By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
One hundred years ago March 11, Bishop John J. Hennessy stood inside a newly constructed wood-frame church at Washington Street and Starr Avenue in Scott City, a sapling of a community standing young but strong on the Kansas plains.
Inside the church, a fire burned in an iron stove, keeping the congregation of six families – 23 members strong – warm against the winter chill, as the bishop of what was then part of the Diocese of Wichita dedicated the new Catholic church.
Outside stood at least a few patient horses tied to buggies, as well as a couple of autos – maybe even one or two with the brand new “automatic starter”, invented after the “crank” caused one too many injuries. A century later, on June 19, 2011, Bishop John B. Brungardt stood smiling inside St. Joseph Church -- now a much larger brick structure constructed in 1945 -- as cool air brought welcome relief against the late spring heat to many of the 260 families who now call St. Joseph their parish. In a room beside the main worship area, the Mass was telecast on a video screen for overflow crowds. Outside were dozens of cars, some with GPS mapping systems that voice, “Turn right at the next street” should the travelers become lost.
At Bishop Brungardt’s side was Father Warren Stecklein, pastor, and native sons, Deacon Dwayne Lampe and the Most Rev. Norbert Hermes, who, until his retirement in 2009, served as Bishop of Cristalândia, Tocantins, Brazil, where he resides today.
In his opening comments, Bishop Brungardt welcomed those gathered to what was a three-fold celebration: the blessing of a new altar, the 100th anniversary of the church, and the solemnity of the Holy Trinity.
From behind the altar -- constructed by Ron Horinek (who built several other pieces in the sanctuary) with funds donated by the Powers family in memory of farmer and carpenter, Clarence Powers -- Bishop Brungardt said that the Holy Trinity is a “demonstration of God’s love.
“In a way, it’s a showing of love for this altar, made of wood and sacred stones. But it’s a deeper love than that. It’s a love for this church. It’s a love for St. Joseph Catholic Parish.
“This church is more than just bricks and mortar and wood and plaster,” the bishop said, “It’s a foundation of this love for the people of God – for each one of you and your parents and grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, who founded this parish, who demonstrated God’s love through the sacramental life, the life of prayer of formation, through lives of service. This is what we’re celebrating: this love that the Lord is showing us. And we’re showing love back to him through each other as a community of faith.”
With this centennial celebration, he said, the parish looks “forward to the next hundred years as we pass our faith on to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, thinking about how that happened years ago with our great-grandparents -- a beautiful gift, generation after generation, century after century, millennium after millennium: the Catholic faith.”
After his homily, the bishop invited children from the congregation to the front as he blessed and consecrated the new altar with holy Chrism.
Following Mass, the congregation gathered in the ornately decorated social hall where life-long parish member, Mike Palen, thanked all those involved with the centennial celebration.
“The last 100 years have been pretty amazing for this little parish,” he said. “We’ve seen nine popes, 10 bishops, and 31 priests. I can only remember a handful of the priests. I remember Father Kelly, a little Irish priest with a great accent; Father [Jacob] Dreher, who taught me how to fish and say the rosary at the same time….
“And we’ve got a guy here, right now, who’s just really special. Father Warren’s been a blessing to this parish from the day he got here.”
The 240 or so gathered in the social hall stood to their feet and offered their priest – reassigned as of July 6 to Larned and Belpre -- a standing ovation. Father Bernard Felix has been assigned to St. Joseph.
On the back of the program read a fond farewell to the departing priest: “The members of the parish would like to acknowledge Father Warren Stecklein’s dedication and leadership for all that he has given us … a vibrant parish, a beautiful new building, and most importantly, his wisdom, guidance and faith. We thank him for bringing light to our community.”
At the rear of the social hall, long tables housed a wide assortment of items up for silent auction, including several baseballs signed by the Royals, sculptures, and a digital camera. Many door prizes were awarded as children took part in a special outdoor fun program.
As a supper of roast beef was served by the Alpha Omega Sorority, a slide presentation created by Donna Long highlighted some of the significant moments in the history of the church. People stood in line to buy a hardbound parish history book created by diocesan archivist Tim Wenzl with the help of parish members, as artist Codye Reystead painted and completed a large painting of Christ which then was auctioned off.
“It’s been a wonderful parish,” Father Stecklein told the Register, “and Father Bernard is lucky to be coming here.”