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SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Noah Bauer got the rare chance to bend the ear of one of the nation’s most powerful Catholics – Cardinal Edward Egan (left). The youngster gave the cardinal flowers on behalf of the youth of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. With Bauer is St. Mary’s rector Father Gus Richardson.

Cardinal Egan
Visits St. Mary's

By Jeanne Sager
OBERNBURG — August 31, 2004 – It may be one of the tiniest towns in Sullivan County, but Obernburg has secured its spot as God’s country.
The heart of the small hamlet, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, celebrated 150 years of spreading the Word of God on Sunday with a visit from Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of the New York Archdiocese.
Traveling upstate, leaving the dirty streets of Manhattan and breathing the fresh air of Sullivan County “certainly makes you more aware of the goodness of God,” Egan told the crowd assembled at St. Mary’s Sunday morning for Mass.
Egan was in town to honor a Catholic community built entirely on faith – in 1854 a lone German priest set out into the wilderness to share the teachings of Jesus Christ with the farmers eking out a living in Sullivan County.
His first Mass was said in Obernburg in September that year – Sunday’s service was almost 150 years to the day after Father Roesch first blessed the bread and wine on the hill in Obernburg.
This was symbolically the beginnings of Catholicism in Obernburg, but also the root of the Roman Catholic Church in Sullivan County.
Egan compared Roesch and his hearty band of parishioners with the missionaries who have traveled to some of the toughest parts of the world, surviving on their faith alone.
Mostly German farmers who didn’t speak the language of the land, they worked to “remove the rocks from the ground and prayed for the rain,” Egan said.
And yet they, with Father Roesch, founded a parish that spawned a community of Catholics that stands strong in Sullivan County 150 years later.
“I hope none of us will miss the romance and the hope in the founding of this church,” Egan said.
“Those wonderful Germans came here and made a community of faith, and we should be inspired by them.”
The people of St. Mary’s answered in kind – Father Gus Richardson said they’d been working for two years to prepare for this celebration.
They left no stone unturned in reviving the spirit of faith that created St. Mary’s, and in doing so, traced their roots.
They invited 17 residents of Obernburg, Germany to make the trip overseas to share in the celebration, including a descendant of the Deckelman family which sold the land of St. Mary’s to the church for $1 in the 1850s.
They sold sesquicentennial plates and ornaments to raise money and painted the church from steeple to stern.
“It was an awful lot of work,” Richardson said. “But I had a lot of help from the parishioners. I must say it was a joy doing it.”
During a banquet at the Rockland House in Roscoe after Mass, several hundred people, including the county’s Catholic priests and celebrants from other area churches, gathered to give thanks and honor St. Mary’s for its place in the history of Sullivan County Catholicism.
They honored the Franciscans who have steered St. Mary’s since the late 1800s – when Otto van Bismarck turned the Franciscans out of Germany, many came to Sullivan County where they were welcomed by the German-speaking residents.
Although Roesch and several of his successors were diocesan priests, Egan noted St. Mary’s sanctuary boasts statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua – both Franciscan saints.
“Did they know Mr. Bismarck would do us such a favor and send us the sons of Francis and the brothers of Anthony?” Egan asked.
They knew, at least, that the church would produce a congregation worthy of the Medal of St. Francis – 15 were handed out Sunday to some of St. Mary’s most loyal and active parishioners, including Ruth and Paul Brustman, Jim and Rita Greier, Deacon Larry Knack, Terry and Sue Krofecheck, Victor and Joanne Luciani, Loretta Mele, William Meyer, Dorothy and Gerry McMurrer and Joe and Barbara Schultz.
Egan and the parishioners of St. Mary’s cheered Richardson – the short, elderly priest bedecked in the traditional brown robes who has ended Masses in Obernburg for nearly a decade with his motto: “Smile because God loves you very much.”
“He’s warm, he’s loving, and he’s very proud and happy to be pastor here,” Egan said. “May nothing ever happen to move the Franciscans from St. Mary’s.”
At least not for another 150 years ...

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