Remembering Jacob: In St. Joseph, grieving community pulls together in prayer

Young and old gathered at St. Joseph Church in St. Joseph Sept. 11 to pray for their grieving community. After 27 years of holding out hope for the safe return of Jacob Wetterling, they learned just over a week ago that the remains of the 11-year-old boy who was abducted Oct. 22, 1989, from a rural area near town had been found in a remote area near Paynesville.

During a prayer service Sept. 11 at St. Joseph Church in St. Joseph, a woman carries one of 27 lit candles that were brought forward and placed in the sanctuary to represent the almost 27 years since Jacob Wetterling's abduction. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
During a prayer service Sept. 11 at St. Joseph Church in St. Joseph, a woman carries one of 27 lit candles that were brought forward and placed in the sanctuary to represent the almost 27 years since Jacob Wetterling’s abduction. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

In a lighted procession, 27 community members walked solemnly down the center aisle of the church, placing a candle in the sanctuary to mark each year the Wetterlings waited for their son to come home. The candles also were a symbol of the porch lights that burned each year on the anniversary of his abduction. After the procession, children from the congregation were invited to come forward and place white ribbons alongside the candles.

Two brothers, Sam Harren, 12, and Lance Harren, 14, attended the service with their grandmother, Del Brown, a longtime resident of St. Joseph.

“We came to support the family,” Brown said. “It’s been on our mind all these years. It’s closure and yet it isn’t. It’s not the outcome we wanted. … Now we have that little angel in heaven watching over all of us.”

Anthony Scholz, 5, places one last white ribbon among the candles in the sanctuary during the service. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Anthony Scholz, 5, places one last white ribbon among the candles in the sanctuary during the service. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Brown’s grandsons aren’t much older than Jacob was when he went missing, and the two boys said they heard stories of him while growing up.

“The world is a big place and it’s not always the safest place,” Lance said. “Patty [Wetterling] and the [Wetterling] family did so much, though. If it wasn’t for Jacob, all these other kids that have been abducted would still be out there and so many other kids would still be missing.”

Like the Harrens, Jackie Johnson of St. Joseph, who grew up in Morris, followed the case for years. When she saw the Wetterlings arrive at the prayer service, she mustered up the courage to go over to where they were sitting.

Benedictine Father Nickolas Kleespie gives the reflection as Bishop Donald Kettler listens in the background. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Benedictine Father Nickolas Kleespie gives the reflection as Bishop Donald Kettler listens in the background. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

“I just wanted to offer my condolences and blessings,” she said. “I just can’t imagine the strength they have had to have.”

Benedictine Father Jerome Tupa, pastor of the parish, said he has witnessed “so much sadness” in the community, and the parish wanted to do “a special something” for all those affected.

The afternoon prayer service included a collection of songs, prayers and readings. After a reading from the Gospel of Matthew on the Beatitudes, Benedictine Father Nick Kleespie offered a reflection.

“We know well who Jesus is speaking to in this Gospel,” Father Nick said. “We are the mourners. We are the justice-seekers. We are the men, women and children who feel poor in spirit. We know those who feel persecuted and those who have hungered for answers. Like Jacob’s story, we, too, are part of Jesus’ story of redemption and blessedness. We seek healing through the mercy and compassion offered to us by God and experienced in the kindness we share with each other.”

Joann Keller hugs her best friend Scottie Jerzak after the service. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Joann Keller hugs her best friend Scottie Jerzak after the service. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Bishop Donald Kettler was also present and offered his prayers along with the prayers of the people of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“I don’t think I should be praying for closure, but rather that you can move forward with some peace and hope,” Bishop Kettler said.

“I want to pray for eternal life for Jacob which I believe he is now experiencing; for hope and strength for his whole family; for any member of this community and those farther away touched by what has happened; for Jacob’s classmates, babysitters, neighbors; praying for all those questioned and living under suspicion over the years; and praying especially for those abducted, found now or still not found and for their families,” he said. “May God grant us, grant you, his healing, hope, peace and consolation.”

A memorial service for Jacob Wetterling will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 25 at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph.

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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