Cedron celebrates 175th anniversary

 Father Ferdinand Helias, also known as the Apostle of Central Missouri, arrived in Central Missouri 175 years ago. He soon began a mission to Cedron which became the fourth of seven parishes he would found. Democrat photo/Michelle Brooks

Father Ferdinand Helias, also known as the Apostle of Central Missouri, arrived in Central Missouri 175 years ago. He soon began a mission to Cedron which became the fourth of seven parishes he would found. Democrat photo/Michelle Brooks Photo by Michelle Brooks.

By MICHELLE BROOKS

Democrat staff

CEDRON — Tucked inside crop fields, woods and state conservation land, a glimmering steeple rises from the centennial red brick belltower in Cedron.

The Apostle of Central Missouri, Father Ferdinand Helias discovered the beauty of the frontier families who settled there in the 1830s, establishing the fourth of seven parishes he founded after the Jesuits assigned to him the wilderness east of St. Louis.

Although the first Catholic church established in Moniteau County ceased to be a mission of Annunciation Parish, California, in 1993, the beauty and loyalty Helias must have seen is still evident in the friends group, which maintains the church building.

The building Helias would have known was made of logs built in 1843 on land donated by Ignatz Becker, first called Becker’s Church, later changed to Assumption Church of Moniteau, and then to Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was commonly known as The Assumption Catholic Church, Cedron.

The present church was completed in 1872. And the bell tower was added in 1903.

The truly historic site — including the authentic schoolhouse, the restored outhouse, the ornate confessional, the 1908-built rectory and the cemetery dating back to 1841 — is on its way to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

But the true warmth and beauty of the site lies in its memories and family connections.

“It’s love that keeps it going,” said Becker’s several great-granddaughter Suzy Imhoff-Green, who bought the priest’s home in 1965.

Her husband Thomas is kindly referred to as “the mayor of Cedron.”

An e-mail group of about 140 called the Friends of Cedron have cared for the buildings and land, holding fundraisers and opening it up to special occasions.

The Midnight Mass, once celebrated Christmas Eve and now closer to New Year’s Eve, is a community favorite. Giant Christmas trees would touch the vaulted ceiling and an antique Nativity set always goes out.

Many of these friends of Cedron were married in the church and expect their funerals will be held there, too.

“This is a great place,” said Tim Imhoff.

T.A. Odneal agreed, “this is a place of family significance, of memory.”

Mary Teresa Kirchhoff remembers the pump organ in the choir loft and Green remembered “sister school,” where for two weeks each summer nuns would teach in the old schoolhouse.

Parishioners cut donated wood for the furnace, Odneal remembered. And parish picnics included bingo with corn kernels.

Following Mass, members would linger for nearly an hour to catch up with neighbors.

“Time was not as rushed as it is today,” Kirchhoff said.

From 1896-1907 the town had its own post office. And the country store once was a hub of commerce and socialization.

More than 500 people attended the afternoon Mass and homecoming held in May 1966.

Since 1993, an association of mostly former members has installed a new roof, repaired major termite damage, restored the front three stained glass windows, installed new carpet and paint, renovated the outhouses, and restored the tin ceiling.

The next care-taking project will be tuckpointing.

When Cedron church was closed, the California church assumed responsibility for the property. The friends group decided to hold fundraisers to offset those costs of utilities and maintenance.

“This is a special place for a lot of people,” Kirchhoff said.

For Jan Burke from the state of California, she was able to find a physical connection to her immigrant-ancestors from Prussia.

For Catherine Johnston, also from the state of California, it is a place of rest for her parents.

Don Yoest remembers 1950s summers with his aunt, attending picnics and socials.

Robert Baker is emotionally attached the church as a reminder of visits to his grandparents’ farms, where the fields were worked by teams of horses and the food was cooked on wood stoves.

Cedron is a place of welcome to Gerald and Gloria Moore, who only attended their 20 years but it was where they felt the “most rooted,” they said.

Cindy Tuttle hopes the years of bringing her children the Saturday night Mass is as fond a memory for them as it is for her.

The Christmas card appearance outside and the smell of cedar inside are what Dave Imhoff recalls.

Jenny Cain was married there in 2006, in honor of her grandparents.

And U.S. Marine Private 1st Class Leon Deraps, Jamestown, was buried there that year when he died in Fallujah, Iraq, during combat operations against enemy forces.

Angeline Dusheke has the pleasure of being the keeper of her ancestors’ stories, like riding a mule to catechism classes but being tossed off at the slightest distraction.

Although Sharon Thomas never attended a service when the church was an active parish, the love of the people continues to draw her back today.

As a grade school student at St. Andrew’s in Tipton, Father Edwin Schmidt often would accompany the priest to serve Mass in Cedron.

Twenty years after closing as a regular mission church, Cedron will host a Welcome Back with Mass celebrated at noon Sunday, Aug. 18.

The community response to fundraising projects and special events confirms that Cedron church is important to Mid-Missouri, too.

“It’s very important we keep the name alive,” Odneal said.

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