50-year Jubilee of Priesthood Ordination

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By Caroline Rosacker

Fr. Marvin Bries will celebrate his 50-year Jubilee of Priesthood Ordination and St. Mary's Catholic School's 169-year history at a western-themed celebration set for Sunday, June 4, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Guttenberg.

The celebration will begin with Mass at 10 a.m. with lunch following from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. in Brinkmann Hall.

There will be music, a tent with kid's games, two inflatables, a petting zoo and an ice cream machine for children and adults of all ages from 12 noon - 3 p.m. 

Iowa farm boy

Fr. Bries was born on June 30, 1947. He grew up on a 120-acre family farm between Dyersville and Worthington. "I had four  brothers and one sister – she was the youngest. Our mother finally got her girl and we turned her into a tomboy," he said with a hearty laugh.   

He grew up in an era when children should be seen and not heard, and fondly remembers playing baseball with the Schlueter family, helping out with farm chores, purchasing a nice bag of candy at the local drug store for a quarter, and running away from school on his first day. "A couple of the eighth grade boys came out and caught me before I ran too far," he said with a smile. 

His father's advice

Beneath his black garb, towering stature, and stoic disposition lies a kind-hearted man with a colorful personality who admired his father's sense of humor. "My father always had a good joke to tell and advised me when I became a priest to always add a joke at the end of my sermon," he shared. "I took his recommendation to heart and still end each sermon with a funny story – after all the Lord wants us to smile and laugh too!"

Called to serve

Fr. Bries was called to the priesthood at an early age. "Growing up, Mass was only held on Sunday. Most of the sermons were messages of fire and brimstone. I couldn't understand why, because Jesus was a person of compassion and mercy," he shared. 

As a young man he attended St. Francis Xavier Grade and High School in Dyersville. He furthered his education graduating from Loras College, Dubuque, and St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

Fr. Bries was ordained a Catholic priest on June 2, 1973 in the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier by Archbishop James Byrne. He was grateful for the guidance he received from his elders. "Father Don Sweeney cleared out the rectory and spent the whole afternoon mentoring me," he recalled. "I continued to seek out the wisdom of older priests. Sadly, young people no longer find value in age and life experience." 

Pastoring in Iowa

Father's first assignment was associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Dubuque, where he remained for four years. 

His desire to teach led him to Holy Cross Catholic Church in Holy Cross were he taught religious education to 9th and 12th grade students at the former Leo High School for seven years. 

He was briefly assigned to St. Jude's in Cedar Rapids, and was a temporary chaplain at Anamosa Reformatory and St. Joseph, a small parish in Stone City. 

With a shortage of priests, he was moved to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids. During that time he taught religious education at LaSalle High School, and was a Catholic Chaplain at St. Luke's Methodist Hospital. 

He was re-assigned as pastor of St. Francis of Barclay, and to the teaching staff at Don Bosco High School in Gilbertville. 

He was relocated to western Iowa and was pastor at St. Patrick, in Britt; Sacred Heart in Woden, and St. Mary of Corwith and remained for 13 years. During his 13th year he was asked to close the parishes at Corwith and Woden. "That was a difficult time. Closing a church is similar to a death for parishioners," he remembered. 

Serving in Guttenberg

In 2002, Fr. Bries arrived in Guttenberg and for nearly 21 years has provided religious guidance to parishioners and students of St. Mary Church and the former St. Mary's Immaculate Conception School in Guttenberg; Immaculate Conception in North Buena Vista, and St. Joseph in Garnavillo.  

"In the past, priests stayed where they were assigned until they retired or passed away. Currently priests have to visit with the Archdiocese every six years to evaluate their position," he explained. 

Church renovations

In Guttenberg, he was once again reminded of his father's advice when it came time to care for the interior and exterior of St. Mary Church. He led ambitious, successful  renovation projects at St. Mary that included a new roof, exterior tuck-pointing, and an interior top-to-bottom refurbishing. "My father always told me, 'If you take care of the outside, God will take care of the inside,'" he commented. 

The interior restoration project was especially important to the congregation, so church parishioners formed a committee and hired Riehle Decorating Inc. of Cresco, a fourth-generation family business specializing in interior decorative renovation and restoration of historic buildings. "They did the original interior work many years ago," he noted. "With the help of many volunteers, who possessed carpentry skills and brute strength, we were able to restore the interior and add a large wooden cross placed on the High Alter that would capture the gaze of everyone no matter where they were seated, which was missing for years and years.”

St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception School closing 

After 169 years, St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception School officially closed due to declining enrollment and a lack of certified teachers and a principal. “By the time we were able to secure a principal we had lost many of our certified teachers,” he told The Press. “I know it is disappointing to many parents, grandparents and school alumni, but it was not fair to the children to remain open without certified teachers. “

For years the dedicated priest has watched as individualism, materialism, secularism and hedonism have lured parishioners away from religious institutions. “A lot of grandparents are sad that their children and grandchildren are not attending church,” he commented. “We’ve had to refocus and develop a better faith formation for second through 12th grade students. We hired Erin Schmelzer as director of religious education and Katey Simon as director of youth ministry,”  

At this point the fate of the remaining buildings on the school campus lies in the hands of the parish council and parishioners. 

“I have met so many great people throughout the years,’ he said with heartfelt gratitude. “I don’t know what I would do if I were married. My father always told me women are like bees, if you treat them good they will make honey. If you stir them up they will sting you,” he concluded with a hearty laugh. 

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