St. Francis Xavier, Seward, celebrates quasquicentennial
Pastor, Father Rene Guesnier, O.S.B.,
celebrates golden jubilee
By TIM WENZL
Southwest Kansas Register
SEWARD – The Catholic community here on Sept. 25 celebrated two milestones: the 125th anniversary of St. Francis Xavier Parish and the golden jubilee of Father Rene Guesnier, O.S.B.
The parish was founded in 1886 when the Catholics in northern Stafford County organized as a Catholic community. Father Rene Guesnier, a native son, of the Seward parish was ordained to the priesthood on Sept. 21, 1961. He celebrated his first Mass in St. Francis Xavier Church on Sept. 24, 1961.
Bishop John B. Brungardt, making his first visit to the parish, celebrated the Mass. He was joined by Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey.
Concelebrants were: Father Pascal Klein, La Crosse; Father Chuck Mazouch, Ellinwood; Father Ultan Murphy, Olmitz; Father Dermot Tighe, former pastor now retired in Great Bend; Father Dwight Birket, McPherson; and Father Angel Dy, Diocese of Sorsogon.
Father John Rickert, F.S.S.P., a native of Ellinwood and second cousin to Father Rene, also was present. He is currently chaplain of Regina Pacis in Lexington, Ky.
Accompanying Abbot Polan was Brother Atienne Huard, O.S.B.. Representing the Dominican Sisters were Sister Rosalia Govert and Sister Teresita Huse. The Dominican Sisters of Great Bend taught at St. Francis Xavier School from 1926 to 1965.
The congregational singing was lead by John Strobel, a retired professor of Music from Colorado State University, now living in Great Bend. Angie Jones of Seward was the organist.
On March 14, 1886, a group of Catholics in Stafford County met and agreed to contribute toward the support of a priest under the condition that Mass would be celebrated on one Sunday a month at some appointed place in Seward.
The first Masses in the area were celebrated in homes and schoolhouses by Father Leon Epp. Members of the parish would travel to either Ellinwood or Great Bend by lumber wagon to provide transportation for Father Epp. This required two days for the round trip.
Father M.J. Walsh served the congregation at Seward from his pastorate at St. Patrick’s, Kingman. He traveled on the Denver, Memphis and Atlantic Railway to reach the community. The congregation’s first church was constructed under his supervision. Father Walsh dedicated the church on Dec. 20, 1889.
The present brick church, built during the pastorate of Father Francis Hayden, was dedicated by Bishop John J. Hennessy on March 14, 1916. The Romanesque structure remains essentially the same. There have been no additions. The interior was renovated most recently in 2008. Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore consecrated a new altar in the sanctuary on June 20, 2010.
The school was constructed during the pastorate of Father John Butler. Bishop August J. Schwertner dedicated the school on March 11, 1926. It remained open until 1965, largely due to a busing program initiated in 1957 that provided transportation for students in St. John to attend the Catholic school in Seward.
Father Rene’s jubilee was not lost in the celebration of the parish anniversary.
Father Rene Guesnier, was ordained to the priesthood in the Abbey Basilica of the Immaculate Conception by the Most Rev. John P. Cody, bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, September 21, 1961.
Father Rene served as associate editor of “Altar and Home,” while also assistant guest master at Conception Abbey from 1961 to 1963. He served as an assistant pastor in two parish assignments: St. Joseph, Springfield, Mo., (1963-64), and St. Aloysius, Kansas City, Mo., (1964-1967).
He was a military chaplain for 20 years in the following locations: Fort Riley, Kansas (1967-68); Vietnam (1968-69); Fort Eustis, Virginia (1969-70); Vietnam (1970-71); Thailand (1971-72); Fort Carson, Colorado (1972-75); Fort Hamilton, NY (1975-76); Goppingen, Germany (1976-79); Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas (1979-80); Firzsimmons Army Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado (1980-82); USMCA Zweibruecken, Germany (1982-85); and Fort Riley (1985-87). He retired from the U.S. Army in 1987.
Father Rene was stationed at Conception Abbey from 1988 to 1990, before returning to parish work. He served as pastor of St. Joseph, Parnell, Mo., from 1990 to 1993. He then returned to his native Diocese of Dodge City.
Father Rene served as pastor of St. Boniface, Sharon, from 1993 to 1994, before being reassigned as parochial vicar at St. Rose of Lima, Great Bend, and his native parish of St. Francis Xavier, Seward. He became a pastor in semi-retirement on June 27, 1995, and was appointed pastor in Seward. Father Rene also was available for pastoral service to hospitals and nursing homes in the area. In February of 1996, he also served as temporary administrator of St. John Parish in St. John. In August of that same year, he was appointed pastor at St. John while continuing to serve Seward as pastor. He served both Stafford County parishes until 2007.
In 2008, Father Rene started celebrating the traditional Gregorian Mass (Latin) every Sunday together with the Novus Ordo Mass. It is the only regularly celebrated Latin Mass between Wichita and Denver.
The anniversary Mass was followed by a catered meal in the parish center by Wheatland Cafe in Hudson. Two commemorative items were produced for the quasquicentennial: a glass ball Christmas ornament and a soft-bound parish history book. The ornament at $5; and the history book at $20, can be ordered by writing: St. Francis Xavier Parish, 504 Main, Seward, KS 67576.
The quasquicentennial committee included: Fran Dick, Marilyn Hitz, Debbie Long, Timarie Walters, Jill Vsetecka, Rosie Urban, Laura Devine, Marie Keenan, and Dan Schaffer.