Immaculate Conception Parish
In the early 1900’s as people began to settle in the Winner area people of the Catholic faith were served as a mission. Priests visited the area on an irregular basis. Prior to the parish church being built, Mass would be offered in the homes of Catholics. Chairs would often be borrowed from neighbors, who were not necessarily Catholic, to accommodate those who attended Mass.
Eventually the closest resident priest was located in Gregory where Rev. J. F. Guessen was assigned in 1909. While serving Winner from Gregory, Fr. Guessen entered into a contract to build a church in Winner. On December 11, 1910, the first Mass in the new church was said by Rev. John Novak. On June 24, 1914, the Rev. Charles H. Virnig was appointed pastor at Winner and became the first resident priest of the city.
St. Mary’s Elementary School was completed in 1920 and was staffed with Presentation Sisters from Dubuque, Iowa. The school was closed in 1938 because Sisters were not available. The Sisters were once again available, so it was reopened in the fall of 1940. St. Mary’s finally closed its doors in the spring of 1968 and stood vacant until being torn down in 1974.
After the 1930’s and the years of drought and grasshoppers, the economy of Tripp County became more stable, people returned and the population increased, as the agriculture economy grew. The parish church began to feel the pressure of this expansion. Soon a change in the physical plant would be necessary. As early as September 16, 1946, it was recommended by Father Virnig and the trustees (Dave Coash and Frank Wurnig) to begin a drive to enlarge the church facilities. In December it was again discussed with the added discussion of about not merely an addition, but building a completely new structure. For two years the expansion program was discussed some money was collected, but definite plans did not materialize. However, by 1948, the decision to build a new church began to out weigh the plan of an addition. A building committee was formed and more money collected. An architect, Mr. Ursa Louis Freed of Aberdeen, submitted preliminary plans. The size of the building was to be 64’ 6” x 120’ with a seating capacity of 360. The plans were approved by His Excellency, The Most Reverend William T. McCarty; Bishop of Rapid City. On February 27, 1949, at a meeting of the Pastor, the Trustees and the building committee, the final decision was made to proceed with the new church building. The contractor, a nephew of Father Virnig, was Mr. Joseph B. Buechner, of Mt Horeb, Wisconsin. The church was to be among the first of the “brick and mortar” churches in the Rapid City Diocese.
The City Council of the City of Winner gave approval of the “application for the privilege of erecting, moving in or repairing of the building on Lot 4-5, Block 38, Original Addition.” The old church was moved north, next to the school and continued in service until the new one was built. It was later cut in half; one part becoming the Eastside Grocery, the other part was moved to Tom Coash’s farm. The garage, once a barn, was sold to Mr. Lynn.
Two features were outstanding in the design of the new church. The front, facing East, was made unique and beautiful with a Crucifixion group, Mary and John at the foot of the cross, in Bas-Relief over the main entrance. It was made by the St. Paul Statuary Co. of St. Paul, MN. Inside the church was a striking and artistic set of stained glass windows, donated as memorials, and was imported from Germany, where they were made by Richard Sussmuth of Immenhausen. The altar from the old church was remodeled and installed in the new church. Many of the statues, the Stations of the Cross, pews and other furnishings were transferred, also.
The first Mass, in the new church was celebrated by Father Virnig on Dec. 18, 1949. It was blessed and dedicated on April 12, 1950, by His Excellency, the Most Reverend William T. McCarty, Bishop of Rapid City. The occasion was marked by a banquet in the American Legion Hall.
Father Virnig was elevated to the rank of Monsignor in the Catholic Church on December 18, 1953. Because of Monsignor Virnig’s failing health and the growth of the parish, Rev. Robert G. Beckers was sent as an assistant in 1955. Monsignor Virnig died January 31, 1959. Upon Monsignor Virnig’s death, Father Beckers became the administrator of the parish until the Reverend Eugene Szalay was appointed pastor on December 4, 1959.
The Reverend Gerald Scherer coached and taught at St. Mary’s School. In January of 1956, he was appointed pastor of Witten, Hamill and Dixon-Iona churches. He lived in Winner at one time and helped out at times at the Immaculate Conception Church.
The parish observed its Golden Jubilee in 1960 with Father Szalay as Pastor. He served the Winner Parish until 1969, when the Reverend John Birdsall was named Pastor and served until 1970. Then Father Leo O’Doherty was assigned in Winner, from 1970 to 1974. Then in 1974, the Reverend Joseph Zeller was assigned to Winner and remained until 1985. In 1985, Reverend Arnold Kari was appointed Pastor and served until 1990. Brother Michael Caven served as a Pastorial Associate from 1975 until his retirement in 1994. Brother Caven died March 13, 1996. Father Kerry Prendiville served as Pastor from 1990 until 1993. Father Brian Lane was appointed Pastor in 1993 until 1999. Father Leo Hausmann was then assigned to Pastor and served until 2007. During Father Hausmann’s tenure Father Janusz Korban, a native of Poland, was assigned as an Associate Pastor. He also served as an administrator during the times Father Hausmann was away studying Canon Law for the Rapid City Diocese. Monsignor Michael Woster was assigned to the Winner Parish August of 2004 and served as Pastor until July 2012. Our present Pastor is Fr. Andrzej Wyrostek, also a native of Poland. Immaculate Conceptions Feast Day is The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8th.
While the school was still operating there came a need for a gymnasium and parish hall. So a drive started in December of 1957 and work started in June of 1958. St. Mary’s Hall was built by a local contractor, Harry Jorgensen, and many parish volunteers. St. Mary’s Hall was dedicated on April 4, 1959. After the school closed the Winner Public School utilized St. Mary’s Hall for its hot lunch program for several years. During the 1990’s the Winner School used St Mary’s Hall while the old high school/middle school was demolished and a new middle school was built. After 50 years of use by the parish school, church and community, St. Mary’s Hall underwent a major renovation in 2009. A state-of-the-art kitchen was installed to serve parish needs and the community at large. The former convent in the hall was renovated and handicap bathrooms were installed on the main floor level. This project was financed by donations, fund raisers and countless volunteer hours.
In 1968, a new rectory was built for the priests of the parish. This new home was constructed by parishioner’s Bill Koos and John Blindert. In more recent years the lower level of the rectory has been converted to house the parish programs and office staff. In 2013, the parish remodeled the upstairs rectory.
The Parish Today
In 2006, the Pastor, the Parish Council and other leaders engaged in a comprehensive inventory of the condition of the parish church and property. Little attention had been given to the building for many years. It was clear repairs and renovations were in order.
In 2008, a listing of necessary projects was provided to Parishioners and the Council entered into a serious planning phase for work to begin prior to the Immaculate Conception 100th anniversary in 2010.
In December of 2009, His Excellency, Bishop Blase J. Cupich, of the Rapid City Diocese, gave approval to the 1st phase of the 2010 Centennial campaign to raise funds for the renovation of the church building. The church renovation was to be completed by June 19th, 2010, the date of the Centennial celebration.
In January of 2010, the parish church was emptied and the renovation began. The ceiling and flooring was replaced, a permanent baptistry was to be established, insulation was to be added to the walls and ceiling, and a better seating arrangement for choir and musicians was arranged. Also a larger vestibule was created for more adequate gathering space. The entrance was adorned with new stained glass complementing the church décor.
The project began under the guidance of Bruce Drapeaux, architect, Steve Higgins, carpentry, and Rich Laber of Rosebud Concrete. Den Jorgensen was asked to be coordinator of the countless volunteers who assisted in the project. When plans were shared with parishioners, the response was immediate with 50% of the monies needed for the 1st phase of the Centennial project coming within two months of its proclamation. As this history is being produced, the 2010 Centennial campaign continues to unfold. It is with confidence that the generous time, talent and support, which characterized the building of Immaculate Conception Church in 1910, will see all the projects of the campaign to completion.
We are proud of our church buildings at Immaculate Conception Church. We know that buildings are not the most important part of a church community. As scripture reminds us, Christians themselves are the true Body of Christ and comprise the building stones of the House of God. The labor and sacrifices which are behind every brick and stone of our church symbolizes our commitment to build Christ’s church here on earth through the life and mission of Immaculate Conception Parish in Winner, South Dakota.