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Praga Celebrates 125th Anniversary


One hundred people filled St. John Nepomucene Church in Praga on Saturday, June 26, in celebration of the historic stone church’s 125th anniversary. Bishop Bernard A. Hebda was the celebrant for a Eucharistic Liturgy with Fr. Duane Wachowiak, Pastor of the parish and Fr. David DuPuis, who has provided Sacramental ministry to the parish over the years, concelebrating The parish was founded by Bohemian settlers from Czechoslovakia in 1885 and was listed as a State of Michigan Historic site in 1995. Easily recognized and locally renowned for its fieldstone veneer which was added when the church was remodeled in 1924, the church is home to families whose relatives have lived in the area for generations. With a fresh coat of interior paint and updated landscaping, the church and its parishioners gathered on a beautiful summer day to celebrate over a century of ministry to the area. A committee of long-term parishioners, including Lucy Lercel, Charlotte Kuntz, Rose Hines and Sandy Nemecek, worked since last winter to plan the celebration. As the church filled to its capacity, Bishop Hebda, Frs. Wachowiak and DuPuis, Deacon John Falicki, along with the lectors and altar servers moved from the sacristy outside and around the church to the front steps to begin the procession. Joe Haney, II, then began pulling on the rope to the hundred year old bell, announcing Mass was about to begin. During his homily, Bishop Hebda explained how the readings for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time being read throughout the entire Church were perfect for the occasion of the anniversary of this particular parish as they spoke about how the choice to follow Jesus is one that requires a total commitment of one’s life. “Once you know the will of God, you cannot turn back,” the Bishop said. “Today’s readings encourage us to be people of great trust.” “How important it is that we have that same trust today that your ancestors had who built this church,” Bishop Hebda stated. “They made sure that there would be an incredibly beautiful structure, and this gorgeous space as well, so that there would be a spot for your families for generation after generation to come and be able to give praise to the God that has blessed us with life. They made sure there would be a place for generation after generation to hear the Word of God , to grow in trust for Jesus Christ, and to be nourished by the Blessed Sacrament… “As we gather here to celebrate 125 marvelous years of faithful communities that have been living by the Spirit, let us be grateful for God’s great love,” the Bishop said. “Let’s ask that we too might be people who respond to God’s call – whatever that might be – with all of our hearts, never looking back, but focusing on the future and trusting that if we’re following Jesus correctly, He is going to bless us in abundance and never allow us to be left behind.” Following the Mass, parishioners and friends gathered outside the church and across the street at the parish hall and under a tent for a time of fellowship and a meal prepared by parishioner Debbie Peck. Reflecting on the day’s events, Lucy Lercel said,“I think it’s wonderful ; there’s lots of people. God smiled on us today,” she added.” Joe and Rosalie Makarewicz, members of St. Mary Cathedral, were also in attendance at the Mass. Rosalie’s family lived on a farm on Adams Road in the Praga area when she was born and she was baptized at St. John Nepomucene before the family moved to Gaylord. She herself is now a grandmother. Joe and Judy Haney have been members of the parish for over 80 years. Both were baptized at St. John Nepomucene and the two were married at the church 53 years ago, having just celebrated their anniversary on June 22. They own a farm just down the road from the church where they raised five children. “Our son Joe, who was one of the altar servers today, has served with every bishop since the Diocese of Gaylord was formed,” Judy proudly stated. Asked to reflect on their time at the church and what memories stood out, Judy thought for a moment – so many events surely flashing through her memory before declaring simply, “It’s our church! All our kids were baptized here; all but one was married here!” Joe recalled his time serving as an usher years ago, frequently having to add chairs to the walkway in the summertime to accommodate those who had come to Mass. Now, due to dwindling population and smaller numbers of priests, the parish has weekend Masses only on in the summer on Saturday evenings. The rest of the year parishioners attend other churches in the area. St. John, itself, is now linked as part of a cluster with St. Matthew in Boyne City and St. Augustine in Boyne Falls. The three parishes make up the Boyne Valley Catholic Community, sharing a Pastor and staff. The parish councils are also combined and members from all three parishes were present to celebrate with their brothers and sisters on this day. Fr. Duane Wachowiak, Director of Worship for the Diocese and Pastor of the Boyne Valley Catholic Community, recalled, “When I first celebrated Mass at St. John’s, I was there to fill in for a priest who had become ill. I was impressed with the size of the church and its uniqueness. Even though they were a small community, they prayed well.” “Now having been assigned as Pastor, it has been a blessing to be able to allocate funds to do some repairs on the historic building,” Fr. Wachowiak continued. “The biggest challenge has been not being able to have weekend Masses year round, but having been refreshed for this anniversary should make the members very proud of their ‘little stone church’,” he concluded. Fr. James Gardiner, Pastor of St. Joseph in nearby East Jordan and St. Luke in Bellaire, has also celebrated Masses in the church. “When praying there with the parishioners, I have always sensed the deep faith of the small community of faithful that keep the parish alive,” Fr. Jim stated. “There is a rich history at St. John’s of people who came from a distant land and made a new life in the Michigan wilderness. They carved out farms, homes and lives from the forested hills and found in the rich soil a place to make a new life and continue to practice their deep faith. The little stone church remains a testimony to a people who saw their religion as an all important element in making their life in this country complete.” Parishioners are indeed proud of their faith tradition and their historic church and welcome everyone to pray with them. Masses are celebrated at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday evenings throughout the summer months.

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