Four days of events this past weekend marked the first 50 years of Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids.
In April 1964, Archbishop Leo Binz assigned the Rev. Bernard Reiser the task of establishing a new Catholic parish in Coon Rapids and on June 16, 2014, Epiphany had its formal beginning under the leadership of Reiser, who was the church’s pastor until his retirement from full-time work in 2001, but who remained pastor-emeritus at Epiphany until his death in December 2012.
There were 200 founding members of the parish and an invitation was sent to those still on the parish records to attend a founding dinner that kicked off the 50th anniversary celebration June 12.
According to the Rev. Thomas Dufner, Epiphany pastor, 185 people came to the dinner and several of them stood up and told stories of those early days. “It was a magnificent, beautiful evening,” Dufner said.
The church has now grown to 3,300 families, making Epiphany one of the largest Catholic parishes in the state.
Many of them came to the all-parish reunion, which took place the evening of June 13 in a large tent set up in the church parking lot and included a barbecue, music and a fireworks display.
Among those at the parish reunion were Joel Jacobs, who was one of the founding members of the church in 1964, and Dawn and Felix Mannella, who have been members since 1968.
According to Jacobs, who served on the Coon Rapids City Council and then the Minnesota House of Representatives for many years before being appointed to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, from which he retired some years ago, there are lot of things he recalls from those early days of the church, but chief among them was “Father Reiser’s knack for getting people to volunteer.”
Reiser said all the right things and people always said yes, no matter the project, Jacobs said.
“Father Reiser did an awful lot of things for this community,” he said.
An example was the time Reiser ordered 100,000 petunia plants because he wanted to beautify the city, Jacobs said. “We all wondered how he was going to get rid of 100,000 petunias, but Father Reiser had no trouble whatsoever,” he said.
According to Felix Mannella, in the early days of the church, Reiser contacted local stores to have church volunteers do inventory for the businesses, with the money paid for the work going to the church as a fundraiser.
“Father Reiser would get church members to volunteer for the inventory work from 11 p.m. at night to 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning,” Felix Mannella said.
Reiser did not worry about finances when he started a project, but it always got paid for, he said. “Father Reiser was the kind of guy that if you build it, they will come,” Felix Mannella said.
In his years as pastor, Reiser’s goal was to make Epiphany a “womb to tomb” church and he achieved that apart from a high school, according to Felix Mannella.
Epiphany has a kindergarten through grade eight school, while the campus also includes a senior apartment building, an assisted living-memory care facility and a cemetery.
“But the church is talking about a high school,” said Dawn Mannella.
All of their nine children attended the school, she said.
The celebration continued Saturday evening with an ice cream social following the 5:30 p.m. Mass and wrapped up Sunday with Bishop Leo Piche, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, leading the 11 a.m. Mass, which also included a massed choir comprising both past and present choir members, followed by a brunch.