Hays – Bishop Jerry Vincke is going to experience a lot of “firsts” during his inaugural year as bishop of the Diocese of Salina.
After being ordained as the diocese’s 12th bishop just 10 days earlier, Bishop Vincke took part in a ceremony that doesn’t come along all that often. On Sept. 1, he celebrated a Mass at St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Hays, commemorating the remodeling of the entire worship space. Included in that celebration was the consecration of the new limestone altar.
“I was really looking forward to this celebration ever since I knew it was on my calendar,” said Bishop Vincke, who was ordained on Aug. 22 in Salina. “These ceremonies don’t happen very often in a diocese, so I was blessed to experience it already.”
Longtime parishioner Dorothy Dechant has seen such a ceremony before, but she said it’s worth experiencing time and time again.
“This service was just beautiful,” said the 89-year-old Decant, remembers the first Mass at St. Nicholas when it was built in 1985. “I remember the bishop blessing everything and everyone. I’m so grateful to God for getting to be part of another consecration Mass.”
The parish had been raising money for a building fund for several years, and Father Jarett Konrade said he thinks the final bill for the renovation will come in under its $900,000 budget. An additional $150,000 was raised in the last six months to avoid completely depleting the building fund.
During his homily at the consecration Mass, Bishop Vincke stressed the importance of the altar.
“The altar is a symbol of Christ,” he said. “On the altar, Jesus offers himself to the Father for our salvation at every Mass.”
The cream-colored limestone for the altar — along with a matching ambo and tabernacle stand — was gathered from a quarry near Herington and purchased from U.S. Stone Industries in Manhattan.
A new 10-foot tall crucifix, with the symbols of the four gospel writers at the tips of the cross, overlooks the sanctuary which is brightened with the addition of new white tile. The reflection of stained glass windows in the back of the church are reflected in the blue tile background for the crucifix. Large statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph flank the crucifix on either side.
In keeping with the design of the original building, three blue tile cross inlays down the center aisle represent a combination of Greek and Jerusalem crosses. The four quadrants of the Jerusalem cross represent the four gospel writers taking the gospel to the four corners of the world.
Identical smaller crosses with a vertical border hang on either side of the sanctuary. They are the same crosses depicted in the outside tower of the church, as well as the western external wall.
New Stations of the Cross hang along the side walls, and a statue of St. Nicholas adorns the south wall.
“Just gorgeous; I love it,” said Laura Hertel, who, like Dechant, was an original member of St. Nicholas. “We’ve made a lot of memories in this church.”
Hertel, the youngest of nine children of Frank and Millie Flax, was a senior in high school when her dad was chair of the original building committee and actually plowed a furrow of ground with his antique plow on the building site of the new church.
Now married with four grown children of her own, Hertel has remained a parishioner at St. Nicholas all these years.
“We still sit in the same pew, or in the same area,” she said with a laugh. “It just seems like home.”
While those are the same pews from 33 years ago, they were cleaned and oiled and re-upholstered as part of the remodeling project.
New restrooms are nearing completion, and the original carpet in the church was removed and replaced with light-colored tile.
“People are really happy with the sound, which was a significant concern when changing from carpet to tile,” Father Konrade said.
Those attending the consecration Mass got to witness firsthand the new acoustics.
A variety of musical pieces were carefully selected for the choir to lead the congregation in singing, and a recently acquired baby grand piano made its debut at the re-dedication Mass.
Like the parishioners, Bishop Vincke was all smiles after the Mass as he graciously gathered in front of the altar for photographs with folks.
“The whole Mass was very beautiful,” he said. “I could tell that Father Konrade, the staff and the people of the parish were all excited. A lot of preparation and hard work came to fruition. I am very happy for the parish.”
Before the remodeling even began in May, new white tile was laid in the adjoining parish hall, where Mass was then said during the summer months. Parishioners would gather after Mass on weekends to view the progress of the project.
Attending Mass in the parish hall reminded Dechant of early days of St. Nicholas when Mass was said in the lecture hall at nearby Hays High School while the new church was being constructed.
Seeing this remodeling project completed brought back a lot of fond memories for Dechant, recalling the satisfaction gained from a lot faith and hard work.
“This has been my home for a long time,” Dechant said. “I am proud to be a member of St. Nicholas parish.”