The History of St. Ann and St. John Parish
To try to bring knowledge of faith to the people in the rural areas where there were no Catholic Churches, the Extension Society had launched two railway Chapel-cars on missionary tours. Also in existence there was a chapel automobile which had been outfitted for rural tours.
However in the late summer of 1913 it was Father Boniface of New Subiaco Abbey who was the first and perhaps the only missionary to put the church on wagon wheels with a team of horses to set out on an evangelistic campaign to the rural areas of Arkansas. The chapel wagon was dedicated in the park at Subiaco and Father Boniface set out on his lecture tour on September 7, 1913.
The Gospel wagon made its longest stay of the entire campaign at Sunny Point, in Pope County, near Russellville. Here the fifth mission got underway on October 14 and continued for two weeks. After giving his sixth mission at Atkins, Father Boniface returned to Sunny Point and conducted the seventh mission there. He parked his wagon on the property of Matt Gillespie, which was to be the site of the future St. Anne Church. The lecture first began in the Sunny Point School, but later moved to Gillespie hall, after a dispute among members of the school board led to the decision to deny the holding of any Catholic services in the school building.
This second week's mission brought about some remarkable developments. Mrs. Gillespie, the non-Catholic wife of the Irish immigrant who had made it possible for Father Boniface to continue his mission, announced that she was convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church and asked to be prepared for Baptism at the Sunday morning Mass which was to close the mission.
This closing service proved to be the outstanding event of the entire mission tour and is described by Father Boniface as follows: "We had about one hundred persons to attend Holy Mass, a number probably never reached here before, and among these were a number of Protestants. I had my vestments lying on the Altar and as I stepped up in my Benedictine habit, I began by telling them why I was dressed as I was. When I explained my habit as a monk, I put on the sacred vestments, telling them the meaning of every part as I put it on. The attention was very close; I then explained the Altar with its linens and candles, and everything was eagerly listened to.
As Mrs. Gillespie answered the questions with 'I believe' and 'I will' I noticed that the eyes of several Catholics grew moist, and the expression of the non-Catholics was that of surprise that citizens of the United States could join the Catholic Church. It was one of the supreme moments of my life as I offered up the holy sacrifice in thanksgiving for the graces which God had graced upon this Mission".
Literally this was the foundation of the St. Ann Mission Church which would eventually be St. John Catholic Church of Russellville.
During the following year Mass was celebrated in the home of the Gillespie's by visiting priests for the new Catholics who lived in the area. By the end of 1914 a small frame structure had been erected two and one half miles south of Russellville, on the Dardanelle highway, to serve the smaller number of Catholic families in and near Russellville. The building lot was donated by the Gillespie family, and the church was built with the aid of the few families present. In late 1914 St. Ann Church was dedicated by the Most Reverend John B. Morris, Bishop of Little Rock. The few loyal and faithful families of St. Ann included the Frank Barborek family, the Matt Gillespie family and the Joe Hlass family. Soon to be added to these family names was that of Anthony Gillespie, who had immigrated from Ireland to make a home for he and his bride, Mary Hiegel, of Conway.
For many years St. Ann was a struggling mission of the Atkins parish. Mass was scheduled for one Sunday each month; however, due to distance, transportation, inclement weather, etc., there were times when Mass was not celebrated in St. Ann for two to three months.
In 1925 the Rev. Joseph C. Foldkamp was assigned to the Atkins parish with Russellville and Dardanelle as Missions. Soon Mass was celebrated bi-monthly at St. Ann; gradually our members increased, and we realized that we must plan for the future. Our small Sunday collection was applied on the expense of our pastor. To insure a sum for future expenses, each family was asked to contribute $1.00 per month; this was called "pew rent". St. Ann Altar Society was organized and many money making schemes were tried, such as bake sales, sandwich suppers, bazaars, picnics, bingo and raffles. By now several family names had been added to our roles, the Steve Hlass family, The Joe Jacimore's, the Peter Jennen's, the Wiley Peeler's and the Homer Shinn's.
In the early 1930's with our increased membership we found it necessary to remodel our structure to add needed space at the least expense. Our seating capacity was slightly increased and we were deeply grateful to St. Vincent Infirmary, of Little Rock, for donating a beautiful Gothic style Altar, which they had replaced in their new chapel.
In early 1938 the business men of Russellville saw the need of a Catholic Church in the city of Russellville, consequently, through the efforts of Dr. R.L. Smith, prominent Russellville physician and owner of St. Mary's hospital, in cooperation with the Russellville Chamber of Commerce, and many other non-Catholic citizens of Russellville, a building site was purchased for the purpose of creating a Catholic Church in Russellville.
Our membership was growing, Mass was celebrated regularly, the Nuns of Atkins taught Catechism, preparing our youngsters for First Communion and Confirmation. With our increased numbers, our money making projects increased, our contributions improved and we were steadily adding to our building fund. Our records show in 1942 that we had thirty-one families, with a total yearly pew rent of $216.00; our diocesan assessment was $60.00 a year.
In October, 1945 our beloved pastor, who had recently been elevated to Monsignor J. C. Feldkamp, passed away following a brief illness. At this time Rev. Rudolph E. Maus, a native of Atkins, and a former server at St. Ann, was appointed pastor of St. Ann of Russellville and St. Augustine of Dardanelle. Father Maus retained his residence in Atkins temporarily.
Under the leadership of Father Maus, and with a continued sacrifice and cooperation of all the members of St. Ann parish, in early spring of 1950 ground was broken for the erection of a new Catholic church in Russellville structure, a combination church and rectory, was built by one of our newer parishioners, Mr. John Zakes, a building contractor at a cost of $40,000.00. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to John Zakes and his family.
Many hours of labor was contributed by Father Maus, and the entire membership of St. Ann. The membership list now included names still familiar to us today- Ashford, Barborek, Benedict, Camaratta, Crabaugh, Gillespie, Hlass, Hoffman, Hovezak, Hoyt, Jacimore, Jennen, Kolle, Little, Mobley, McGlynn, Lawrence, Neumier, Pfeifer, Peeler, Ragsdale, Shinn, Stanto, Strutka, Wesley and Woestman.
Due to a stipulation of a substantial contribution which came through the Extension Society of Chicago, our new church must bear the name St. John. Therefore, on Sunday, October 29, 1950, The Most Reverend Albert L. Fletcher, Bishop of Little Rock, dedicated St. John Catholic Church of Russellville.
A Parish dinner followed at the Pearson Hotel.
We were extremely proud of our new structure of solid masonry with brick and tile walls, trimmed with white stone, the roof of black asbestos, the floors of concrete, covered with asphalt tile. The ceiling at the nave was exposed wooden beams with eclotex panels , finished in an ivory gray and rose tone pattern. The remainder of the interior is in parse with smooth lime finish. The wood sash windows have hammered cathedral glass in wine color. The interior woodwork and pews are of dark oak.
Temporary living quarters for the resident pastor consisted of bedroom, bath, and a combination living room and office. These quarters were in the wing off the Sacristy.
Thus the parish of St. John began with an active Altar Society and Men's club, and an important youth group.
Our work was not over; we had many obligations to meet. We kept up St. Ann building in readiness for social functions and parish affairs such as pot luck meals, special entertainment, and also a workshop to aid in money making projects. One particular project that involved many hours of labor was the making and selling of Christmas candles-this resulted in a very substantial profit. We continued to sponsor rummage sales, bake sales, raffles, picnics, bazaars and county fair concession booths. The ladies of the parish continued to care for the church interior, altar and linens, while the men assisted Father Maus in the landscaping and care of the grounds.
As had been predicted, a church in Russellville soon attracted out of town business men, thus bringing many substantial families to our parish. Within a few years we had added these names to our role - the J. O. Blaty family, the the Raymond Dupwee's, the A. L. Gosnell's, the Dr. Martin Heidgen's, the Harold Hinterther's, the Ray Hinterther's, Evonne Hobacca, Mrs. Mary Korkamos, the Jerry Mason's, the Paul Paladino's, Mrs. Sidney Simpson, Marge Socholosky and the Joe Unverforth.
On September 8,1954, after nine years of labor and sacrifice, with many spiritual and material accomplishments for the members of St. John Parish, Father Maus received an appointment in Little Rock. It made us very sad to see Father Maus move away, but we realized we had been much richer, both spiritually and materially, by Father Maus's leadership.
In September,1954, we welcomed our new pastor, Rev. Thomas Reynolds. Father Reynolds immediately saw the need of a rectory, a convent and a school building, so once again we set our goals. For several years our school age children had been bused to Dardanelle where the Nuns had living quarters, and also taught eight grades, for the students of St. John and St. Augustine.
Father Reynolds spent four years as pastor of St. John and under his leadership our building program included a red brick rectory, a matching red brick convent, and also a two classroom red brick school building, with adjoining kitchen.
Our school was staffed by three Benedictine Nuns, two classroom teachers and one music teacher who also served as organist.
Rev. William J.Kordsmeier was assigned to St. John's parish in September,1958, but his stay in our parish was brief. Father Kordsmeier passed away November 16,1959.
In December, 1959, Father Joe Lauro, a native of Chicago, Veteran of the Royal Air Force, as well as the American Air Force, was assigned to St. John parish. Father Joe, known as a crusader and builder lost no time in starting a building program. He immediately began construction of a parish hall and a third school room.
On October 27, 1960, Archbishop William D. O'Brien came here from Chicago to join Bishop Albert L. Fletcher, of Little Rock, and members of the St. John parish for the dedication of our beautiful new parish hall and an additional classroom.
The $35,000 school building and hall were named for Archbishop O'Brien, President of the Catholic Church Extension Society, in gratitude for its financial aid to the Russellville parish and many other Arkansas missions.
Following dedication services a dinner was served in the hall to visiting dignitaries and parish members. The members of the Altar Society had equipped the kitchen with thirty-five tables and 350 chairs.
St. John parish was now among the best equipped in Arkansas. The parish plant consisted of four matching red brick buildings - the church, school, rectory and convent, all having been built in a ten year period.
However, Father Joe did not feel his task was complete; his next project was to redecorate the church. The Sanctuary was completely redone. Father Joe made arrangements with friends in Italy to obtain the Italian Marble for the Altar, Sanctuary wall, the Communion rail and the beautiful Italian Mosaic, depicting the Crucifixion. Father Joe and his helper made several trips to the New Orleans boat docks to pick up this cargo from Italy. Also included in this shipment were the statues for the Fatima shrine, which was then erected on a center point of our grounds.
While here, Father Joe conducted a weekly radio program, thus reaching many shut-ins, both Protestant and Catholic.
In August, 1962, Father Joe left St. John on his way to La Paz, Bolivia, as a member of Cardinal Cushing's Society of St. James the Apostle. Father Joe planned to devote his remaining years among the poor in the South American Missions, where he would construct chapels, schools and clinics.
In September, 1962, The Rev. Louis V. Stemac was assigned to the St. John parish along with the St. Augustine Mission. Under the leadership of Father Stemac our parish has experienced continuous growth. As of November 1, 1975, we have 180 families in our parish.
Father Stemac is responsible for the establishment of the Catholic Cemetery, which is part of Rest Haven Memorial Garden. A beautiful altar was placed in the cemetery, making it possible to celebrate Mass on special occasions.
The Home and School Society has been active since the organization of our school; they have contributed through the years as needs arose. Their projects have enabled them to answer the call of Father and the Sisters in every need or emergency. Since the organization of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, many projects have been successfully carried through, many worthwhile goals have been reached. With the cooperation of the parish organizations- the Altar Society, the Home and School Society, the Parish Council, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Youth Organization, Father Stemac has been able to realize many spiritual and material accomplishments. The rectory has been enlarged, a store room has been added to our plant, the school playground is well equipped, black topping has given us convenient parking space, and also provided more recreational area and additional school playgrounds.
St. John choir under the direction of Sister Maria and the organist, Jim Vogt, is one of the best in the diocese. One needs only to attend the 10:30 A.M. Mass, or any special occasion Mass to realize the efforts and talent of the choir.
Father Stemac has also accomplished some goals at St. Augustine in Dardanelle. Under his leadership St. Augustine has built a new church, and most recently have added a new hall to their system.
It is with grateful hearts that we, the parishioners of St. John, look on the accomplishments of the past twenty five years feel that it is through the cooperation of each and every member that we have accomplished these things, but we realize that it is through the grace of God that we have been blessed with proper leadership and guidance through the years, and we are indeed most thankful.
In checking our present roll it is interesting to note that the number of second and third generations now belonging to St. John parish. Here are some listed: Mrs. Eddie Wesley and Joseph Hlass are the grandchildren of the Joe Hlass and the Frank Barborek's, they are also the children of Mr. and Mrs. Steve Hlass. Bill Barborek and Mrs. Jo Ann Smith are grandchildren of the Frank Barborek Jr family., while Mrs. Bill Barborek is the daughter of the Eddie Woestmans.
Bill Jacimore and Bob Jacimore are sons of the Joe Jacimore's while Mrs. Bob Jacimore is the daughter of the Raymond Dupwee's. Mrs. Homer Shinn's son, Bob, and his family, have returned to St.John. Frerd Gillespie, Hazel Little and Sibyl Gillespie are the children of the Matt Gillespie's; he is the son of Wiley and Mary Gillespie Peeler. Wiley Peeler was a convert who devoted much time and labor in making both St. Ann and St. John more successful.
Edit: David Maul, 2018