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St. Mary's Historical Church still has vital role in the Woodburn community

This is view of the outside of St. Mary's Historical Church of Woodburn.
OST photo by AMY HANSEN This is view of the outside of St. Mary's Historical Church of Woodburn.

WOODBURN — As far back as historical records show, and as far back as anyone can remember, Woodburn has had the oldest church in Clarke County.

LaVera Cottrell of Woodburn was a member of the church and remembers attending services as a child.

"We had a woodburning stove, and someone came and built the fire the night before mass. We had mass on Sunday, but for my parents, before that, when they first built it, they just had a priest come from Chariton on the railroad, come up on the train, and had it about once a month."

Cottrell is currently treasurer for the St. Mary's Historical Church committee.

Even though regular services for St. Mary's Historical Church ended more than three decades ago, the church still has a role in community.

While the church doesn't have regular services, it does offer nondenominational wedding ceremonies. For fundraising, every year, there is a homecoming event held during the fourth Saturday in August. The event features a food stand and quilt raffle.

At this time, it's the church's source of income.


St. Mary's Church was founded in 1878 by railroad workers to serve 36 families of Irish descent.

Construction of the church is dated back to 1870 with native lumber costing $1,200.

The frame building was blown down a few years later, and eventually rebuilt double in size.

The three-room chapel has a Gothic design with a vaulted ceiling and stained-glass windows. The church also has a confessional.

In November 1981, the bishop discontinued masses and many parishioners began attending St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Osceola.

After 10 years of vacancy, the church building was in need of many repairs. Cottrell said closed churches are normally torn down.


A group of local residents asked the diocese in Des Moines for the church to be deeded to the city of Woodburn.

In 1992, a committee was formed to oversee the church's upkeep, with no expense to the city.

"Then, there was a committee of five that was appointed, and we were to look after it for no cost to the city," Cottrell said. "And, if it got to the place where we couldn't maintain it, then they could do with it what they wanted to."

Cottrell's granddaughter Brandi Kastler is a member of the church's five-member committee.

Kastler said the church is special to her, and she has many memories of its restoration.

"When I was younger, I didn't realize what we were doing," Kastler said. "I was up here all the time with grandma. … Well, we were actually restoring it at that time. You know, so I spent a lot of time up here as a kid, and my mom actually helped grandma and redid all the stations of the cross, all the gold leaf."

Kastler got married at the church in 2003. She said her wedding was small and intimate.

The inside of the church is a beige color Kastler's mother painted before her wedding. Before the beige color, it was brownish-red.

Another one of Kastler's memories includes the event, "Three Nights of Music for God," that was put on by the three churches in Woodburn.

As for the 14 stations of the cross, which all Catholic churches have, Cottrell said no one can remember how old St. Mary's are, and they can't find historical records.


While many repairs have been made to the church, a future project is fixing a portion of the roof near the cupola.

While the church isn't an official historical landmark, yet, Kastler said she has talked with Ann Diehl, commission chairperson of Osceola Historic Preservation Commission, about getting the process started.

"Grandma said years back they tried," Kastler said.

When a comment was made about the church having as good a shot as any on becoming a historical landmarks, Kastler replied, "I think so, too."


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