St. Patrick, Forest City
St. Patrick’s Church began in a little town of Forest City which was located west of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Forest City was founded and incorporated in 1859. Irish Catholic families began settling in the area as early as 1856. In 1858, the Catholics of Forest City organized as a church group under the direction of their first priest, Father Francis Cannon. Father Cannon was followed by several missionaries. By 1859, there were sixteen Catholic families living around Forest City. These pioneers gradually became too numerous to meet comfortably in dugouts or log cabins for Mass; therefore, they decided to build a church. Initially, William Fogarty donated two acres of land for the church about a quarter of a mile north of Forest City. By 1860, all the building materials had been gathered; however, William Fogarty sold his farm to John Waggoner, who did not want the church on his land. This was quite a blow to the community. The work resumed in 1863 when Wesley Knight, the founder of Forest City, donated an acre of his land. There was a good crop of wheat that year and $70.00 was collected for carpentry to build the 20 x 30 ft. log structure, while the logs and labor were donated. The Bishop blessed the church in honor of St. Patrick which was very appropriate since nearly all parishioners hailed from the Emerald Isle. Missionaries continued to serve St. Patrick’s Church. On July 5, 1869, John Thomas Jr. and his wife donated five acres of their farmland for a cemetery. This graveyard is presently known as Thomas Calvary. At this time the community had approximately 160 Catholics. This growth necessitated the need for a larger church structure. A 30 x 60 ft. frame church was erected next to the log church at the cost of $600.00 for carpentry work and $1,000.00 for lumber. Fr. Patrick Keenan was the first resident pastor in 1875. Several priests followed with the longest resident pastor, Fr. John Vincent Wallace (1880-1917). In 1884, he opened the second graveyard, which is presently called Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
St. Patrick, Gretna
In 1886, the Burlington Railway built a short-line from Omaha to Ashland bypassing Forest City. A new railroad station was established called Gretna, named for a well-known community in Scotland. On September 30, 1887, Fr. Wallace purchased a block of 12 lots, 300 x 300 ft. for $150.00. On September 1, 1890, Fr. Wallace began building a rectory on the newly acquired parcel of land. He continued to say Mass in the old church at Forest City until Easter of 1895. The parish was incorporated, according to the laws of Nebraska, as St. Patrick’s Church of Gretna on April 16, 1894. Ten days later, the parish board resolved to erect a new and bigger church, the same south wing of St Patrick’s Church which is still in use today. At that time, the church was a solid frame structure built with white wood, Gothic in style, measuring 40 x 80 ft. costing $9,000.00. Its pews had a seating capacity of 240 persons. Construction of the new church began on May 1, 1894, and was completed in March of 1895. After completion, three bells were purchased for the belfry of the new Church. There were 62 families and 310 parishioners at that time. In the spring of 1915, electric lights were installed to replace the candles and kerosene lamps previously used. In 1922, the street in front of the church was paved with brick and an electric pipe organ was donated. The church was also enlarged, a new roof added, and brick veneer covered the structure. The parish consisted of 78 families and 325 people. In the latter half of the twentieth century, Gretna experienced steady growth.
In 2001, with the help of Pastor, Fr. Daniel Soltys, a larger worship space and an religious education facility was very much needed. The former church entrance on Angus Street, as well as the body of the orginial church would remain as does the bell tower, choir loft and stained glass windows. During construction, the windows were removed, refurbished and placed in the north and south transepts of the church. The brick on the new church was chosen to match the old brick as closely as possible. The tabernacle and sanctuary lamp that was donated in1947 by Mrs. John Langdon had been refinished and placed in the adoration chapel. The stations of the cross and the statues were repainted, repaired and placed throughout the church uniting the past and present. The seating capacity went from 240 to approximently 900.
In 2005, Fr. Michael Grewe took over as Pastor and continued to add to St. Patrick’s to help the growth of Gretna. The altar was refurbished from concrete to tile. The Adoration Chapel was built and made larger. There was the demolition of the old CCD building as well as the old Parish Hall located west of the church. The most recent project was the feasibility study that led to a capital campaign for the Religious Education addition which also comprised of a new Preschool program and the Parish Center. Later, the Narthex and southwest entrance were remodeled. As of Spring 2017 with the help of our community, St. Patrick’s is debt free. Today, St. Patrick has nearly 1,400 families and continues to see a growth spurt with the leadership of Pastor, Fr. Matthew Gutowski.