The village south of Hays was founded in 1877 by German Catholic emigrants from Russia. Residents traveled to Hays, 11 miles north, to attend Mass until they could build their own church, starting in 1879. The stone structure’s foundation was damaged by heavy rains a year later, and the building was abandoned. A frame church was completed in 1881.
Plans for a new stone church began in 1900, and the church was dedicated in 1911.
Father Valentine Sommereisen, the first priest to serve Ellis County, initially tended to the Schoenchen parish. Capuchin priests and diocesan priests have alternately served the parish since then.
The parish made news in 1992 when a Russian bishop visited.
To parishioners, it was more of a homecoming. Bishop Joseph Werth, a Jesuit, is descended from the same families that settled Schoenchen. His ancestors did not leave Russia, and they were persecuted after the communist revolution. Joseph Stalin exiled them to Kazakhstan, where the bishop was born.
Despite the communist government’s policy of atheism, the bishop was allowed to study for the priesthood, and he eventually returned to the Volga River region of this ancestors to minister to Germans who had returned after Stalin’s death.
Capuchin Father Blaine Burkey, who was teaching at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays, read about Father Werth in a 1990 newsletter from Aid to the Church in Need. He was able to contact the priest and invite him to Kansas. Not long after that, he was elevated to bishop of Siberia. He then sent word to Schoenchen that he would visit in the summer of 1992.
St. Fidelis Friary
Victoria, KS 67671
30 minutes before Mass