Since that fateful August night in 2006 , the future of Maryhill has been uncertain. The Diocese of Sioux City determined that since the population of the rural church had been declining in recent years, a new church would not be built at the site.
That decision did not sit well with the parish that has seen Maryhill as their spiritual home for many generations. The decision to rebuild also never sat well with the Retired Rev. Gene Sitzmann, who was pastor of the church from 1970 to 2005.
Sitzmann was there the night the Church was destroyed. He lived, and still lives, on the grounds at Maryhill, which still house the Maryhill Catholic Cemetery, two houses ,and the former rural school.
On Sunday, many of the former members came back to Maryhill to be part of the dedication of the new Maryhill Welcome Center. The Center is a shelter- style house for families and former members to come home to. It is designed much like the shelter houses that you find in many of the parks in Cherokee County, but there is something unique about this shelter house.
It was constructed using many artifacts from the old church, including some of the stained glass windows, and is finished with wood from the church. The shelter house is also home to a small museum, which showcases much of Maryhill's history. It is a perfect site for gatherings and reunions, or just a family-style picnic. It contains picnic tables and a large grill for use by visitors. Next to the shelter house, there is the Rainbow Playground, built just for kids.
The Maryhill Welcome Center and Rainbow Playground was a gift to the parish from Sitzmann , and is dedicated to his parents.
"I had it in my will to leave money to the Maryhill parish," said Sitzmann. "But after a lot of thinking, I thought 'Why can't I do something for the parish now? ' Plus, I'd be around to see it being used."
Sitzmann's dedication states: "In appreciation for the rural life values that have shaped my life and vocation, I gift this shelter, Memorial Treasury, and adjacent Rainbow play area to the people of Maryhill, the Vineyard Cluster and the Diocese of Sioux City. I do so in fond memory of my parents, Edwin and Irene Sitzmann, who were lifelong Plymouth County Farmers, and with heavenly dedication to St. Isidore, the patron of farmers."
With the pastoral direction and support given by Father Armand Bertrand, the pair blessed the new Maryhill Welcome Center on Sunday with a dedication ceremony. Sitzmann thanked many area businesses and individuals who helped him make this gift a reality: Brian Lunders Construction, along with his family members; Marcus Lumber; Nelson Electric; R.J. Thomas Manufacturing; Holton Signs; Valley Glass; Waldner Landscaping; Ruhland Nurseries; Jim and Annette Meyer; Carolyn Henke; Beth Rupp; Anne Wilberding; Bill Schmidt; John Wiemold; Larry Pitts; Tony Steward; and Mike Lunders. Sitzmann expresses his appreciation to those folks and regrets any others he may have missed.
It is true that this shelter will not replace the destroyed church, but it does ensure that the parish will have a place to gather on their holy ground. It has been stated that a church is not just a building, but rather the people who gather in that building that makes it a church. With the gift from Rev. Sitzmann, the people of Maryhill will be able to gather together for many years to come.
For more photos from Sunday's dedication, see the Maryhill photo Gallery.