Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Church, Bells, a Statue and an Amazing Adventure

 Sometimes when you make a mistake it can lead to a great adventure.  Such was the case when I returned to Remsen, Iowa in 2021.

In 2020 I traveled and visited St. Mary’s church in Remsen, Iowa and the Basilica of St.Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Iowa. (See previous posts).  I knew that my maternal great grandparents John & Marie Bentz and Jacob & Katie Hamman had immigrated from Luxembourg, settled first in eastern Iowa and then made their way to Remsen, Plymouth County in western Iowa.  I was so grateful that I was able to visit the churches they were involved with.

Due to Covid many research facilities were closed to the public.  I was not able to visit the DyersvilleHistorical Society while I was there but I did leave a message on the phone. Later we talked and a researcher from the Society sent me a copy of a sermon one of the priests had written that talked about the Luxembourg connection that she thought I’d enjoy reading.  From Father Petty’s sermon I learned a little more about St. Mary’s, the Basilica and the Luxembourg stained glass window.  How interesting.  I looked back through my 2020 pictures of St. Mary’s and did not find one.  Bummer!  Guess this means I MUST go back.  It sure would be interesting to know which window it was and have a picture of it to better understand the connection of the people of the parish to their motherland of Luxembourg.

When I made it this spring to LeMars, Iowa I called the church office to ask if the church would be open on Saturday when I would be in town.  Well, there was going to be a wedding that day …so, no, I couldn’t go in…but I’m only there for a few days and drove from California, etc. etc…but after some checking they said if I was there at 9 am on Saturday I would be able to go in.  (If they’d said 6 am you can believe I would have been there!)  I asked specifically about the Luxembourg window and was told there was information in the back of the church that talked about the windows.

click on images to enlarge

I was there at the appointed time and parked out in front of the church.  The information in the rear of the church had to do only with donations to restore the windows, so, I walked around the church and began taking pictures of all the stained glass windows.  I caught the attention of a gentleman walking through the rear of the church and asked if he was a member of the Parish, and asked "Gee, do you know which of the stained glass windows is the Luxembourg window?"  He hesitantly replied, “well no” and explained that he and another gentlemen where just there to service the bells and quickly asked if I wanted I could go up and see the bells?  I gladly accepted.  This may not have anything to do directly with my ancestors but shouldn’t we always be open to new experiences?  And what an exciting adventure it was!

Up we went.  First we climbed on several levels of regular stairs and then up straight wooden ladders and through trap doors.  I was able to see where the original ropes had gone through the levels of flooring to ring the bells that are all now automated.  Wow, we made it up to the bells. 

1884 stamped on the bells

While the church may have been rebuilt I am guessing these were the original bells that hung in the church when my ancestors, three generations of them, attended this church.  What an amazing piece of history this was!  The men did their servicing of the bells and I was ready to descend when they said, “ But don’t you want to go up a few more levels to the highest point and look out the clock faces?”  Well, sure, I’ve come this far why not go up and look out?  Wouldn’t you?

Looking out the four windows-

I know Jacob owned land out in one direction.  Last year I had gone and found his farm land.  Now I was looking out from the clock and seeing it from a different vantage point.  I knew where the wives (Katie and Mary) had lived, the next block over from the church, and looked in that direction also.  What amazing views!  What an amazing vantage point to see the area where my great great grandparents and great grandparents and my grandfather had lived!  Looking down at my camper showed how high I was.

Now it was time to descend.  Down the narrow stairway, 

down the horizontal ladder missing the rung, past a beautiful window,

down, down.  That process seemed a little slower but we all made it safely. How many people can say they have been up in the church tower and seen the bells that were there when their ancestors were there well over 100 years ago?  Pretty amazing and an adventure that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there at that particular time and hadn’t reached out to ask for help.  I am so grateful for this opportunity!  Always be open to those new experiences, things that perhaps were not on your agenda but are just as wonderful to discover.

One of the men had called the Deacon of the church while we were climbing and asked him about the Luxembourg window for me.  Turns out there wasn’t a window at St. Mary’s but something else that came from Luxembourg- the ‘Luxembourg statue’:

Not what I was looking for but so very beautiful!  At least I found something that connected the immigrants from Luxembourg to their homeland.  What is this statue all about and why was I so wrong about the window being there?

Later, I went back and reread Father Petty’s sermon and realized ...

(to be continued)

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share, I look forward to hearing them.

Enjoy the journey,