By Sara Kraft
“Your faith has spread and been a blessing to the world,” Conception Abbey Abbot Benedict Neenan, O.S.B. told St. Joseph Parish in Parnell parishioners on the occasion of their 125th anniversary. Additionally, St. Joseph Parish Pastor Fr. Allan Stetz, O.S.B, celebrated 50 years of priestly ordination. The joint celebration was fitting, as Conception Abbey and St. Joseph Parish’s stories have been intertwined for years. The monks at Conception Abbey founded St. Joseph Parish in 1891 and have staffed it ever since.
St. Joseph’s first church building was dedicated on June 14, 1891 and cost $2350. There were 14 families in the parish. The church bell was purchased from Conception Abbey for $60. In August 1891, land was purchased for a cemetery about a half mile south of town.
Over the years, the parishioners at Parnell have continually sacrificed to improve the parish facilities. From 1892-1916, the parish could not house a resident priest, so the pastor lived at the Abbey and traveled twice a month (and later once a week) for Sunday Mass. In 1909, the parish bought an adjacent lot for $865. For seven years, the house on the property was rented, until it was eventual
ly sold and moved off the lot in order to build a parish house at an additional cost of $4,000. Following the completion of the parish house in 1916, St. Joseph Parish received a resident pastor.
Masses were celebrated in the original church for the last time on August 17, 1924 after which it was torn down in order to build a new church. The basement for the new church was completed on October 20, 1924 and Masses were held there for nearly a year, until the new church was finished on September 4, 1925. The new church cost approximately $20,000. The church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1925.
On June 2, 1963, Dolores Mission (also known as the Mission of the Seven Dolors) closed and some members joined St. Joseph Church.
In 1967, a new sanctuary annex was built and new glass doors were installed in 1968. Property across the street and northeast of the church was also purchased at this time for a parking lot and playground. In 1980, the rectory basement was replaced in order to serve as The Learning Center for spiritual and educational formation and to serve as a social activities center for members of the parish. It was dedicated in 1986. In 2016, the church interior was restored and decorated. The celebration also showcased the recently completed renovation.
The parishioners of St. Joseph Parish are quick to credit Fr. Allan for his leadership and example. While Fr. Allan has only been pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Parnell and St. Columba Church in Conception Junction since 2011, the close proximity of Conception Abbey has allowed Fr. Allan to celebrate Masses there throughout his priesthood, including an additional long term assignment from 2006-2007. “He’s an awesome priest,” explained Rose Frueh, parishioner for fifty years in January.
“He’s part of our family,” explained Kenny Runde. “He’s always been here for us when we needed him.”
“I am just a better person because of his example,” explained long-time parishioner Marta Giesken.
Prior to beginning full-time pastoral ministry twenty-six years ago in various parishes in Missouri and Iowa, Fr. Allan lived at Conception Abbey. He was born January 4, 1939 as Eugene in Nebraska, and attended high school seminary at Mt. Michael in Elkhorn, Nebraska. After making his monastic vows at Conception Abbey in 1960 and per community tradition changing his name to Br. Allan, Fr. Allan was ordained to the priesthood in 1966.
In 1976, Fr. Allan became Assistant Manager of Conception Abbey’s printing press, The Printery House. For about a dozen years, Fr. Allan managed the advertising and marketing and became knowledgeable in direct mail work. He purchased the Printery House’s first computer in 1979. Next, Fr. Allan was charged with the oversight and financial health of the entire Abbey as the Abbey Business Manager for a decade.
“I followed Fr. Allan in several jobs, including Conception Abbey Business Manager,” stated Abbot Benedict. “I learned a lot from him. Without a lot of fanfare and publicity, he gets things done.”
Fr. Allan was quick to credit the parishioners of St. Joseph for inspiring him over the years. “The parishioners challenge you,” he explained. “I see those examples of their very strong faith in situations of births and deaths.”
“Fr. Allan is not one to blow his own horn,” explained Abbot Benedict. “I do happen to know all his energy and all his faith is for his people. He deserves your thanks and congratulations. He is a great asset to you and the Abbey. Thank you to Fr. Allan for his 50 years of service.”