The Register

May 27, 2016

In this issue

Deacon Thielen to be ordained June 4.

St. Isidore Day celebrated with blessing of seeds, fields and animals.

Second orphanage reunion in Abilene June 25. 

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Deacon Thielen to be ordained a priest June 4

By The Register
Salina — Deacon Luke Thielen will become Salina’s newest priest when he is ordained by Bishop Edward Weisenburger on June 4 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The ordination Mass begins at 10 a.m. with a reception immediately following in the Hall of Bishops. Both are open to all.
Deacon Thielen, 28, is the son of  Tom and Esther Thielen of Quinter. He graduated from Quinter Junior-Senior High School and attended Tabor College in Hillsboro for two years before transferring to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo. He recently completed his studies at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
During his time in Denver, he has worked at several parishes.
“Working in the parish has really fostered the love for parish life and wanting to serve the people in the parish,” Deacon Thielen said. “I’m looking forward to finally settling down in a place and really getting to know a community — in seminary you serve a parish for nine months and start all over the next year.”
Deacon Thielen was a member of the Totus Tuus summer catechism program for five years and was a member of the Prayer and Action team in 2012 during his seminary years. Prior to entering the seminary, he was a counselor at CYO camp in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Deacon Thielen also spent a pastoral year at Sacred Heart Parish in Colby.
His assignment as a new priest will be announced following the ordination.
The new Father Thielen will celebrate his first Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 5, at Sacred Heart Church in Park.
Chalice found in home parish a mystery 
Park —When it came time for Deacon Luke Thielen to find a chalice to use upon his ordination to the priesthood, he didn’t have to look far. In fact, the chalice he will use was nestled in a cupboard of his home parish for many years.
When he celebrates his First Mass June 5, Deacon Thielen will use a chalice from his home parish, Sacred Heart, in Park.
He and his mother, Esther, found the chalice by happenstance one day before Mass in the sacristy at Sacred Heart Church in Park.
“Someone opened a cupboard and there was a very tarnished chalice,” Deacon Thielen said. “I told my mom I wanted that chalice when I was ordained a priest.”
The parish archivist, Janet Kaiser, searched for the origins of the chalice.
“Janet did some digging and found nothing. We don’t know where it came from or who it belonged to because it wasn’t engraved,” Deacon Thielen said. “The archivist has pictures and documents going back to the ’30s and the chalice was nowhere to be found.”
The family went through the parish council at Sacred Heart, receiving permission for Deacon Thielen to be given the chalice for personal use.
Upon being given permission to have the chalice, the Thielen family sent it to Gerkens Religious Supplies in Denver to be refurbished. 
“They polished it and re-plated the inside of the cup with gold,” Deacon Thielen said, explaining that the interior of the chalice must be a precious metal because it touches the precious blood.
The connection to home via the chalice will be a special one.
“To have something from the church where I spent my whole life, an item that I will use on almost a daily basis is special,” Deacon Thielen said. “After I die, I plan to give it back to Sacred Heart Church and they can decide who it goes to next.”

Second orphanage reunion in Abilene June 25

Abilene — It had been 65 years since Rita Dussault and Bernadine Schieferecke were two of the nearly 80 children who lived among the Sisters of St. Joseph at the orphanage in Abilene. Yet when the two friends saw one another in 2010 — the first time in more than six decades — the two childhood friends seemed like little girls again as they posed for snapshots and caught each other up on family and fond memories.
When the next St. Joseph Home Reunion begins at St. Andrew in Abilene on June 25, Rita expects to be there. Her daughter plans to accompany her from her home in Texas. But Bernadine will not be there to greet her; she died peacefully in her sleep on May 3, 2014, at age 85. 
Such losses are one of the reasons Sister Jan McCormick decided to organize another reunion. St. Joseph Home closed in 1958, so even the youngest surviving orphans are in their 50s now, and most are much older.
“We don’t want to lose all their stories,” Sister Jan explained. “We want to come together to remember this history and the people who were a part of it.”
  • Orphanage-Overview web
  • 100310-BernadineRita-tight web
Six years ago, McCormick, who lives in Chapman, was the driving force who made the reunion happen. She was then a candidate to become a Sister of St. Joseph and she had been dreaming of an orphanage reunion for more than two years. So she put together a committee of Sisters of St. Joseph and Sisters’ Associates in the Abilene area, and hoped that 35 or 40 people might come. 
Instead, 137 attended that October day, including 18 orphans, seven people who­ attended school there as day students, two people whose grandparents had lived there when St. Joseph was also a home for the aged and numerous other relatives and friends. Also on hand were almost 35 Sisters of St. Joseph.
The sole surviving Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia who served at the orphanage is Sister Gilbe­­rta Appelhans, who today lives at Mount Joseph Senior Village in Concordia. Due to her frail health, she will not be able to attend the June gathering.
The reunion may feature photos of her along with many of the other sisters who ministered there. Sister Jan said displays will include photographs and other memorabilia from the home that was located just north of the city.
Working with Sister Jan to organize this second reunion are Sisters Carolyn Juenemann, Mary Lou Roberts and Cecilia Green.
The daylong event will include a video about the home, a memorial service, reminiscences by people attending and a box lunch catered by the Brookville Hotel.

Bishop honors religious sisters at Mass

The Register
Along with 10 priests, Bishop Edward Weisenburger celebrated Mass May 3 in recognition and appreciation for religious sisters serving in the diocese.
Bishop Weisenburger said the annual event is something he enjoys.  “To be able to pray with and for you is such a blessing,” he said during the opening moments of Mass.
During his homily, the bishop reflected upon the past, present and future, with a focus on gratitude.  “I have gratitude for what you have been, what you are today and what you will do in the future,” Bishop Weisenburger said.
The luncheon had a light-hearted air to it.  “Ladies, this purse goes with my shoes, but it’s still not mine,” Bishop Weisenburger said as he brought a purse in that one of the sisters left in a pew following Mass.
The annual Mass and luncheon is something many of the sisters said they are excited to attend.
“We’re all aging,” sister Shirley Meier, CSJ said. “It’s important to keep in touch with those that are younger and meet sisters from other communities who are here.”
In all, about three dozen religious sisters from both the CSJ community and the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ the King attended the event. Following Mass, members of the chancery staff and priests served the sisters lunch.
Sister Doris Marie, the pastoral associate at St. Mary in Ellis, said she thinks an event to recognize religious communities is important.  “I think it’s important for the younger people to see religious,” she said. “That there is a value to the religious life.”­­

Eight priests will celebrate milestones

The Register

Salina — Eight priests are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year. 

A common project during the tenure of several of these priests is building, remodeling and renovating churches, parish halls or schools.

Bishop Frederick Freking decided a church should be constructed in Mankato in 1958. Father James Grennan, who is celebrating his 65th anniversary, was tasked with building St. Theresa. Father Loren Werth, who is celebrating his 60th anniversary, was the first pastor.

Bishop Daniel Kucera decided a new parish was necessary in both Manhattan and Salina in 1981. In Manhattan, Father Werth spearheaded St. Thomas More Parish. In Salina, Father Melvin Long, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary, was at the helm of forming St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. 

Celebrating 65 years as a priest is Father James Grennan. At 92 years old, he is both the oldest priest in the diocese, and also the longest serving. 

He was ordained in May 13, 1951 in the old Sacred Heart Cathedral. The current Sacred Heart Cathedral opened in 1953; Father Grennan is the last living priest who was ordained in the prior church.

“When I retired in 2001, I said I wasn’t retiring from the priesthood, just from all of those meetings,” Father Grennan said.


Three transitional deacons ordained

The Register

Salina — In front of friends and family, Bishop Edward Weisenburger ordained three men as transitional deacons April 9 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“I almost said ‘these three fine young men,’ ” Bishop Weisenburger quipped during the opening moments of the Mass. “Today Leo, you’re even a young man” the bishop told Leo Blasi, 52. 

Ordained alongside Blasi were Ryan McCandless, 34, and Justin Palmer, 31.

The ordination to the transitional diaconate is the final step before being ordained a priest.

“This is a day of rejoicing for our entire diocese,” Bishop  Weisenburger said. “A day of great rejoicing for our priests — the very men who I hope very soon  you will find to be your brothers in a whole new way. Their coworkers — brothers in arms for Christ.”

In attendance were priests of the Diocese of Salina, along with visitors from the three seminaries the men attend: Father Robert Cook, O.F.M. Conv, Vice President of Human Formation at Sacred Heart Seminary in Milwaukee where Blasi attends; Father Jonathan Fassero, O.S.B. from St. Meinrad where McCandless attends; and Father James Mason, Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary where Palmer attends.

Bishop Weisenburger asked each man if he promised obedience, laid hands on each and finally handed each the book of Gospels.

“What we do today is so much more than merely a “step along the way,’ ” Bishop Weisenburger told the men during his homily. “Rather we lay the redemptive, life-giving foundation that I pray, in working with the holy spirit, each of you will build for your future. A future of true loving, authentic sacrificial servant diakonia.”



New Register editor named

New Register editor named
By The Register

Salina — Doug Weller, longtime Editor of The Register, has resigned from his post and accepted a new job in Lawrence. 

Bishop Edward Weisenburger said Weller, who was named editor of The Register in April 2006, will be replaced by Karen Bonar.

Weller was the first lay person to be hired to run the diocesease’s newspaper.

“As soon as I arrived in our diocese I recognized that our newspaper was an excellent tool for helping our people to grow in the faith,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “A Catholic newspaper is actually more complex than what many people realize. Public news sources often provide little more than headlines when addressing Catholic issues. While The Register provides local Catholic news coverage, it is also a crucial means of providing our people with national and international Catholic news.

“For many in our diocese, The Register is the primary means of keeping up with what’s really happening in the Catholic world. Weller did a masterful job of balancing important local issues of interest with the happenings of the Universal Church. His editorial ministry has had a great and lasting impact on our diocese.  I can only be grateful for the years he has given us.”

One of Weller’s contributions was transitioning the newspaper to a tabular format and full-color photographs. In 2014, the weekly newspaper switched to a semimonthly publication. The reduced printing and mailing costs allowed the diocese to send the newspaper to every registered household instead of only to those who subscribed. Households are asked to donate $20 a year to help offset printing and mailing costs. Circulation increased from about 5,500 to nearly 18,000.

Weisenburger said when Weller approached him about transitioning to a new job he also recommended Bonar for consideration as the new editor. Bonar is a 2002 graduate from Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. Prior to accepting the position of editor at The Register, she was a city/government reporter at The Hays Daily News from 2005 to 2008 and a staff photographer at The Independence (Kan.) Daily Reporter from 2003 to 2005. Since moving to Salina in 2008, Bonar has been operating Heartland Photography, as well as freelancing for newspapers around the state, including The Register.

She assumed her duties March 21st, which included a week to overlap with Weller, ensuring a smooth transition for the newspaper.  

“Doug has done a phenomenal job transforming The Register into the paper it is today,” Bonar said. “I worked with Doug during one of my college internships as well as on several stories for The Register. I have photographed many ordinations for the diocese, including Bishop Weisenburger’s four years ago.  I always enjoy working with Doug; he is a skilled designer.

“He also did the hard work of laying a solid formation for a 21st century Catholic newspaper when he modernized The Register. I hope to continue his vision.”

Bonar and her husband, Erik Bonar, live in Salina. They are parishioners at St. Mary Queen of the Universe and have a son, Brooks.

Weller’s last issue was March 25. He was named associate editor and director o­­f design for B the Change Media in Lawrence. The new company will be launching B magazine this summer. He and his wife, Nancy Arnoldy, have two children. Ian is a software engineer in Seattle and Suzy is a junior at the University of Oklahoma.

Annual appeal supports diocesan education efforts

Salina — Nearly a third of this year’s goal for the Catholic Community Annual Appeal, “Open the Door to Mercy,” focuses on Catholic education and formation.

From subsidizing Catholic schools to funding youth and adult programs, the CCAA helps to educate young and old about their faith.

The annual appeal seeks to raise $1 million to help fund the day-to-day operations of these ministries and the Salina Diocesan church.

Through the appeal, the 16 Catholic schools in the diocese receive support through a per-pupil subsidy from the CCAA. This year’s allotment is $154,250.

Another $132,500 will fund the Catholic Education and Formation office, which oversees youth ministry, parish religious education and adult education programs across the diocese.

Syndi Larez, director of development, said that “your gift ‘Opens the Door’ to people of every age and walk of life to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, sharing the joy of Christ. Through faith formation and education, we provide a chance to practice the Catholic faith, study the teachings of the Catholic Church and encounter Christ in one another. Catholic schools provide a place where our faith can be incorporated into every subject of as we form disciples of Christ in our classrooms.”

This year’s CCAA was launched in early February. Donors are encouraged to make one-time contributions or have the ability to pledge a gift amount monthly through the end of the year.

So far, $533,800 has been pledged toward the 2016 goal. The 1,938 gifts received to date represent 11 percent of the households of the diocese. Nine parishes already have met or exceeded their goals.

This weekend, March 12 and 13, there will be an in-pew solicitation for the CCAA to give people who have not given an opportunity to do so. Pledge card and envelopes are available in all parishes for those who need them.


Catholic Community Annual Appeal for 2016 launched

Salina — This year’s Catholic Community Annual Appeal focuses on Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy.

The 2016 appeal, “Open the Door to Mercy,” has set a goal of $1 million to help support the work and ministries of the Diocese of Salina.

Gifts to this year’s appeal will “open the door” to numerous ministries, noted Syndi Larez, director of stewardship and development for the diocese.

The CCAA supports the health care and retirement for the diocesan priests who have spent their lives bringing the sacraments to parishioners. The appeal also supports the education of the 13 men currently in formation for the priesthood.

In addition, the annual drive helps fund the education of young people through Catholic schools and religious education programs and assists with the operation of diocesan departments where many of these ministries originate.

In a letter to parishioners, Bishop Edward Weisenburger stressed the importance of the annual appeal.


Observando la Cuaresma

Cuaresma comienza con el miércoles de ceniza el 10 de febrero. El domingo de Pascua es el 27 de marzo.

Ambos el Miércoles de Ceniza y el Viernes Santo son días de abstinencia de comer carne y de ayunar, así como la abnegación y mortificación.

Los otros viernes de la cuaresma son días de abstinencia de carne, aunque el Obispo Edward Weisenburger le ha pedido a la gente de su diócesis que continúen la abstinencia todos los viernes del año. Todos los días de la semana de la cuaresma se deben considerar días de penitencia.

La obligación de abstinencia comienza a los 14 años. Ayunar es comer solo una comida completa al día con las otras dos comidas siendo sin carne y juntas no igualan una comida completa. La obligación del ayuno comienza a los 18 años y termina los 60 años.

Las formas tradicionales de penitencia son abstinencia de la carne; ayuno de alimentos; práctica de abnegación; los actos de la religión (aumentar la vida de oración, participación en la Misa cotidiana, y otras devociones, lectura espiritual y bíblica); y actos de caridad y testimonio cristiano.

• • •

Los participantes en el Rito de Iniciación Cristiana de Adultos continúan su camino para ser recibido en la comunión plena en la Iglesia Católica.

A las 3 pm 14 de febrero en la Catedral del Sagrado Corazón en Salina y a las 3 pm 21 de febrero en San Nicolás de Myra Iglesia en Hays, sus jornadas serán marcados durante una ceremonia conocida como el Rito de Elección y el Llamado a la Conversión Continua. Serán recibidos en la Iglesia durante la Vigilia de Pascua.

• • •

Hace 40 años, los católicos en los Estados Unidos querían responder a la hambruna en África. ¿Podría­mos alimentar a los hambrientos a través de las oraciones, el ayuno y los donativos de Cuaresma? La respuesta fue que sí — y llegó en la forma de una pequeña caja de cartón.

Hoy, Plato de Arroz de CRS es el programa de Cuaresma de Catholic Relief Services de fe en acción para las familias y comunidades de fe.

A través de Plato de Arroz de CRS, escuchamos historias de nuestros hermanos y hermanas necesitados en todo el mundo, y dedi­camos nuestras oraciones, ayuno y donativos de Cuaresma para cambiar las vidas de los pobres.

Impulsados por nuestra fe, estamos comprometidos a ayudar a los necesitados, sin importar dónde vivan. En ese espíritu, el 75 por ciento de tus donativos apoya los programas de CRS en todo el mundo. El 25 por ciento de tus donativos apoya los esfuerzos para aliviar el hambre y la pobreza en tu comunidad.

Para obtener más información, visite crsricebowl. org/es.

‘Register’ your support

Salina — The Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Salina, is delivered to all registered parishioners.

To be able to continue to do that, however, requires some help on their part.

Today’s issue mailed to parishioners includes a donation envelope. Every household is asked each year to donate $20, roughly the cost of printing and mailing the newspaper.

Until two years ago, The Register was mailed only to those who subscribed. That number, however, had dwindled to about one-third of registered parishioners. Plans were made to send the newspaper to every household, beginning in January 2014.

To accommodate the increased printing and mailing costs — from 5,500 to about 17,500 copies — the decision was made to reduce publication from weekly to twice monthly — on the second and fourth Fridays.

And instead of selling subscriptions, The Register would seek a $20 donation from each family to underwrite the additional costs.

Last year, about 22 percent of households receiving the newspaper responding, giving an average of $25.

In addition to each household receiving the newspaper, each Register edition also is available online at

Our pro-life work must begin with each of us

On Aug. 22 the Respect Life Commission for the Diocese of Salina hosted our annual Respect Life Conference. Diocesan directors Jaclyn and Eric Brown put together an excellent group of speakers, and the information shared was thought-provoking, insightful and significant.

The lead speaker, Stephen Wagner of Justice For All, focused on how we can better engage those with whom we disagree about life issues, especially abortion. Instead of caustic shouting matches that inevitably fail to move hearts or change minds, we were actually led through practical exercises in how we can share the truth about the inherent dignity of human life in a way that is respectful and worthy of our Christian vocation, and at the same time prophetic.

We were reminded that all of us who recognize the image of God in every human being must take part in the public discussion. Without being abrasive or condemning, each of us must use our voice to speak up — in our friendships, our families, and our communities — to give a loving and thoughtful witness to human life.

As I drove home from the conference I reflected upon the fact that most of us need a day like that now and then to be reminded of how crucial this issue is. Indeed, one of our speakers noted that most Americans really are not pro-abortion. Rather, most Americans are actually ambivalent about abortion. Most Americans don’t want to think about it, and the pro-abortion movement in the U.S. has been exceptionally clever in keeping it out of sight and out of mind. The less people think about it the more socially acceptable — if not ignored — it becomes.

If I could use a sad analogy, it’s as though abortion has become our culture’s “dirty family secret.” We all know about it, we don’t talk about it, and while we regret it, we would prefer that no one bring it up in public or in any way make us look at it. In so doing, abortion becomes culturally and quietly all the more acceptable, while the inherent dignity of life deteriorates in life issues across the board.

But the stakes are simply too high. One abortion is too many; but over a million abortions a year is an almost unfathomable holocaust. And while abortion has a central role in the pro-life arena, as noted earlier, the issues actually extend well beyond the death of an infant and the damage resulting for the child’s mother flowing from abortion. The dignity of life is increasingly eroded in many areas of our culture. In “The Gospel of Life” (18) we read, “Today, when human rights are proudly proclaimed and the value of life itself given public affirmation, the most basic of all human rights, ‘the very right to life,’ is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death.”

Related to this, the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities points out “a policy and practice that result in well over a million deaths from abortions each year cannot but diminish respect for life in other areas.”

Having degraded the inherent value of human life through abortion, we are now seeing life degraded in the elderly and terminally ill; immigrants are viewed more as a “problem to be dealt with” than human beings; and international refugees — fleeing starvation and death — are equally dismissed.

Again, we who participated in the annual conference were reminded that the starting point to turn the tide in our culture involves each of us using our voice to speak the truth. Abortion needs to come out of the shadows. When made clear by us, the facts related to abortion will themselves move people to the truth. Ambivalence can be moved to zeal and activity. Lives will be saved and life will triumph. But it must begin with each of us.

Bishop asks Salina Diocese faithful to resume Friday abstinence year-round

First published March 1, 2013

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, through its Committee for Pro-Life Activities and Religious Liberty, has urged bishops to recommend Friday abstinence for the people of their dioceses.

The bishops’ committee sees Friday abstinence as a spiritual effort undertaken for the sake of the protection of human life, the sanctity of marriage and religious liberty. While these are more than worthwhile reasons, I would add that abstinence is likewise an ancient Church discipline that helps free us from what might otherwise own us (and our souls). It helps to make room for the joy and hope that only God can give.

For all these reasons, I am asking that the faithful of the Diocese of Salina immediately return to this ancient practice of the Church.

There are other factors at issue here, as well. Many are unaware that the Church, after the Second Vatican Council, never changed its ancient custom of observing Fridays as penitential days. Friday abstinence was never abolished. Rather, the Church allowed bishops conferences around the world to determine whether or not Friday abstinence could be substituted with a different penance.

When the U.S. bishops conference permitted Catholics to exchange the Friday abstinence for a different form of penance, it seems that the notion of a Friday penance disappeared entirely. This was never the intention of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. I fear that we were unwise in our rush to get rid of this ancient practice, allowing ourselves to blend in with our generally non-believing culture.

While I believe a return to Friday abstinence a true benefit for the Church, I would note that this is a strongly recommended spiritual endeavor. It is not law, and scrupulosity is to be avoided. Children in public schools, residents of nursing homes and care facilities and others without control over their diet may substitute a different form of penance on Fridays, as is already allowed by the bishops’ conference legislation. Moreover, pastors may dispense their parishioners or even their entire parish for special celebrations.

Three additional points are worth noting. The first is that abstinence from certain foods for spiritual purposes is well-grounded in Scripture. In Daniel 10:2-3, we read of Daniel taking no delicacies, no meat, no wine and not anointing himself for three weeks while he was in mourning. As Jesus was crucified on a Friday, abstinence from meat on that day each week is a way of entering into the penitential spirit of the day. The fish, typically consumed in its place (but not required), is a symbol of Christ. It should be noted that those who cannot eat meat for medical or dietary reasons may continue to substitute a different penance, such as abstinence from a different but still preferred food.

Secondly, it is good for us to stand out, to be a little prophetic and not to blend in with a culture that is harming its members in so many ways. The English historian Eamon Duffy published a 2004 call for a return to Friday abstinence in the journal The Tablet. He noted that Friday abstinence was a focus of Catholic identity that transcended class and educational barriers, even uniting “good” and “bad” Catholics in a single eloquent observance. And finally, while it may be trendy to embrace a vegetarian lifestyle for health, environmental or ethical reasons, we enter into the Friday abstinence for matters of the soul. If the world thinks us odd, then we are in good company with St. Paul, who was known to call himself “a fool for Christ.” If we want to be different from the culture around us — and different for all the right reasons — then we need to do things in a different way.

The purpose of the abstinence remains primarily spiritual as a penance, a recalling of the Lord’s passion. It also can unite us spiritually to those who do not have enough food for the day. But as a public witness, it clearly adds to our Catholic identity. For that reason, it may be far more needed today than when it was observed more faithfully 50 years ago.

Vatican designates Victoria church as a minor basilica

Victoria — Capuchin Father Jeff Ernst’s voice leapt with emotion when he heard the news: St. Fidelis Church would be named a minor basilica.

“It’s exciting,” he said from his office at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence. “The state of Kansas doesn’t have any.”

Bishop Edward Weisenburger received the news from the Vatican last week that the diocese’s application to name St. Fidelis a minor basilica had been granted. He will dedicate the church as a minor basilica beginning at 10:30 a.m. June 7.

“This is a great day for the people of Victoria but an equally great day for the people of the Diocese of Salina,” the bishop said. “St. Fidelis Church has long been a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Indeed, many have been drawn to the mystery and love of God by spending time in this inspiring church.”

Father Ernst thought much the same when he was walking through the front doors one day.

“This could become a minor basilica,” Father Ernst said to himself.

“I thought about it for a few days and then ran it by the bishop, and he really liked the idea,” Father Ernst said.

After receiving permission from his Capuchin provincial to proceed, he contacted people at the most recently named minor basilica in the United States, the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Canton, Ohio, to inquire about how to do it.

Bishop Weisenburger had just been named bishop of Salina, and when he traveled to Rome with other bishops from the region to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, he told Father Ernst he would check with Vatican officials about the process.

“He found out they were discouraging applications,” Father Ernst said, but when the bishop sometime later met with other U.S. bishops, they encouraged him to proceed.

“He said, ‘Let’s do this,’ ” Father Ernst said.

The Capuchin priest had only been at the Victoria parish since August 2011, and with his parish council’s support, he began assembling the information he needed.

The application asks for specific information about the structure of the church, the participation of the parishioners and the art and architecture.

“One thing people at Canton said was send lots of pictures, so we did,” Father Ernst said.

It took him about six months to complete the application, which then was sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for its approval. By September 2013, it was on its way to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican.


Dedicated parishioners complete a landmark church in 1911

Victoria — Anyone traveling Interstate 70 in western Kansas has seen the twin towers of St. Fidelis Church standing out against the relatively flat plains.

Those who exit the highway, their curiosity piqued, learn an amazing history of what is known as the Cathedral of the Plains. The church towers, which rise 141 feet into the sky, are a stark difference from the first church: a humble wooden structure.

Victoria was founded in 1873 by English farmers. German Catholics from the Volga River region of Russia began arriving in 1876. Their ancestors had left Germany at the invitation of Catherine the Great. A century later, when guarantees of autonomy, religious freedom and exemption from military service were revoked, thousands came to America, and many settled north of Victoria in a village they named Herzog. The two towns eventually merged and used the name of the older settlement.

The first Catholic church was a 40-by-20-foot addition built onto a settler’s home. Later, parishioners quarried and hauled stone for a new church, completed in 1878. Capuchin Franciscan priests have served the parish since.

In just a few years, the second church proved too small. The new church, completed in 1884, held 600.

By the turn of the century, even that larger church wasn’t big enough, and plans were announced in 1904 for an imposing new structure.

To build it, each communicant 12 years of age or older was assessed $45 annually and asked to deliver six wagon loads of stone to the building site. Many large families were responsible for 70 to 80 wagon loads of stone. The limestone was quarried about seven miles south of town. Parishioners also learned to dress the stone. The old church was dismantled and the stone set aside for the new inner walls.

The resulting Romanesque structure is 220 feet long, 110 feet wide at the transepts, 75 feet tall and seats 1,100. At the time of its dedication in 1911, it was considered the largest church in the state. Builders used 125,000 cubic feet of rock, 150,000 board feet of lumber, 4,000 cubic yards of sand and more than 400 tons of concrete.

The 14 solid granite pillars, each weighing 8,500 pounds, were transported to the site from railroad cars using a wagon placed on the reinforced axles of a threshing machine. Four horses pulled the wagon to the church, and horse-powered block and tackle and hand winches were used to erect the pillars in place.

Colored-glass windows made in Munich were installed in 1916, and stations of the cross were imported from Austria in 1917.

The cost to build the church and furnish it totaled more than $95,000.

William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic presidential candidate, dubbed it the Cathedral of the Plains when he visited in 1912.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In 2008, it was named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas. Since 1994, the parish has spent nearly $1 million on restoration, repairs and mechanical and physical updates.