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04-12-03: If you buy it, please move it
Standard Correspondent
   PHILOTHEA - It might have been easier, the two men acknowledged, just to tear the old house down.
    But no one wanted that, they said. In a small town like Philothea, the church is the heart of the town. And the house next to the church, where for years and years their pastor made his home, means something more to the people of the town than a pile of lumber and glass.
    Now that St. Mary Catholic Church in Philothea no longer has a resident pastor, there is no need for it to have a priest's residence, said Rick Hemmelgarn and Rick Uhlenhake, members of the church council who have been charged with finding a future for the old house. Currently, it is sitting empty, and the parish has no need of the space. To let it deteriorate as its empty eyes look out on the town would be a shame and a waste, they said.
    "And we don't want to tear it down," Hemmelgarn said.
    The house sits too close to the church to make it a good house for a family. And it is on property that the church may someday want to use for other things. The best solution, they said, would be for someone to buy the house and move it.
    "If somebody buys it and keeps it intact, it gets a new life," Uhlenhake said.
    Uhlenhake, who is also an auctioneer with Coldwater Auction Service, will be accepting bids on the house when it is placed on auction May 3 at 10 a.m. Furnishings, equipment and tools will also be sold. And after the sale everything - including the house - must be moved to another location.
    "When you walk through the house, you can feel that it's solid," Uhlenhake said. "It could make somebody a nice home."
    Wherever it goes, the house will take with it the memories of the people of St. Mary. Hemmelgarn, who grew up in Philothea, said one of his chores as a boy was to take a freshly-baked loaf of bread to the priest's house every week when his grandmother did her baking.
    "I'd take the bread to them, and they'd always give me a quarter," he said.
    The four-bedroom frame house was built in 1905, according to the Rev. Ron Wilker, who is now pastor of St. Mary as well as Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Coldwater. Many of the rectories in the area were built around the same time, he said, because the archbishop at the time, Henry Moeller, decreed that priests in his archdiocese would live in their parishes.
    "A lot of people don't realize that before that, we didn't have resident pastors. Archbishop Moeller was something of a maverick," Wilker said.
    Before that time, most priests lived in a community with each other at convents or seminaries, and traveled to their churches as they were needed.
    Under the archbishop's instructions, the people of Philothea built a fine home for their priest. Perhaps they were happy to do so. Rev. Wilker said St. Mary, founded in 1851, was always a hard-working, progressive parish. St. Mary was actually the mother church of Holy Trinity in Coldwater. The people of their parish built their own school (now in use as a parish hall), and a house for their schoolteacher, which once stood next to the priest's house.
    St. Mary remains a cohesive and dedicated parish with 110 families, Rev. Wilker said. But with the current shortage of Roman Catholic priests, it lost its last resident pastor in 2001, when Rev. Louis Barga, C.PP.S., retired. It has since become a part of the Coldwater cluster of parishes that will eventually also include St. Anthony.
    "The new arrangement is going well," Wilker said. "Everything we need to have done by lay ministers is being done. They're taking care of all the facilities, and everything is well organized. Lots of people are doing lots of things."
    When Wilker travels to Philothea for its one Mass on Sunday, he said, the building is open and ready for the liturgy.
    "And the church is always full," he said.
    The priest's house was offered first to the members of the parish. Then the council members put small notices in the bulletins of neighboring churches, offering the house for sale to someone who would move it. There was some interest, but no serious offers, Hemmelgarn said.
    "I did get a call from someone who offered to tear it down for us," he said.
     With the auction, the house will be offered to the public, and the council members hope that they will find the right buyer who will appreciate the old place.
    "It's in such good shape," Uhlenhake said. "There were never any kids living in here, so there aren't any dings in the woodwork."
    And the people of the church will be happy to see it go to a new home, added Wilker.
    "The people there are very strong on tradition," he said. "And I think when the house is moved away, even though it will no longer be theirs, they will enjoy the thought that it once was a part of their parish."


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