From Our Story:
The Greenhills Region in northern Missouri is ideal for raising cattle and other livestock. In those low rolling hills of Sullivan and Putnam Counties are 149,000 head of cattle and 41,000 hogs and raising and marketing that livestock is an important part of the economy of the area.
It is in those hills that the parishes of St. Mary in Milan and St. Mary in Unionville are located. Both parishes date their origin to 1868.
Irish settlers who came to Ohio and Indiana in the 1840s migrated to the Green Hills of north Missouri in the 1850s. By 1860-1865, the number of Catholics was large enough to seek a priest to care for their spiritual needs. Fr. John J. Hogan (later Bishop Hogan) and Fr. R.S. Tucker celebrated the first recorded Masses in Sullivan and Putnam Counties. One was celebrated on May 19,1868 at the farm home of Dennis Ryan just east of Milan and the other was celebrated the following day at the home of Patrick O`Reilly at Clarksburg, east of present-day Lemons, which is south of Unionville.
For several years, Mass was celebrated in the homes of Catholic families. In 1871, a church was built in Unionville by J.J. Kennedy and he cared for the Catholics in the Milan area from there. He was succeeded by Fr. Francis Smith, who started the building of a church in Milan in 1881. Fr. Smith died of smallpox the following year, after having ministered to a family stricken with the disease. During the 1880s there were several interims when the two parishes were care for from Brookfield, Trenton and Chillicothe.
The plan of the two parishes was reversed in 1890 with the coming of Fr. William F. Hanley who built a residence in Milan and took care of Unionville as a mission parish. During the pastorate of Fr. J.J. Jermain, who came to Milan in 1902, the present brick rectory was built in 1908. From 102 until his death in 1922, Fr. Jermain took care of various missions, including Mendota in Putnam County and Novinger and Connelsville in Adair County.
He also began the building of the present brick church in Milan to replace the frame church in 1921. It was completed by his successor, Fr. Hugh Hezinger, and the new church with its distinctive spire was dedicated on May 30, 1923.
Among the priests who have served the parishes of Milan and Unionville since then were Frs. Edward Connelly (later Monsignor Connelly, longtime pastor at Monroe City), Edward Cummins, William A. Murphy, Patrick Noonan, Michael O`Donovan, L.P. Creviston, Edmund B. Purcell, and Joseph Hunt.
The two parishes celebrated their centennial in 1968, during the pastorate of Fr. George Kramer. He was succeeded by Fr. Raphael O`Malley, who supervised the extensive renovation of St. Mary`s Church in Unionville. Funds for the project were received from the Sina Faye Fowler Estate and the Walter V. Egan Memorial Fund.
Unionville is the county seat of Putnam County and St. Mary`s Church there serves all of Putnam County. There are about 30 Catholic households in the parish.
St. Mary`s Church in Milan, which has about 80 Catholic families, serves all of Sullivan County. Milan is also the county seat.
Over the years, coal mining and repair of equipment in the railroad shops brought n a number of Catholic immigrants. The mining industry and railroad work have declined, while the raising of cattle and other livestock remains a special characteristic of the area.
Fr. Joseph Boland the current pastor, wrote the preceding in 1984. He remarked that the two parishes are 22 miles apart and together include 1000 square miles. He characterized himself as active in the community and served as secretary and treasurer of the Milan Clergy Association and also an active member of the Unionville Clergy Association.
Members of both parishes take part in the ecumenical services held in their areas on Good Friday and Thanksgiving.
There is an active CCD program in both parishes, with laypersons serving as teachers. Terrence Reibenspies, a permanent deacon, is the religious education coordinator--one of his various ministries in the parishes. Deacoon Reibenspies was ordained in the diocese`s first class of permanent deacons in 1977.
In the time of Fr. Boland, the Milan Parish sponsored a Cambodian family.
(Events since Fr. Boland wrote in 1994:)
The next pastor was Fr. Patrick Dowling a native of Ireland who worked indefatigably in a time of Farm Crisis and transition. The corporate entity Premium Standard Foods and Premium Standard Farms began hog production from start to finish. In the short term, this has caused the area to grow. St. Mary`s Church in Milan has seen an increase in imigrant spanish speaking Catholics, resulting in a 30% growth in size. In 1994 it became necessary to remove the spire from our church tower since the brick in the tower was threatening to give way. Fr. Pat served in Milan from 1985 until December 1995. He left Milan to go to Marcona in the Peru Missions for the Diocese of Jefferson City. The parish struggled with the decision of how best to repair the church tower.
On December 13, 1995 Fr. Thomas Alber was appointed pastor by the second Bishop of Jefferson City, Most Rev. Michael Francis McAuliffe. Fr. Tom had worked in the altiplano of Peru from June 1990 until November 1995 in the districts of Capachica, Coata, and Huatta. He had participated in electrification efforts, work with mothers` clubs, and fiesta Masses in Spanish and Quechua.
St. Mary`s Parish Council in Milan decided in April 1996 to begin work repairing the tower. After a lengthy discussion we arrived at a decision that was perhaps not all that we might have hoped for, it was a fair and prudent compromise with the means at hand. A motion was made to rebuild the tower from its present [1994-96] reduced height to its original height with a fiberglass spire to replace the original spire and to have PSBA Poepping Stone Bach and Associates of Quincy Illinois with architect Dave Schloembach draw up plans for the design. Also a motion was approved which instructs the architect to design a handicap ramp from the tower door to St. Mary`s Street with landscaping in the respective corner.
The handicap ramp was completed due in part or donated work by a local brick mason. Discussion continues as to how to more permanently repair the interior church walls and steeple.
Following the departure of Fr. Tom Alber on June 30, 1998, Fr. Joseph Hoi, a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, (born in Viet Nam), was pastor July 1, 1998-June 30, 2001. He was followed by Fr. David Viet who served from July1, 2001 until June 30, 2002. Next was Fr. Brendan Griffey (a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson city, born in Ireland) who served from July 1, 2002 through June30, 2005.
On July 1, 2005 Most Rev. John R. Gaydos, Bishop of Jefferson City appointed Sr. Ellen Orf, C.PP.S. to be Pastoral Administrator of St. Mary Church in Milan and St. Mary Church in Unionville. She is using her considerable talents as administrator, educator, missionary and spanish-speaker to encourage those newly arrived in this area whose first language is Spanish, to a more fuller participation and involvement in the prayer and life of the church. Her presence here has also been and encouragement to the youth of our parish, many of whom are comfortable using both English and Spanish.
To assist her, Fr. Thomas Alber returns as Canonical Pastor to provide Sacramental Ministry for weekend Masses in English and Spanish, and for other events as well.
September 2005 marks another milestone for our parishes as we say good-bye to Deacon Terrance Riebenspies and his wife Dottie who are retiring to the State of California to be closer to their grandchildren. Their farewell picnic is scheduled for September 18, 2005.