Sunday was an historical day as a dedication ceremony for the Rosary Shrine and Maryhill Parish Memorial was held.
Bishop Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese was in attendance and performed the dedication ceremony with the assistance of Cherokee Deacon LeRoy Rupp and Father Brent Lingle of the Sioux City Diocese Office of Worship.
With hundreds in attendance, the ceremony began with Father Gene Sitzmann, long time pastor of Maryhill and Dedication organizer, introducing Father Daniel Guenther who gave the official welcome.
Guenther recently took over both parishes of Cherokee Immaculate Conception and Marcus Holy Name Catholic Church and is the current administrator of Maryhill.
Father Armand Bertrand, previous pastor of Cherokee Immaculate Conception Church and Marcus Holy Name Church, and Maryhill Administrator, was next to speak to the audience. Bertrand gave a history of the development of the Maryhill Memorial sites that began in 2006 after a windstorm demolished the Maryhill Church that had stood for over 100 years, and 38 beautiful shade trees that shrouded the property.
It was shortly thereafter that news from the Diocese 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 Sitzmann 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.
Sitzmann then 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 are on 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.
Following Bertrand's development speech, Bishop Nickless began the Dedication Rite Blessing of the Memorial sites.
Soloist Maureen Kohn and Keyboardist Charlotte Groves then performed "Ave Maria."
Bishop Nickless then proceeded with his comments and reflections stating that Maryhill is now one of the three sacred blessed structures in Iowa. The others include The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend and Trinity Heights in Sioux City.
It is the Bishop's hope that Maryhill will be a destination point in between the two other popular memorials, with pilgrimages formed to tour all three blessed sites.
After a closing hymn, Father Sitzmann concluded the ceremony with some final announcements. He gave thanks and acknowledged several people and local business that came together to make Maryhill a place that would live on. He also announced that the old Maryhill School building that has stood for many decades at the grounds would be razed next fall.
He encouraged former students to come and take pictures of the structure while it is still possible.
Soon after the ceremony was over a the crowd began to walk the Rosary, admired the "Our Lady of the Fields" statue, read the "Reflections of the Mysteries," and took a tour of the tower pavilion.
Then a reception and Open House was held at Maryhill Welcome Center Shelter House for Father Sitzmann who observed his 50th year of ordination.
Many of the former members of the Maryhill Church were in attendance and Sitzmann had many of his personal artifacts on display. Refreshments were served, including cake and homemade ice cream.
The Knights of Columbus assisted in all facets of the special Sunday event, from parking cars to offering a rosary or rosary-ring to each household represented at the memorable, historic Maryhill Dedication Ceremony.