It’s been 50 years – plus one – since Blessed Sacrament moved its parishioners and hand-carved altar into a unique Idaho steel church.
The wood altar, above, was carved by Mormon converts to Catholicism. It was a part of the original building for Blessed Sacrament Parish built in 1897 and was moved to the new church in 1970. The parish community and friends will celebrate the Jubilee on June 19 of next year, the Feast of Corpus Christi. (Photo courtesy Father Joseph Lustig)
Editor’s note: Sifting through some papers left by parishioners who had passed away, Father Joseph Lustig made an interesting discovery.
One of the churches he oversees as pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Community based in Soda Springs turned 50 – last year. Father Lustig quickly organized a Jubilee Mass on Nov. 9 for Blessed Sacrament Church in tiny Montpelier, tucked into the southeastern corner of Idaho just a few miles west of the Wyoming border and few miles north of the Utah border. The church and community plan to celebrate in a bigger way during the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 19 of next year, Father Lustig said.
Below is a brief history of Blessed Sacrament compiled by Father Lustig from documents and newspaper clippings.
By Father Joseph Lustig
For the Idaho Catholic Register
When Father Joseph Muha, a young priest, was as-signed to the mission churches of southeast Idaho in 1968, Bishop Sylvester Treinen told him that the people of Montpelier would want to build a new church – and that they wanted to build a metal church. “So”, he said, “you might wait and see what they say.”
Father Muha’s arrival in Montpelier was memorable. Immediately upon his arrival, he celebrated a funeral for two elderly ladies who were killed in a double murder the week before. Evidently, these two older ladies were the last of the old-time bootleggers in Montpelier and they had some shady acquaintances.
And, just as Bishop Treinen suspected, the parishioners at Blessed Sacrament intended to raze the original 73-year-old church to make way for the new modern facility, a “Butler Steel Building.”
Montpelier, founded by Mormon pioneers in 1863, soon became the hub of the Oregon Shortline Railroad, which attracted the town’s early Catholic residents.
Holy Mass and the administration of the sacraments were provided, but in a limited way, by early pioneer priests, including Father E.M. Nattini, Bishop Alphonse Glorieux, Father C. Van der Donckt and others.
The first recorded baptism was celebrated by Bishop Glorieux (at the time the Vicar Apostolic of Idaho, before being named the first bishop) who baptized Alice Mary Fitzpatrick on Oct. 4, 1886.
On Sept. 7, 1891, Bishop Glorieux purchased the property on the corner of Eighth Street and Jefferson Avenue, the site of the old church, for $112.50. On this spot, the original church was built and dedicated in April of 1897, costing $1,800 and with the capacity to seat 100.
Most notable to the building were the wood-carved altars, carved by Mormon converts to Catholicism and said to be among the most beautiful in the Diocese.
At the same time, the first resident priest was also appointed, Rev. W. J.A. Hendrickx, who was successful with 77 conversions during his tenure through 1904.
A 1942 parish his-tory noted that during the height of the Depression, the future of the parish looked grim. “Montpelier began its decline as a parish when the freight division and shops were closed in 1920. Today, there are left but a dozen Catholic souls to recount the happier days of a quarter century ago.”
But, after the Depression was over, the parish continued to grow. By 1970, there was a need for a new facility that could seat 50 more parishioners. A larger tract of land was purchased for $2,000 and, indeed, that steel building was delivered and installed for $47,000. From the old, turn-of-the-century, church, one can still find the beautiful wood-carved altar and the bell in the tower at the new church.
This steel building became the home for Blessed Sacrament Parish in Monteplier in 1970. The original carved altar and church bell were kept. The original church, built in 1897, was demolished. (Photo courtesy of Father Joseph Lustig)
The recent passing unto eternal life of longtime parishioners, Wilbur and Eleanor Skroh, has once again revived the past, by providing copies of all the news articles about the dedication of the new Blessed Sacrament Church.
Unbeknownst to the parishioners, it seems we have missed our Golden Jubilee, and it is surely time now to give thanks to God and celebrate the gift of a church, both the building and the people, at the start of this 51st year.
It appears that the number of her faithful souls is once again declining, but with a little bit of Father Hendrickx’s missionary zeal and the increase of Bear Lake tourism, Montpelier has a bright future.
With such a patron as the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Tabernacle of the Lord will yet be opened to feed the poor, the weak, and the hungry, and those who, with the eyes of faith, still encounter the Holy One of God. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, His stones (or steel) and His heart, united as one.
Father Lustig is pastor at Good Shepherd Catholic Community based in Soda Springs. The parish includes St. Mary’s in Soda Springs, Blessed Sacrament in Montpelier, Our Lady of Lourdes in Lava Hot Springs, St. Peter’s in Preston and St. Paul’s in Malad.
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