St. Ludmila celebrates century of history, looks to future

Catholic church has been anchor of Czech Village neighborhood

The St Ludmila Catholic Church's new chapel was opened on September 1, 2001 after the historic church demolished its old
The St Ludmila Catholic Church's new chapel was opened on September 1, 2001 after the historic church demolished its old building to make room for its growing congregation. Elements such as the stained glass windows from the original church have been incorporated into the modern design of the new chapel.

CEDAR RAPIDS — For the parish at St. Ludmila’s Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, a 100-year history is no small feat. That’s why members of the Czech Village church will be celebrating for the next 13 months.

“It’s really a big deal,” said the Rev. Dennis Juhl, St. Ludmila’s parish priest. “It goes back to our goal for this whole thing: to reconnect and rejuvenate. I think all churches are going through this, a lot of people leave the church and just kind of fade away. This is a chance to get people to come back, as one of our young committee members said, it’s an opportunity to get people to dream again.”

St. Ludmila’s parish started in 1914 when five Notre Dame nuns arrived from what was then Czechoslovakia. The five sisters lived in an old frame house, started a school in the same building and then started to hold Mass.

The house was in the center of the area in which most of the city’s Czech immigrants had first settled, so it wasn’t long before it became too small to hold everyone who wanted to attend Mass, Juhl said. Those who didn’t arrive early enough to get a seat inside stood outside and watched Mass through the windows.

By 1926, the parish had grown so large a new church building was constructed, and that building served the parish until a new church was built in 2001 on the same site as the original church building.

The St. Ludmila parish kicked off their yearlong centennial celebration earlier this month, with the visit of a handful of Notre Dame sisters now living in Omaha and a walk through the church and cemetery grounds.

Other events planned throughout the year include a parish trip to the Czech Republic, visits from Christian music composer Dan Schutte and Christian singer Steve Angrisano, retreats for the men, women and young adults, and the church’s annual Kolach Festival. There will even be an ecumenical church birthday party, with other neighborhood churches invited.

“We’re not just celebrating the past, but we’re kind of trying to connect people for the future,” Juhl said. “I remind people what we’re doing this for. Around the diocese they’ve closed parishes and they’ve combined parishes, but we’ve remained strong.

“Our church itself is (strong) really. We have a tradition-rich parish, and it’s very Czech. That Czech heritage is very, very important here.”

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