Founded in 1828, St. Joseph Catholic Church, located in sleepy Apple Creek in southern Perry County, is one of the oldest still active churches in the county. Not too far away, St. Maurus of Biehle is nearly as old.

For the past five years, parishioners at the two churches have been quietly collecting historical artifacts, both religious and secular, to complete a labor of love, the Catholic Heritage Center & Museum of Apple Creek and Biehle.

Museum spokesman Mary Jane Buchheit calls it’s a labor of love.

“We’re still not real orderly, but we have lots of stuff,” Buchheit said.

Committee members Ruth Berkbuegler, Margie Welker and Ed Welker joined Buchheit on Friday to discuss the museum and how important it is to both the church and the local communities whose heritage it seeks to preserve.

“It’s important to preserve our Catholic heritage and history,” Buchheit said. “To me, the times we live in right now, it’s really important to preserve family life history. There are so many broken families and we’re losing those strong family ties we had in earlier generations. That’s, you might say, a theme for the museum. The past is our future. We can learn from it.”

Buchheit said the initial idea for the museum was sparked by the Lutheran Heritage Museum in Altenburg and Carla Jordan, who suggested an Apple Creek museum for Catholic heritage.

The museum, currently housed in the now-closed St. Joseph School, takes up two of the four classrooms and most of a hallway — that’s the gift shop, Bucheit says. The two rooms — one for religious heritage and family heritage — are stuffed to the gills with any number of items donated by parish families, ranging from century-old handmade tools, household items, musical instruments, military uniforms, photos, priest’s vestments, Bibles, statuary and family heirlooms to a small blacksmith shop, a barber shop and most of an exterior wall of a beloved local landmark, all donated by parish families, along with church records from the 1830s to present day. It’s a sizeable collection — and still growing.

“We talked about it a couple of years before we opened,” Buchheit said. “Russell and Pat Schumer, Margie and Ed Welker and myself, us five, talked about it for several years. This building was empty because the school had closed and we decided it would be a good place for a museum.”

The old school features four large rooms, but Buchheit said the other two are used for meetings of other groups, limiting the museum space to one room each.

“We’d like to get those rooms eventually, if they’ll let us,” Buchheit said. “We’re overflowing.”

The plan for the museum evolved organically.

“At first, we only had one room,” Berkbeugler said. “Everything had to go in there. Then they said we could have another room and it just kind of got separated like that.”

Buchheit said a good portion of the museum’s collection comes from Bill Ernst, who had a sizeable trove of historical artifacts, including many items from Walter Bohnert’s collection.

“Lots of stuff,” Buchheit said.

One of the highlights of the museum is the recent donation of a piano by Nelda Buerck. The piano, a heirloom of the Trapp family, was in Buerck’s care since the sale of the Waldemar and Ada Trapp farm in 1980.

The piano inspired the keyboard practice and teaching of Waldemar, sisters Julitta and Bertha Trapp Buchheit and Dr. Lynn Trapp, son of Waldemar and Ada. Lynn served as organist/music director at St. Joseph’s from 1974-1980, while and his two aunts, Julitta and Bertha filled that role from 1926 through 1931 and 1932 through 1947, respectively.  

Since his time at St. Joseph, Lynn has built an international career as a concert organist, pianist, conductor, church musician and composer. Julitta is buried at the high altar of the old cemetery in honor of her dedication to music in the church.  Bertha served the Cathedral in Cape Girardeau as organist. 

Waldemar was known to play an entertaining medley at the organ and piano for his enjoyment and that of casual listeners. 

According to Lynn, who made a recent visit to the museum to see the old piano, the console is still in fine condition, and the heirloom instrument will soon be tuned and maintained so it can be heard in the museum as it once was in the Trapp home.

Even though the museum has only been open a short time, it’s already seen hundreds of visitors, including one from Germany.

Admission to the museum, located at 138 St. Joseph Lane in Apple Creek, is free and tours may be arranged by appointment through committee members or the church office. The museum is also open during most church dinners and other special events.

“People can call the office at St. Joseph if they don’t know how to get in touch with us,” Buchheit said, “They’ll call one of us and we’ll be happy to do large or small groups or whoever wants to come, anytime.”

For more information about the museum or to schedule and appointment, contact the St. Joseph Church office at 573-788-2330.

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