“In those days ahead, when we’ve got to tell our children about what happened here so that they, too, might know the history of St. William Parish; in those moments of sadness and in those moments of despair, just remember the love of God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, who has said for generations — and who will say to you and your children and your children’s children … ‘I will come to you in the silence,’ as I have here, ‘I will lift you from all of your fear,’ in the days ahead. ‘You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know I am near.’ So in the days ahead, ‘Do not be afraid I am with you,’ for 107 years and 107 years to come. Why? ‘I have called you each by name,’ for six generations. ‘Come and follow me, I will bring you home,’ Why? Because it’s the one thing that never changes, God says, ‘I love you and you are mine.’”

Following Communion, the three priests led a closing prayer and blessing for the community. As the altar servers, Deacon Bricco and the three priests exited the sanctuary, parishioner Abe Ploeger used a rope to ring the church bell for a final time.

Eland church closing Mass

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