The first Cathedral parish of the diocese dates to the late 1860s when French-Canadians first began to settle Cloud County. Father Joseph Rimmele, a diocesan priest based at St. Mary’s Indian Mission east of Manhattan, first visited Concordia in 1869. In 1870, he reported there were 16 Catholics in Concordia. In 1873, Father Louis Mollier was sent to St. Joseph, the largest concentration of Catholics in the area, but he served missions as far west as New Almelo.
Father Mollier oversaw construction of the first church in Concordia. Work began in 1877, and it was completed in 1879. Father Joseph Perrier was appointed the parish’s first resident pastor in 1880. Initially, the parish was known as Notre Dame du Bon Secours, or Our Lady of Good Help. Later, after the church was enlarged in 1902, it was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
A rectory was built in 1882 and Father Perrier invited nuns who had just opened a school in Newton to come to Concordia to operate a school. Mother Stanislaus Leary and five sisters would establish the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, the only congregation of women religious to be headquartered in the diocese.
At that time, the entire state of Kansas comprised the Diocese of Leavenworth. In 1886, Bishop Louis Fink traveled from Leavenworth to announce that a new diocese would be formed and that Concordia would be its see.
The May 13, 1886, Concordia Empire reported: “The establishment of this new diocese will give Concordia the Bishop with his residence, a fine Cathedral,
college, convent, hospital and many other institutions connected therewith. … This move will add greatly to the wealth and population of our city, besides giving us standing and notoriety abroad.”
Father Perrier traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to witness the consecration of the first bishop, Bishop Richard Scannell. Six months later, the bishop named Father Perrier his vicar general. He remained in that capacity until Bishop Scannell was transferred to Omaha in 1891. Wichita Bishop John Hennessy then oversaw the Diocese of Concordia; a bishop appointed to Concordia in 1897 died before he was to be consecrated a month later.
The arrived in May 1989 of Bishop John Cunningham, who had been vicar general of the Diocese of Leavenworth, was heralded in Concordia. There had been fear, with the gap of six years between bishops, that the Concordia and Wichita dioceses might be merged.
The cathedral was enlarged in 1902 to include a bell tower, narthex, transept, galleries and sacristy.
The parish erected a grade school in 1908, which was expanded in 1955. In 1944, it purchased the former Concordia Business College and opened Cathedral Catholic High School. That building was razed in 1962 when the parish opened the new Notre Dame Catholic High School. The high school operated for seven years, then was converted to a grade school, which was closed in 1971. The site is now a public middle school.
The parish built a new rectory in 1991, and in 1995, a new office, hall and classroom addition to the church was constructed. Considerable repairs also were done to the church tower, which had been struck by lightning.
Bishop Francis Thill was the last bishop to reside in Concordia. On March 12, 1945, the see was transferred to Salina, and Sacred Heart Church in Salina became Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have been a significant presence in the parish. They came to Concordia three years before the Diocese of Concordia was founded.
They initially constructed a motherhouse next to the cathedral, but by 1903, they had erected an imposing new motherhouse on the south edge of town. Their former quarters were converted to a hospital, with an addition built in 1916. In 1951, the sisters opened the new St. Joseph’s Hospital on the west edge of town. The original motherhouse then became a home for the aged. When the sisters built Mount Joseph Nursing Home in 1977, the building that once was the motherhouse, hospital and nursing home became Manna House of Prayer, a retreat center.
The new motherhouse property was expanded twice. Sacred Heart Chapel was added in 1908, and in 1970, a residence for retired sisters was constructed.
Because of a declining number of sisters and a changing focus of their ministry, the Sisters of St. Joseph in the late 1970s and early 1980s turned over parochial schools to lay teachers and transferred ownership of their hospitals, nursing homes and Marymount College in Salina.
The congregation remains a substantial presence in Concordia. In 2010, there were about 150 sisters in the order serving missions in more than 20 cities and towns in Kansas, plus others in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas. About half the sisters live and serve in Concordia.
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