150 years of faith

St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church celebrates milestone anniversary

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For 150 years, St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church has served the Blair community. The parish will be celebrating Sunday with Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

For the Leehy family, 150 years means that at least three generations have received the sacraments in the same church.

Peggy Leehy, and her husband Don, have been part of the parish for years. Don's family was one of the original families of the parish.

“Three to four generations out have been baptized and/or married in the church,” Peggy said. “We hope it continues on. John Leehy's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have come through this church.”

Peacefulness, camaraderie and the Eucharist are what draws Peggy to the church.

“It's always the Eucharist that draws us back again to the church,” she said. “When they remodeled the church it's beautiful, especially at night. For me, it was the peacefulness of going into the church any time of the day and it's the quietest place in town and in the presence of God.

Peggy said one way her and the other families stayed bonded was by pooling their money to buy a stained glass window in the church.

Fr. Damien Wee said this anniversary is a once in a lifetime event.

“We all look forward to the celebration and rejoice in the fact that there's been a Catholic presence in Blair for 150 years,” Wee said. “As Catholic Christians, we believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and so the Lord, Jesus, has been here through his presence in the Eucharist for these 150 years, as well.”

After Mass, parishioners will head out to the parking lot where Archbishop Lucas will bless the statue of St. Francis Borgia. The church is planning to ring the bell 150 times to remember all the generations that have passed through the church doors and all the sacraments they have received. A tent will be set up with birthday cake, cupcakes and a parish picnic. Games will also be available.

Wee said many parishioners have been watching online or have been absent due to the pandemic.

“We are hoping through this anniversary that those who haven't come to the church in awhile that they would come and join us for this celebration,” Wee said. “We have been put here at this time to celebrate for all generations that came before us.”

The first church was located at 14th and Colfax streets. When the town was first established, Catholics were served by missionaries from Omaha. The parish was organized in 1871 as St. Joseph's Catholic Church but incorporated in 1886 as St. Francis Catholic Church of Blair.

The church building cost $1,000.

The church was built at its current location at 2005 Davis Drive beginning in 1958, by the Jack Jensen Construction Company for $178,900. The church, social hall and rectory eventually grew with an additional building for religious education.

The cornerstone was laid in 1958 with several hundred people attending, including Msgr. B.J. Leahy of Fremont and Msgr. Daniel Sheehan, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha acting as master of ceremonies. Construction was slowed by rainy weather.

It was dedicated on May 10 with Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan as the guest speaker.

“One of the outstanding features of the new church is the harmonious blending of the exposed trusses in the main section of the church with the lines of the stained glass windows and the lamps hanging from the ceiling, made of bronze and spun aluminum,” an article in the April 27, 1959, Pilot-Tribune said. “The stained glass in the windows is so translucent that little light is lost as a result.”

The cross on the top of the church weighs 800 pounds and is 12 feet tall. The church seats 400, which more than doubled the seating capacity of the old church.

Over the years, the parish has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with other churches to feed those who need a meal, angel tree during the Advent season, a fish fry, prayer shawl ministry and accomplished other things.

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