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St. Mary time capsule

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The Catholic community in Solon is known for its Czech roots. So when a time capsule from 1875 revealed a German-language newspaper, everyone was puzzled.
“It’s a mystery,” Father Tim Sheedy, pastor of St. Mary Parish-Solon, said at the time.
St. Mary’s is finishing the process of demolishing its old church in order to expand the adjacent parish cemetery. The parish has been in its current location since 1998. The old church was used for religious education classes until the basement classrooms were finished in the new structure about five years ago.
Parishioners were unaware of the time capsule until they pulled it out of the cornerstone July 26.
“It was out of sight, out of mind,” Fr. Sheedy said.
But, since cornerstones of that era generally contain artifacts of some kind, the parish asked the contractors to preserve it during the demolition process.
The St. Mary time capsule predates the Diocese of Davenport, by six years, and the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Messenger, by seven years. The time capsule contained the now out-of-print independent German-language newspaper, Katholische Volkszeitung (Catholic People’s Newspaper) of Baltimore, three other newspapers and what appears to be fragments of a fifth newspaper. Damage and rust rendered all but the German paper illegible, although one of the papers appears to be the New York Tablet, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Fr. Sheedy said.
The presence of the German paper was perhaps more surprising considering that neither of the Solon parishes that formed the current parish seemed to have strong German origins.
Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, established in 1861, was founded by Bohemian (Czech) immigrants. Short-form history books from St. Mary’s revealed Irish, Scottish and English names among early pastors.
In an effort to try to solve the mystery, The Catholic Messenger contacted local experts and researched census information. 
Dave Muhlena, library director at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, in Cedar Rapids, said while some of the Czechs in Solon may have subscribed to the German Catholic newspaper, it would have been unlikely. Former St. Mary’s pastor Father Jim Vrba, who is of Czech heritage, noted the early documents at Ss. Peter and Paul are in Czech.
A more likely scenario was some German Catholics lived in Solon at the time. Census records from 1885 showed a large number of German immigrants in Solon. Their numbers were comparable to the Czech presence in the community at the time. American-born individuals with Irish, Scottish and English surnames rounded out the census, though in smaller numbers than the Germans and Czechs. 
While knowing the languages of the other newspapers in the time capsule would paint a clearer picture of its message and the origins of its founding members, Muhlena believes it’s likely the time capsule represented the parish’s desire to be inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds. At the time, it was common for immigrants to form separate churches or missions based on their ethnicity or language, though the contents of the time capsule may indicate the parish was multi-ethnic in nature.
The research continued a few weeks later. Fr. Sheedy came across a long-form parish history book, written in 1998, and shared it with The Catholic Messenger. The text revealed that the cornerstone in 1875 was hauled more than six miles by a 14-year-old named John Stahle, whose last name is the German word for steel. Names of early parishioners appeared to be a mixture of Irish, English, Scottish and German– consistent with the ethnicities of the non-Czech Solon residents at the time. Seemingly, this solved the mystery of the time capsule; the parish was originally a mix of English-speakers and people with German origins.
Of course, only the people who put together the time capsule know for sure what the contents actually represent. Muhelna said, “We have clues, it’s just trying to connect the dots of who founded this faith community.”