1961 Before 1961, the area residents and tourists attended Mass in Branson. They would take the “Mass Boat” from Rockaway Beach to Branson each Sunday. Eventually there were too many to accommodate everyone, so Father McKenna, the pastor at Branson began coming to Rockaway Beach to celebrate Mass in a pavilion. This was the beginning of the Forsyth Area Mission. At this time there were 12 Catholic families who were permanent residents. In the summer months attendance at Sunday Mass was greater because of the tourists.
1963 In the summer of 1963 Father Hahn, (new pastor at Branson) was now having the Sunday Mass, and was told by Bishop Strecker to find another location, because the pavilion, which has now been renovated, is a dance hall, and is not suitable for the celebration of the Mass. (Jack Curtin remembers how easy it was to become distracted by the water skiers going by during Mass.) Father Hahn found an empty store in Forsyth, which at one time had been a grocery store, and then a pool hall, to use as a temporary Church.
Our Lady of the Ozarks Chapel
Ten years ago there were only three Catholics in Forsyth. In 1961, during the time Father McKenna was pastor, he arranged to have Mass celebrated every Sunday at the Coughenour Dance Pavilion. This was done to accommodate the many tourists in the Rockaway and Forsyth areas, along with the resident Catholics who were retiring in that locality.

This continued for the second year at which time the Pavilion was turned into a Night Club, so the meeting place was changed to a building in Forsyth which had been the City Meat Market, Davis Electric appliance warehouse.

During the year 1963-1964, the parishioners bought a building from Mrs. H.F. Owen. This was formerly a Baptist Church, but for several years had been used as a warehouse for Johnny Glenn’s Grocery. Through contributions of work and money from both Catholic and Protestant citizens, the building was remodeled and in June of 1964, was dedicated by Bishop Ignatius J. Strecker at a beautiful and memorable service. Father Quentin Hahn was the Pastor at Our Lady of the Lake, at which this church is a mission, at the time of the dedication. Following this, Mass was offered every Sunday during the summer by Father Mark Ernstmann, who came down from Springfield.

During the fall and winter months of 1964-65, Father Jim Phillips offered Mass on Saturday mornings as well as on Sunday. During the early spring of 1965 pews and kneeling benched were installed, and an organ purchased for the congregational singing of the new liturgy.

(This information was copied with permission from The Mirror May 10, 1966.)

1964 On May 5, 1964 an abandoned Baptist church…also used as a feed store, a storage building and a cabinet-making store…the stories vary, was purchased by Roy Whitley (a parishioner and a contractor) from the Forsyth Bible Baptist Church. Mr. Whitley then sold it to Bishop Strecker. Mr. Whitley remodeled it into what is affectionately referred to as the “old church building”. The remodeled church was dedicated on June 7, 1964. The congregation consisted of 25 families and about eight school-aged children. They were no longer known as the “Forsyth Area Mission,” but were now called “Our Lady of the Ozarks Mission.” This church was the first Catholic Church in Forsyth, and the second one in Taney County.
Bishop to Dedicate Chapel for Resort Areas near Forsyth
Forsyth-- Bishop Strecker will dedicate the Chapel of Our Lady of the Ozarks here Sunday at 5 p.m. Following the blessing ceremony, Mass will be celebrated for the first time in the chapel by Father Quentin Hahn, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Branson, and administrator of the chapel here.

Father Hahn said that the chapel became a necessity to accommodate the large number of tourists and vacationers who use the area of Forsyth and Rockaway Beach.

He said that because the number of Catholic families in the immediate area is not sufficient to establish a parish at the present time, the Mass will be celebrated at the new chapel here only during the vacation season--June, July and August. During the remainder of the year, Catholic residents here attend Our Lady of the Church in Branson, which is their parish.

Another chapel, called Our Lady of the Cove, located in Kimberling Hills, accommodates vacationers and tourists in the Table Rock Lake area and points west of Branson.

During June, July and August the following schedule is in effect:
Our Lady of the Lake Church, Branson, 6, 8. And 10 a.m. on Sundays, and 6 and 8 a.m. on Holy Days. Our Lady of the Cove, Kimberling Hills, 12 noon on Sundays, and 5:30 p.m. on Holy Days. Our Lady of the Ozarks, 9 a.m. Sundays and Holy Days.

(Copied with permission from The St. Louis Review, June 5, 1964)

1965 Father Orf (pastor at Branson) became Pastor of OLOTO, which had grown to 40 families. During Fr. Orf’s tenure, religious education for the children of the parish took place in Branson, since the number of school-aged children was so few that it was not feasible to duplicate an already existing program.
1966 In September of 1966 Our Lady of the Ozarks women formed the Parish Council of Catholic Women (PCCW) and became members of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) and its affiliated organizations. Their goal was to support, empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service. They did this by applying Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society in the modern world. The PCCW has been a blessing not only to Our Lady of the Ozarks Parish, but to the entire community through its efforts to meet the needs of our own parish members, as well as those of the local community, the state, the nation and the world. The last recorded minutes for the PCCW were for the May 5, 2003 meeting. The PCCW remained a part of the DCCW until the formation of the Knights of Columbus Ladies’ Auxiliary later in 2003.

1969 Father Orf continued to say Mass in Forsyth until 1969. In February of 1969 Father Louis Meyer, S.J. came to Forsyth to visit his brother, Mr. Tony Meyer, who lived in Forsyth; his sister, Mrs. F.C. Ihrer, and his niece, Mrs. Arthur Payne, who were both living in Branson. During Father Meyer’s stay, Father Orf jokingly invited him to stay and help out. Father Meyer, seeing the work that needed to be done, contacted Bishop Strecker and volunteered to do just that. For the next ten years Father Meyer was the “Resident Priest in Charge of Spiritualities.” “Old timers” recall that Father Meyer was well loved by the entire community of Forsyth. Everyone knew him. After he retired from Our Lady of the Ozarks he purchased a small house and would sometimes say Mass in people’s homes. Eventually his Religious Community called him back to St. Louis, where he died in 1986.

Father Farrell, a Paulist priest, lived in the area prior to 1969, and would say Mass when Father Meyer was unavailable to do so.

1976 Father Brath became Pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Branson in 1976, and so our mission church was now under his guidance. Father Brath was well liked, and very energetic. During this time Father Brath and several nuns would come over to Forsyth for CCD classes.
1979 On the occasion of Father Meyer’s retirement, The Mirror reports:
“A doleful yet enthusiastic crowd of 181 clergy, parishioners, Protestant Ministers, civic leaders and other guests honored Father Louis Meyer, S.J., at his retirement party Sunday, July 22, at Shadow Rock Lodge.”
Father Al Farrell continued to say Mass on Saturday night and Sunday mornings when needed.

1980 A kitchen and a hall were added to the church in 1980. With this addition, the parish was now able to hold parish dinners as well as rummage sales and educational activities.

The Forsyth mission was sent its first resident pastor, Father Michael McDevitt, in July of 1980. With his arrival Our Lady of the Ozarks was no longer a mission, but a parish. Although Father McDevitt was only here for 11 months, he continued to foster the religious education of the few children of the parish. One parent/teacher recalls that it was very difficult to keep the students’ attention, since there were so few, and attendance was sporadic.
During Father McDevitt’s time, the Knights of Columbus was also established:
“Sometime after Father McDevitt came to our parish, he got together a few active men in the church and asked them if they could get together enough men to start a K of C council. At least 30 men were required to form a council. It is believed that the following men were some of the active members of the church who participated in forming the council: Henry Cannon, Paul Huggins, L.J. O’Neill and Dinty Ranney. When enough men signed up, a council was formed. The council is called “Our Lady of the Ozarks, Council 7680.” (Taken from the Knights of Columbus scrap book.) Included in this scrap book are numerous letters from seminarians thanking the Council for supporting them, both with prayers and monetary contributions for their priestly education. It is with great delight and good fortune to know that one of those seminarians is now our pastor, Father Rick Jones!
1981 From June of 1981 to 1989 Father John W. Baker was pastor of Our Lady of the Ozarks. Some time shortly after Father Baker came, it was decided to send the children to Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Branson for CCD, since that parish was better equipped and had more resources and personnel to meet this task. No doubt this influenced many parents to join the Branson Catholic Church, since their children were involved in the Sunday CCD classes, and it was more convenient to attend church there. During Father Baker’s time as pastor, the parish began (somewhat informally) a building fund.

Several members who remember Father Baker remarked on his unsurpassed reverence for the Blessed Mother. He would be pleased to know that the statue of the Blessed Virgin from the old church is now in a place of honor in our new church.

Father Baker had a dog named Perpetual who was his constant companion. The dog was even with him at his farewell party.

1989 Father Mark C. Ernstmann replaced Father Baker as pastor in 1989. He loved to teach, as was evidenced by the many Bible Study classed he held. After the new English version of the New Catechism came out in 1997, Father Ernstmann encouraged parishioners to purchase one and to study it. He formed small discussion groups, which he led, to help in understanding our Faith. Soon after Father Ernstmann arrived he established a formal building fund. In the early 1990s the parish purchased land outside of Forsyth. However, after plans for the building progressed, they realized that it would not be financially feasible to build there because of utility problems, and they looked for land inside the city limits. Eventually they found another location, sold the original land, and broke ground on April 28, 2001. The actual construction began in May of 2002. It was completed in February of 2003, except of course for landscaping (an on-going project) and other minor additions and decorations. The dedication took place on February 26, 2003. Father Ernstmann described this as “a dream come true.”
Father was very involved with his parish, attending almost every PCCW and Knights of Columbus meeting, In July of 2003 the PCCW disbanded and reformed as the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary. In 2004 Father Ernstmann decided it was time for him to retire, but before this happened, he was honored with the title of Monsignor Mark C. Ernstmann.
The Crucifix
As you enter the church your eyes are immediately fixed on the crucifix in the sanctuary. It is large, simple and beautiful. This crucifix at one time hung in the Visitation Convent in Federal Way, Washington. Father Ernstmann’s sister belonged to that convent until her death. Due to the diminishing number of nuns, there was talk of the sisters moving to different convents. Father Ernstmann asked them to send the crucifix to him for use in the new Forsyth church when the move was made. Shortly thereafter the crucifix arrived and was hung on the wall of the original church until the new one was completed. It is now proudly displayed in our new church. (Emilie Kosuth)
2004 With Monsignor Ernstmann’s departure in the fall of 2004 the parish was left without a pastor, but not without someone to care for their spiritual needs. Monsignor Philip Bucher, Pastor at Our Lady of the Lake, Branson, was appointed temporary pastor until someone would be found for our parish. Father Phil Conlon, a retired priest from Wisconsin who had been helping out many times when Father Ernstmann was ill, was asked to serve the parish as a “Retired Priest in Service” with weekend and Wednesday morning Masses. At this time, because of the winding roads and the earlier onset of darkness, (Father Phil lived in Hollister), it was decided with a parish vote to have only one Mass on Sunday morning instead of a Saturday night and a Sunday morning Mass. A few months later Monsignor Bucher retired and Father Rick Jones was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Lake and Our Lady of the Ozarks. In the fall of 2006, Father Rick began coming to Forsyth for the Wednesday morning Mass. Forsyth was further blessed when Father William W. Hennecke was appointed associate pastor of the two parishes in the summer of 2007. Father William celebrates Mass with Father Rick during the week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. After a week day Mass Father Rick usually holds a Bible study class or a “Why Catholic” session. We continue to be blessed by having Father Phil celebrate Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.
The Blessed Virgin Grotto
The statue for the Virgin Mary Grotto was purchased by Leo & Doris Gable in Springfield Mo. The bench was donated by Dee Walton in memory of her husband, Jack, and the foundation and garden bench were donated by Ann Forster and her daughters in memory of their husband and father, Richard. The grotto, a peaceful and beautiful addition at the entrance of the church, was blessed on June 22, 2005, and provides a place for peaceful meditation and personal prayer to honor our Patron Saint, Our Lady of the Ozarks.
2008 In May of this year, the Parish, with the leadership of the Knights of Columbus, purchased and installed a Monument to the Unborn Child. It is a symbol of the dedication of this parish to put an end to abortion. This monument was dedicated by our new Bishop, Bishop James Vann Johnston, Jr. on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2008.
2009 A Parish School of Religion was formed in September of 2008. Six families participate in this program. The children range from pre-school to third grade. All are home-schooled. The families meet monthly to share a meal and supplement their daily religion classes taught at home. On April 19, 2009, two children, Carly Egan and Lucas Woody were the first students of our Parish School of Religion to make their First Holy Communion.

Father James F. McKenna, Administrator, 1961-1962
Father Quentin Hahn, Administrator, 1962-1964
Father James B. Phillips, Administrator, 1964-1965
Father Raymond Orf, Administrator, 1965-1976
Father Louis Meyer, S.J. 1969-1979
(Resident Priest in Charge of Spirituality)
Father John A. Brath, Administrator, 1976-1980
Father Michael V. McDevitt, Pastor, 1980-1981
(First Resident Pastor)
Father John W. Baker, Pastor, 1981-1989
Father Mark C. Ernstmann, Pastor, 1989-2004
Reverend Monsignor Philip Bucher, Pastor of Our Lady
Of the Lake (Branson) and Our Lady of the Ozarks, 2005-2005
Father Philip Conlon, 2004-Present
(Provides sacramental assistance and Sunday Mass)
Father Rick L. Jones, Pastor, 2005-Present
Father William W. Hennecke, Associate Pastor, 2007-2009
Father Joji Vincent, OSB, Associate Pastor, 2013 - Present.
This parish history includes both word of mouth accounts as well as information from written documents. There are some minor disagreements regarding the first church building. I have included all the information I was given. As our parish continues to grow and flourish, there will no doubt be more additions to this history. We are grateful to the parishioners who have shared their memories to help bring this about.
“Bernard Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness or sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”
John of Salisbury, 1159
We have stood on the shoulders not only of the pastors and priests who have served here, but perhaps even more so, of the many people who have come to our parish from many places with their diverse talents, gifts and visions. May we, by virtue of the Communion of Saints, continue to support those who follow us.
Our Lady of the Ozarks Church would like to thank Janet Mantsch for all of the work and time researching and compiling this information to provide us with an excellent history of our our Parish.   May, 2009