By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
HURLINGEN — Picnics are a summer offering at many parishes in this diocese and some have been held annually for years. The Hurlingen Picnic, held on the grounds of Seven Dolors Parish in Hirlingen on July 30, is celebrating 100 years of picnic fun, food, family and friends, and yes, fundraising. Pat and Mary Bray, sisters and members of Seven Dolors parish have for many years organized this annual picnic.
Honoring the picnic’s centennial, this year Pat Bray wants to recognize the founding families of Seven Dolors Church. Most of today’s parishioners are descendants of one of the founding families. Brad Fisher researched and compiled a large ancestral chart, color-coded by family, going back to the very first families who arrived before there was a parish.
Pat Bray said the centennial picnic will honor those who began the Seven Dolors community, a community dating back to 1839. When Hurlingen was first settled, Missouri as a state was less than 20 years old, St. Joseph had been founded a mere 13 years before and Kansas City wouldn’t be incorporated for 11 more years.
Sebastian and Scholastika Kessler, who came originally from Hurlingen, Germany, and immigrated to Ohio, moved to Missouri in 1839. After getting off the riverboat at the Liberty landing, they purchased wagons and oxen and continued north about 40 miles as the crow flies. The Kesslers had obtained a land grant from the U.S. government, and arriving first, they named their new settlement New Hurlingen.
After enthusiastically writing back to Old Hurlingen about the land grants and the land itself, the Kesslers soon had neighbors. Jacob and Marie Keller Kessler also arrived in 1839; Joseph and Theresa Wiedmaier in 1844, and Joseph Zug in 1856. The new settlers brought their families and, as time passed, more families came from Germany and from Ireland to settle in New Hurlingen —Johann Michael and Regina Vaeth Fischer (now Fisher), Fidel Kessler, Joseph Pankau, John Saile, Albert and F. X. Waller, Ambrose Weipert and Adam Wenda, the Seiles (now Seila), Reardons, Sweeneys, McManuses, Schleichers, Kneibs, Halters and Karls. It was a small settlement with residents speaking in their native tongues. Still they grew to know each other and marriages and later children followed. The families grew — often a family would have 10 or more children. Pat’s husband and Mary’s husband are cousins.
Pat has been reaching out to descendants of those families. Using the family color-coding on Brad Fisher’s ancestral chart, the picnic committee is ordering commemorative t-shirts color-coded for each family branch. For example, descendants of a daughter of one of the first families is Royal Blue. Pat hopes to connect with as many charter family members as possible.
By 1847, a mission church was founded on 5 acres donated by Joseph and Maria Louisa Kessler to Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis. That church burned down. A second church was built on land, donated from the original government land grant of Joseph Wiedmaier, by Michael and Magdalena Kessler Wiedmaier, who also donated land for a cemetery next to the church. The present church was built 1870 – 72, and Mass was celebrated monthly until Father Carl Schaaf came in 1885 to serve as the parish’s first pastor.
In the Catholic Directory, the first mention of a mission parish in Hurlingen is in 1872, and from then until 1881, it was called St. Francis of Assisi at “New Hierlingen.” From 1881-89 the mission’s name was St. Martin. The mission became a parish in its own right in 1882, served by priests from nearby towns.
The Catholic Directory first called the parish Seven Dolors in 1890. Interestingly, the stained glass window over the front doors says, “Church of the Mother of Sorrows.” Dolor is Latin for pain, grief and sorrow; with seven causes of pain and grief, including the Crucifixion of Jesus, a title given to the Blessed Mother is Mater Dolorosa, Mother of Sorrows – hence Seven Dolors Parish.
The founding families were farmers who passed down their land and love of the land to their children. In 1916, to celebrate the end of the wheat harvest, the first Hurlingen Picnic was held. Families brought blankets and a basket meal to the picnic. The picnic moved after a few years to Frank Wiedmaier’s farm and later to the church grounds. During those early Picnics, parish farmers often brought fruits and vegetables to sell to city folk and raise funds for the church.
Summer in northwest Missouri is hot, and the earliest Hurlingen picnics were held before the days of refrigerators. The parish women may not have had refrigerators to keep homemade potato salad and applesauce cool, but they had wells with buckets that food could be placed in and lowered into the water, where the temperature was around 30 degrees cooler.
Sometime in the first half of the century, a wooden dance floor was built for the parish picnic dance. Pat and Mary’s great-grandfather Fisher helped build it out of Missouri native wood. Pat remembers running around on the floor as a child. In those days, the floor was canopied, roped off and someone sat at a nearby table, collecting the dime it cost to dance there.
She said the dance floor has been in storage for 25 years, but it will be set up again for the centennial picnic. Picnic preparations began months ago. At the 99th picnic, someone suggested the t-shirts for the 100th. Coordinating the t-shirts by family branches and colors, writing to members of the family branches, detailing the design, colors, costs and ordering deadline and asking them to “talk with your families about this once in a lifetime project and email t-shirt orders” to Pat, has been a lot of work, but worth it, she said, if there are many different colored t-shirts worn at the picnic.
While Pat has been working on this project, Mary has been compiling and writing a history of the picnic and of Seven Dolors parish. The sisters have researched and “gotten a lot of the history down” and found a lot of old photographs that will be made part of the book. The book will be available for purchase at the 100th Hurlingen Picnic.
The picnic draws between 800 and 1,000 people each year, and serves as the only yearly parish fundraiser. Open to the public, this is more than just a parish picnic, Pat said. There are people who come every year, it’s like a reunion for them. One of those who has come almost every year since 1916 is Pat and Mary’s Uncle John Buhman. He was five years old at the first picnic, and his job was to play the role of “The World’s Biggest Spider.” The picnickers gladly paid a nickel to duck into a tent and see the little boy in his spider costume.
That was his first job, later as a representative of the Catholic Order of Foresters, Buhman would spend time talking with picnic goers about the fraternal life insurance company.
Buhman will celebrate his 106th birthday Aug. 2, but still remembers games he and other children played at the Hurlingen Picnic —cake walks, ring tosses, and especially the turtle races. In the early days, a number was painted on the shell of each turtle and picnickers bet on the one they thought would be the first across the finish line. The races disappeared into their shell after some years, but reappeared in the 1960s. Today the turtles are placed in a miniature, homemade arena with numbered gates. Picnickers bet on the gate number they think a turtle will walk through first.
Some of the earlier games and activities are now just memories, but Bingo, the turtle races, the chicken and ham feast with meats cooked by the Bishop LeBlond Council 5067 of the Knights of Columbus and the potato salad, special homemade applesauce, and other side dishes and desserts prepared by the parish ladies are still enjoyed. The picnic dinner costs $10/person. This year, in addition to the picnic meal, Bingo and the turtle races, there will be dancing, a live band, a raffle and a photo booth.
Many T-shirt orders have been placed, Pat said. She will continue to take orders through June 5. Orders are placed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. T-shirts range in price from $5 to $8, depending on size and checks in payment may be mailed to Pat. Parish members who have no connection to the founding families are encouraged to purchase a white anniversary T-shirt.
Pat and Mary hope to see seas of colored t-shirts at the 100th annual Hurlingen Picnic.
For more information and to order t-shirts, email Pat Bray, email@example.com. For more information on the historical book, email Mary Bray, firstname.lastname@example.org.