A celebration 125
years in the making
By David Myers
Southwest Kansas Register
PRATT -- They came more than a century ago, the rugged homesteaders filled with sun-baked grit and God-given determination to celebrate Mass for the first time in their community.
One hundred and twenty-five years later, the faithful of Pratt County -- including many direct descendants of those founding mothers and fathers -- gathered to celebrate 125 years of Catholic presence.
On Aug. 22, a special anniversary Mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Eugene J. Gerber, former bishop of Dodge City, at Sacred Heart Church in Pratt.
During his homily, Bishop Gerber, who was standing in for Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore, referred to the spirits of all those in the parish who have died, but who “are with us still.”
“…When I was bishop of Dodge City, there were three generations: a grandmother, a mother and a young child of seven, the only child. The grandmother died at a proper old age, peacefully and quietly. Two weeks later, the mother and her son were in a car accident and she was killed. The son alone was left. After the funeral, in the back yard I set him up on a fence so that my eyes could meet his and I asked him, ‘Where is your mother now?’ He said, ‘She’s in heaven.’ I asked, ‘Where’s Heaven?’ He said, ‘It’s right here.’ And I said, ‘Does that mean that your mother is right here?’ And he said, ‘Yes,’ as if I should have known that.’
“This is a reality of the people being with us,” the bishop said.
Bishop Gerber shared this quote from Pope Benedict XVI, said soon after John Paul II died, and after Benedict was elected pope:
“The pope (John Paul II) is always close to me through his writings. I hear him and I see him speaking. So I can keep up a continuous dialogue with him. This nearness to him isn’t limited to words and text, because behind the text I hear the pope himself. A man who goes to the Lord doesn’t disappear. I believe that someone who goes to the Lord comes even closer to us and I feel he is close to me and that I am close to the Lord.”
“Those who have died throughout the history of this parish,” Bishop Gerber said, “are with us today....”
Prior to the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Gerber blessed a new piano and hymnals. After Mass, the congregation met in the 4-H building for a chicken and beef supper served by the Knights of Columbus.
In 1884, Catholics settlers began meeting for Mass in private homes. Then, in 1885, the first church was constructed, St. James, named after their pastor, Father James O’Connor.
In 1908, the new red brick church on Oak Street was completed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1952, soon after the Diocese of Dodge City was carved out of the Wichita Diocese, construction began on a new church building. The first Mass was held at midnight, Dec. 24, 1952.
The community that began with 23 families celebrating Mass in the homes of their neighbors, now boasts 535 families.
On the 125th anniversary celebration booklet, it reads, “We dedicate this day to all who have been part of the community of Sacred Heart Parish these past 125 years that have made this day possible. May all future generations find within this community of faith a place of welcome and spiritual nurturing.”