A Vibrant 100 Years Marked at St. Catherine
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
May 18, 2017

PROPHETSTOWN—Cooperation, dedication, and a welcoming spirit make a parish great, say members of the century-old St. Catherine Parish, here.

On May 6, Bishop David Malloy, pastor Father Zdzislaw Francis Wawryszuk, and several other priests and deacons, began the parish’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

Mass was first held in Pro-phetstown as early as the 1700s in the homes of French and English settlers. In 1917, after raising funds, the church building was constructed in the heart of this quiet farming community.

St. Catherine boasts
a proud history

Before the St. Catherine Church was built, Masses here were held in the homes of the John Murphy family and Mrs. Elizabeth Leahy.

Under the guidance of the Diocese of Rockford, the people of Prophetstown built their church on the site where it still stands today, 308 E. Third St.

The building is adorned with the artwork of parishioners, stained glass windows representing the seven sacraments, and a large crucifix that was brought here by Father Wawryszuk, who is a native of Poland.

The parish was founded while the world was at war. Many prayers for peace must have been lifted up in those days, as WWI tore a bloody path through Europe and the United States military answered the call and went to turn the tide toward peace again.

The first parish priest, Father Theodore B. McCormick, came from Tampico to start the parish. Money was raised and within a year the church was built. The dedication was performed, by Bishop Peter Muldoon, first bishop of Rockford, and the church was consecrated on Oct. 17, 1917.

Father Jay V. Walsh was appointed administrator of the Prophetstown parish. The first child baptized here was Mary Vivian McMahon, while the first marriage celebrated at St. Catherine was between William F. Boone and Florence Hummel.

The number of parishioners has fluctuated over time. Today, St. Catherine seats 150, and has 68 parishioners, said Father  Zdzislaw Francis Wawryszuk, pastor.

“This church was founded in the month of Fatima, in 1917,” said Bishop Malloy, as he addressed those gathered at the dinner following the anniversary Mass.

“Many of you have had parents and grandparents buried from this church, and we should be very grateful for those who have come before us, and for all the priests who have served here.

“Pray for another 100 years,” the Bishop said, and was applauded.

During the dinner, Bishop Malloy presented parishioner, Theresa McNeill, with a collection of four glasses depicting the image of the church in its early days. She won when she found the winning symbol on the bottom of her dessert cupcake.

Commemorative glass collections can be purchased  from the parish for $25.

While the church building is small by many standards, there is still room to grow, said Father Wawryszuk.

This year’s centenary celebration means a great deal to the people, he added.

Father Wawryszuk has been with the parish for 13 years, but  he was recently reassigned to St. Catherine of Genoa Parish in Genoa, where he will be on June 1.

Faithful parishioners make a great parish, he said, adding that St. Catherine has “those kinds” of parishioners.

“We are planning a picnic in the summer. This is just the beginning of the celebrating,”  he said.

Choosing the faith

Lori Border, a convert to Catholicism, has been a parishioner at St. Catherine for eight years. She said she has found the parish to be vibrant.

“I think the people are really caring. Everyone feels welcomed, included, and cared for here,” Border said.

She became a Roman Catholic with the help of her Protestant pastor at the time that she was searching.

That pastor, she said, told her he would become a Catholic when he retired.

“And he did, becoming Eastern Orthodox,” she explained.

But Border’s earliest interest in the Catholic faith developed after tracing back the history of Christianity to its beginning 2,000 years ago, and found there the truth of the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, she said.

“Becoming a Roman Catholic was the best thing I ever did,” said Border, who sings regularly in the choir at St. Catherine, singing some hymns that are ancient and some modern.

On Saturday, the choir was led by longtime organist Diane Holtz Roman, who also leads the singing every other week, as she has for many years. On alternating weeks, Dan Eyrich, son of Jean and Cleon Eyrich, plays his guitar at the Mass.

His parents have been parishioners of St. Catherine for 70 years. They were married here in 1946.
“This is home to me,” said Jean Eyrich, 90.

Her family moved here to a farm when she was a school girl. Her husband, Cleon, 92, also farmed in the area.

“Years ago we used to have an annual bazaar and annual salad luncheons. For years we had CCD and we used to have nuns come for two or three weeks during the summer and teach CCD programs. We parents used to teach and take the children and pick them up. There are fewer children now.

“The parents did a lot of the teaching. Cooperation makes a good parish,” she said.

The Eyrich’s son, Dan, and his wife, Sue, were also married at St. Catherine.

“We were married here in 1977 right after we both graduated from Prophetstown High School,” said Dan, the owner of aroundtown.com, an online news commentary of the community, which he produces.

Besides being a cantor, he also has created the history booklet of St. Catherine to celebrate the centennial anniversary. Sue is a lector at the church.

“In a little bitty parish like this, everybody wears several hats,” Dan said.

 And at St. Catherine, it’s that kind of commitment, talent sharing and faith that keeps the parish going strong.

The anniversary dinner was provided by parishioners and by The Eureka Inn, originally a stagecoach stop, now owned by Sherry Waite. She also served the dinner, held in the church basement.

“St. Catherine Parish is very good, very accommodating,” added Waite, a parishioner here for 29 years.