At 2 p.m., the dedication of the recently completed Maryhill Shrine and Prayer Tower will be held. Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese will dedicate the Maryhill site. Following the dedication ceremony, there will be a reception at the Maryhill Welcome Center Shelter House.
The reception will blend into the second event of the day, an Open House for Father Gene Sitzmann from 4 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination
Last year a stone block replica of the Maryhill Church tower began at the sight of the church. This replica of the tower was due to the efforts of longtime Maryhill Pastor Father Gene Sitzmann and members of the former Maryhill congregation to provide a "devotion and education pavilion" on the grounds at Maryhill.
In 2006, a windstorm demolished the church that had stood for over 100 years. It was shortly thereafter that news from the Archdiocese in Sioux City came that the church would not be rebuilt.
It was Sitzmann's wish to see the former parishioners still have a place to come home to when they came to the hallowed grounds of Maryhill. It was that need that led him to build the shelter house and playground, named the Maryhill Welcome Center and Rainbow Playground, in 2009.
The Welcome 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 demolished 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.
At that time, Sitzmann promised that there would be more to come on the grounds of Maryhill. True to his word, Sitzmann saw to the construction and completion of a prayerful memorial shrine that reflects on all the themes of the Four Gospel Mysteries and the Rosary.
The memorial shrine was constructed on the exact sight of the fallen church and takes the shape of a Rosary. Visitors can discover for themselves as they walk up the stairs that led to the church that a new vision awaits them.
A devotional site in prayerful support of rural life and its economies is at the heart of the shrine, with a memorial to "Our Lady of the Fields," representing the Virgin Mary.
Directly behind the memorial is a planter where a few ears of wheat, corn, and alfalfa are currently growing. Once again, reflection of rural life and its economy will be on display.
Connecting the entrance walkway with the pentagon, like on a Rosary, will be the Rosary Centerpiece which will be the corner stone of the former church.
The new devotion and education pavilion now sits behind the Rosary and houses a pair of signs that welcomes visitors to "Our Lady of the Fields" at Maryhill and the "Reflections of the Mysteries," along with the "Prayers of the Rosary."
The small pavilion houses some benches where visitors can come and pray while in a peaceful surroundings.
There are also four stained glass windows installed at the church tower replica. These four windows all once hung in the former church, which at one time housed 16 stained glass windows. However most of them were destroyed in the windstorm, along with the church.
On top of the tower replica stands a six-foot stainless steel cross that is also a replica of the cross that stood on the original tower.
It is the hope of Sitzmann that Maryhill will still offer a place for devotion, along with education, for many years to come.
Sitzmann, who resides at Maryhill, was born to Edwin and Irene (Nugent) Sitzmann. A native of Le Mars, he attended St. Joseph School and Gehlen High School before attending the former Westmar College in Le Mars, St. Benedict's, Atchison, Kanas and the University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium. Sitzmann also earned a Master's degree in social work from the University of Iowa.
Bishop Honore van Weayenbergh ordained Father Sitzmann at the Catholic University of Louvain, American College, on July 1, 1962. Sitzmann just completed a trip back to Louvain as part of his 50th year observation..
Father Sitzmann has served at St. Joseph Parish in Sioux City, Corpus Christi Parish in Fort Dodge, St Rose of Lima Parish in Denison, Holy Spirit Parish and Kuemper High School in Carroll, St. John Parish in Quimby and Visitation Parish at Maryhill. He also served as chaplain at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute and director of the Clinical Pastoral Education program there.
He retired from full-time ministry in 2005.
Through the years, Father Sitzmann has most enjoyed serving a rural parish for many years in line with his personal and family heritage, together with serving both the mentally ill and walking well outpatients and their families at the MHI in addition to providing training and supervision for more than 400 seminary students of various Christian Faith traditions.