Many fond memories in Madonnaville

Twenty-five of Immaculate Conception Church’s parishioners gather outside the church in Madonnaville Tuesday evening. They make up more than half of the parish, which is closing this weekend. (Robyn Dexter photo)

This weekend marks the last official gathering of Immaculate Conception Church in Madonnaville’s parishioners.

The church, which has been nestled in the rural area of Ahne Road in Madonnaville since 1833, is being converted to chapel status, meaning funerals and weddings will still take place in the building but the parish as a group of people will cease to exist.

This Sunday at 2 p.m., a reception with cake and cookies will take place at the church as a sort of farewell.

The closing of the parish has been hard on the members of the Immaculate Conception community. For many, they have attended services at the church for decades, and so have their ancestors before them.

Kaye Eschmann, who has been a part of the parish for more than 40 years, relates the closing of the parish as like a “death in the family.”

The church has been in Eschmann’s husband’s family since its beginning in the 1830s. His family connections include the founding members and relatives who built the three buildings: the church, rectory and schoolhouse.

The parish currently consists of about 40 members, many of whom are also relatives of founding members.

Eschmann said she married into the church nearly 44 years ago and even taught religion there in the past. Her four children were baptized there, as well.

She put together a 50-page book that details the church’s history for the 150th celebration in 2008.

“It was like God was telling me to write it,” Eschmann said. “I did a lot of history research, but I love doing this kind of thing.”

Right now, she is working on a follow-up book, which she said has been more difficult to write.

“All these years (my husband and I) have been married… We’ve always known it was going to close at some point,” she said.

Eschmann said she wanted to get parishioners to write letters to go in the book she’s working on now, but they just couldn’t do it.

“It was too hard,” she said.

One of the most special parts of the Madonnaville parish is how united they are, Eschmann said.

“We’re all very close and work together,” she said. “There’s so much history here. The families go way back, and everyone’s connected.”

Parishioner Jeanne Wuertz is a lifelong member. She cited many major life events that occurred in the church.

“Probably most of us got married here, baptized here, our kids were baptized here… I really wish they weren’t closing it,” Wuertz said. “If I could talk to the Pope about it, I would.”

Wuertz said her parents and her grandparents went to church at Immaculate Conception.

Her father, who was a blacksmith, made the tabernacle that is displayed on the altar inside the church.

Lifelong parishioner Kathy Roever echoed Eschmann’s description of the parish as a family.

“We’re always here for each other, and it’s just sad that we’re going to lose that closeness that we’ve had all these years,” Roever said.

She recalled parish picnics and card parties and always looking up to the older members of the parish.

“I wish my kids could experience all the same things I have here,” she said. “It’s meant a lot to them spiritually to grow up in a small, close-knit church. They were more involved in their Catholic upbringing because of that.”

Roever said they have had many great priests over the years, and she has always been amazed at how well all the families got along from generation to generation.

“It’s a family church,” she said. “We’re all related somewhere along the line.”

Ella Mae Wierschem, who at 86 years old is Immaculate Conception’s oldest parishioner, recalls going to school in the parish schoolhouse, which stands right nearby the church and rectory.

“I think it’s a wonderful church,” she said. “I went to school up here for many years and enjoyed it. We had nuns as teachers, and they were so good.”

Wierschem’s daughter, Donna, has been bringing her mother back up to the church so she can go to Mass in a place she’s always known.

“This is home,” Ella Mae said, looking up at the altar.

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