WALNUT — It was a century ago that a Rev. R.F. Flynn of Immaculate Conception Church in Ohio was the driving force behind the creation of a new mission parish in nearby Walnut.
On May 30, 1912, St. John the Evangelist was dedicated to provide a home parish for 20 families.
On Sunday, that same church is going to celebrate 100 years of worship and service to the community.
The Rev. Thomas Shaw said there might have been some concerns at the time.
“We’re a Catholic church coming into a German Protestant community,” he said. “There was a question of what’s this going to be like? Well, here we are 100 years later, and not only have we survived as a church, but our members have been important members of the community.”
The church was named in honor of John Naughtin, whose wife dedicated the lot for the original church. The building cost $6,000, and was built almost entirely by Walnut men.
Growth was slow. The number of families crept up to 22 in 1913, and 24 in 1916. But those families managed to pay off the church by 1919, and by the parish’s golden anniversary in 1962, 95 families called St. John’s home.
Shaw said a church is designated a mission if there are not enough people to support a priest. St. John’s and Immaculate Conception shared a priest until 1964. At that time, St. John’s was designated its own parish, and the Rev. Richard Means became the first resident priest in Walnut, living in a trailer behind the church.
Dreaming of the future, church members had purchased two lots south of the church in September 1957, planning for the erection of a rectory and future expansion.
The rectory became a reality in 1968, and ground was broken for a new church in 1976. The first Mass offered in the new church was on Dec. 18, 1976.
Sadly, 1976 was also the last year St. John’s and Immaculate Conception had their own priests.
“The demographics changed and there weren’t as many people,” Shaw said. “We still share priests today because the demographics are still not good, but that’s the demographics of rural America, basically.”
Today the church serves 80 families, and Shaw said the members are eager to celebrate the church’s birthday. On Sunday, there will be a special anniversary Mass at 3 p.m., followed by a dinner.
In addition, the church is getting a new look.
“We have been given a generous bequest and the family that gave it wanted it to be used for landscaping,” Shaw said.
So new sidewalks have been poured and there is now a ramp leading into the rectory.
“This will probably be useful in the future because people are living longer,” Shaw said. “We have an increasing number of people who have conditions that make it difficult for them to get around so easily, so this will be a great help.”
In addition, a new courtyard is being created between the church and the rectory, with benches, plantings and a fountain.
“It will be an area where people can sit and relax and pray a little bit of they’d like to,” Shaw said.
Shaw said St. John’s has been an integral and contributing part of a community for all of its 100 years.
“After 100 years of being part of this community and this parish, the people love their parish,” he said. “They want to be able to say I’ve been a member of this parish for my entire life, my family’s been a member, and we want our parish to remain and to continue to be an important part of this community and our lives.”
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