If its parishioners saw fit, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in North Platte could celebrate silver and golden anniversaries at the same time.
The parish at West Walker Road and Echo Drive will officially celebrate its 25th birthday next weekend as former pastors and parishioners and the Lincoln Diocese’s current and retired bishops arrive to share in Masses and meals.
But it’s also seven months shy of a half-century since the diocese bought the parish’s 10-acre site in January 1970, believing the Lake Maloney area and the population south of Interstate 80 would support a parish in time.
“None of us can predict the future,” said the Rev. Mark Seiker, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s pastor since 2007, of the 24 years that passed before now-retired Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz created the parish on June 13, 1994.
But “I would say a bishop has an understanding and a sense of his people and really of the general area of the state” in choosing when to launch a parish, he said.
Bruskewitz, who dedicated the parish’s three buildings during his 1992-2012 tenure, will celebrate next weekend’s regular Masses at 5 p.m. June 8 and 10 a.m. June 9.
Current Bishop James Conley will lead the initial 25th anniversary Mass at 6 p.m. Friday. Each Mass will be followed by food and hospitality in the parish hall, which served as the church’s worship space from March 24, 1996, until just before the sanctuary’s dedication on Oct. 2, 2011.
The history will be displayed in the parish hall during a reception at 7 p.m. Friday, a Knights of Columbus barbecue from 6 to 9 p.m. June 8 and a brunch at 11 a.m. June 9.
The barbecue will be held on the parish grounds, featuring a pulled pork meal and a cash bar. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door for adults or $4 for ages 5 to 12. Children younger than 5 eat free.
The Catholic Church’s growth in Nebraska explains why St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lies within the Lincoln Diocese while North Platte’s two oldest parishes — St. Patrick (1874) and Holy Spirit (1973) — are part of the Grand Island Diocese.
St. Patrick was part of the original “Vicariate Apostolic of Nebraska,” created by Pope Pius IX in 1857 and promoted to diocesan status in 1885.
Pope Leo XIII in 1887 split the state into the Lincoln and Omaha dioceses, with a shared boundary along the Platte and South Platte rivers. The western portion of the Omaha Diocese was split off in 1912, while the eastern part was declared an archdiocese in 1945.
Despite being officially divided by the river, North Platte-area Catholics crossed it for worship and education long before St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was established, said Seiker and charter parish member Ed Rieker.
Rieker, who converted to Catholicism at his 1970 marriage, lives north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. But he was among the worshipers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s initial Mass on Aug. 21, 1994, in the cafeteria of North Platte Community College’s North Campus.
Even now, “there are also a lot of Catholics who live south of the river who belong to St. Pat’s,” Rieker said.
Parish membership has generally hovered around 100 families since its founding, said Seiker, who followed the Revs. Gary Brethour (1994-99), Tom Brouillette (1999-2004) and Brad Zitek (2004-06) as parish pastor.
Brethour, who also led parishes in Curtis, Wellfleet and Farnam, supervised construction of the parish hall and acquired its first rectory on Walker Road near Buffalo Bill Avenue.
But he also secured the current sanctuary’s German-made stained glass windows. They were part of the Pink Sisters Convent chapel in Austin, Texas, until shipped to a sister convent in Lincoln in 1984.
“Father Brethour was a great scavenger,” Rieker said. Stored by various parishioners, the windows “sat in crates for 15 years.”
Other items obtained by Brethour and his first parishioners were used in the parish hall and later incorporated into the sanctuary.
The tabernacle behind the altar came from the former St. Andrew Catholic Church in Osceola. Half a dozen of the 20 pews acquired from a Baptist church in Norfolk remain in use in the choir loft, Seiker and Rieker said.
An all-new rectory and parish office opened in September 2001, and Simon Contractors began building the $1.9 million sanctuary in May 2010 between the office and the parish hall.
If one looks closely throughout the sanctuary, Seiker said, one can discern the spiritual themes of Elizabeth Ann Seton, proclaimed the first American-born Catholic saint in 1975.
Born an Episcopalian in 1774 into a prominent Revolution-era New York family, Seton converted to Catholicism in 1805. She founded the United States’ first congregation of religious sisters and first free Catholic school before her 1821 death.
The tabernacle reflects Seton’s spiritual hunger for Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, Seiker said, while the rosary-themed stained-glass windows reflect her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Seton’s support of Catholic education, he added, is reflected in the parish’s support of the North Platte Catholic Schools and religious education for all ages.
Catholics from southern Lincoln County, Wellfleet and Curtis long have sent their children to McDaid Elementary School and St. Patrick High School, he and Rieker said.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton helps with tuition costs so its children can attend those schools for the same cost charged to St. Pat’s or Holy Spirit families, they said.
The parish has also joined with its counterparts across the South Platte in adult education programs and support for KFJS-FM, North Platte’s station (at frequency 90.1) within the statewide Spirit Catholic Radio Network.
“Having that radio antenna here and broadcasting out to the area is a big part of our (Catholic) unity,” Seiker said.