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Kneeling Where My Father Knelt

I entered the side door from the parking lot, and the church was respectfully quiet. As I descended the stairs to the lower level, the smell of fried onions wafted up the stairwell.

Downstairs I was greeted by apron-wearing ladies who were cooking up delicious food for the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church fish fry. One by one they said hello, and I stood in awe of their culinary abilities.

But the fish fry was not the first reason I was there. The ladies, too, knew I had come to see the Wall of Honor placed upon a large expanse of wall just outside the kitchen. This impressive display of artwork contains the 245 names of World War II veterans from St. Alphonsus Parish, permanently inscribed on plaques.

My late father, Harry C. Hamm, was a World War II Army veteran who was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. His name is among those on the Wall of Honor. A few years ago, this display was resurrected from its long-forgotten resting within the caverns of the church. It required extensive refurbishing led by the efforts of veterans Chuck Griffin and Mike Sofka. However, the work was in full swing just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That prompted delays of having the wall completed with the painted portion.

Today, that is all done. The display now features a hand-painted face of the crucified Jesus and a kneeling soldier paying respect to a fallen troop member. The painted portion includes an oversized American flag cascading down from the head of Jesus. The artwork complements the plaques in a special way. It is stunning and breathtaking. I think those veterans would be pleased.

Future endeavors may be in the works to add the names of veterans from other wars served by church members.

Later at the fish fry next door in the gym, I spoke to Mike Sofka who was working the checkout line. He talked with pride about his church community. He said while it was known for its German heritage, the neighborhood actually had a diverse ethnicity. And everyone got along, he added.

After lunch, I stole a visit inside the church once again. While it is not my home parish, I routinely make a visit to the church during Lent as a sort of tribute to my father and his heritage. He grew up a stone’s throw from the church, attended St. Alphonsus Grade School and served as an altar boy.

The church building is a monument in its own right with intricate architecture, glowing stained glass and wonderments of the faith everywhere you turn. As I entered the church, I took in all these glorious sights that my father did a lifetime ago. Even during the stark Lenten season, the church building beckons visitors to linger.

As I knelt to offer a prayer, I thought about a scrawny kid from Center Wheeling who knelt there, too. I think he would be happy that the World War II veterans have not been forgotten by the church they served first.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.

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