The theme for day 263 of the Nowhere To Be Project was “heritage” which seemed very appropriate at this time of Thanksgiving. As an avid genealogist, I am intimately aware of the importance of understanding one’s ancestral heritage. Our genes can help explain so much about who we are and I believe this occurs through learning everything we can about those who made our existence possible, our ancestors. I’m forever dragging my husband along to libraries, cemeteries and historical societies in an effort to discover more about those who came before me. On this trip though he was the leader in a genealogical quest to “The World’s Smallest Church” in Festina, Iowa.

St. Anthony of Padua Chapel was founded by Johann Gaertner (my husband’s paternal third great grandfather) and Frank and Mary Ann Huber (my husband’s paternal second great grandparents) shortly after they settled at nearby Old Mission and was dedicated in 1886. It was constructed in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and measures just fourteen feet by twenty feet.

For our family, the tiny church makes up for what it lacks in size with quiet grace and sentimentality. My father-in-law, Gerald Schissel, grew up on a farm in neighboring Ossian, Iowa. He told us about his devout Catholic family’s outings to the smallest church and spoke with pride about Johann’s, Frank’s and Mary Ann’s monumental efforts in its creation. According to his memory, only the very, very old were permitted to sit in the pews within the building and sadly, he never got the chance to do so.

The graves of my husband’s ancestors very appropriately rest on the grounds of the smallest church and the stunning stained glass windows within the chapel honor them as well. Legend has it that the descendants of the founders still maintain The World’s Smallest Church to this day, carrying on the legacy that was laid before them. True Thanksgiving!

Johann Gaertner
Frank Huber and Mary Ann Gaertner Huber
Gerald Schissel

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