Story of St. Joseph’s — St. Joseph Church, Geneva

Photo from "The Fillmore County Story"

The long history of the parish started in 1898 in a public hall.

Saint Joseph’s parish started in 1898 when Fr. Bernard Ulbrick was appointed as the first resident pastor – there was not a church building at that time, so Mass was celebrated in a public hall. In 1900, Fr. Albert Petrasek was authorized to build the first Saint Joseph Church (and rectory) which were dedicated in July 1901. The church building was of a traditional-style of red brick with a tall steeple (destroyed by a tornado in 1956) housing a bell; and a long, rectangular nave and a high wood altar. The structure served the parish well until the 1990’s.

In the 1990’s, it was determined that the existing church structure, now over ninety years old, had many deficiencies in systems and structure; and, after, much study and consideration by a committee of parishioners and the pastor, it was determined that the deficiencies were severe enough to require replacement. A church building committee was formed and were able to develop a design for the new church that would include many features and artifacts of the existing structure to bridge the spiritual gap that would be created with the demolition of the physical structure that had been the venue for so many of the parishioners’ milestone life events. The Clark Enersen Partners were awarded a contract to develop the architectural plans and provide oversight of the construction of new structure. On May 1, 1999, the new 280-seat nave, sanctuary, narthex, parish office and rectory were dedicated.

Part of the long parish history includes the three-story red-brick building which housed Saint Joseph’s Catholic School from 1912 to 1974. The School Sisters of Notre Dame from St. Louis provided quality Catholic education to generations of local students – originally teaching Grades 1 to 12, but eventually whittled down to Grades 1 to 6; and finally closed in 1974 due to declining enrollment. Education of young Catholics in the faith continues today with CCD classes held in the church hall on a weekly basis taught by lay parish volunteers and the parish priest.

The parish has enjoyed the pastoral leadership of 17 priests over the years, including many very beloved Fathers. The Parish Hall adjoining the church was named after one of these dedicated priests, Father Paul Ulenberg who served the parish for nearly 20 years from 1949 to 1968 – his photograph hangs in the vestibule of the Hall. The longest tenured priest for the parish was Father Walter Banach. This very treasured Polish priest served from 1971 to 1992, and remained living in Geneva during his retirement years as he considered it to be his home.

The parish is now wonderfully served by the current priest Father Harlan Waskowiak who leads the many social and charitable elements in addition to the spiritual component. Two prominent groups promulgating these elements are The Altar Society for women and The Knights of Columbus for men.

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