Mining the Archives
Does an unpublished manuscript solve the Odin windows mystery?
By TIM WENZL
Nothing is more exciting to an archivist than a little detective work. This mystery can be called “The Tale of Two Histories.”
In 2000, I read every parish history that was in our archives as I gathered interesting tidbits for writing “A Legacy of Faith” for the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Dodge City.
I learned a great deal about the parishes in the diocese and included some very interesting details in the historic sketches of the Catholic communities in our southwest territory.
The 1954 Diamond Jubilee booklet for Holy Family Parish in Odin is filled with historic gems. One of the most interesting is this paragraph:
“On the fifth of January, 1896, the Rev. Augustine P. Heimann took charge of the parish…. Under the new pastor’s supervision the work on the new church with some changes was pushed ahead towards the fall of 1896, the cornerstone could be laid and few years later the church was dedicated to the Holy Family. Father Heimann purchased the art glass windows, the three beautiful altars, the stations of the cross, the statues, the baptismal font, all the pews and the reed organ from the old pro-cathedral of Wichita. The expenditures for the new church accessories were close to $6,000 whereas the building itself was estimated to be $25,000.” This was fascinating. To think the stained glass windows and other items from the St. Aloysius Pro-Cathedral in Wichita were now adorning a church in the Diocese of Dodge City.
But there was a problem with this. The pro-cathedral was still in use until the new cathedral, St. Mary’s, was dedicated in 1912. Bishop Hennessy dedicated the church in Odin on May 23, 1899, 13 years before the pro-cathedral was closed.
When, then, did the stained glass windows and other furnishings come to Odin? The paragraph above gives the impression that they came when the Odin church was first constructed. This could not be true if the pro-cathedral was still in use until 1912.
Last year, when I learned that Hoefer Stained Glass of South Hutchinson was restoring the windows in the Odin church, I thought perhaps something might be discovered during the project to put this mystery to rest. And it was, not in the church, but in the rectory next door.
Sister Andre Kravev, O.P., parish life coordinator, discovered a typed manuscript about Odin’s history in a box in the rectory attic recently. It is not dated or signed by the author, yet there are clues to indicate both.
One page titled “Early Reminiscences” starts this way: “I wonder how many people who are gathered at Odin for the Jubilee Celebration from all parts of Barton County and the neighboring counties remember the time more than fifty years ago when plans were made to lay the foundation of our present little but flourishing congregation.”
The parish celebrates it jubilees from the dedication of its first church in 1879. Adding 50 years, we know that the jubilee the author is writing about occurred in 1929, the golden jubilee of the Odin parish. Father Colin T. Niederpruem, the pastor at that time, was then the likely author.
Father Niederpruem’s manuscript provides detailed information about the furnishings of the church, but none more important to solving the mystery of the windows than this:
“The stations of the Cross, each $100.00 donated by individuals of the parish; the art windows, each $100.00, an outlay of $2,000.00; …we may say without any exaggeration to furnish the interior with the many articles for divine services cost approximately $10,000.00.”
There is no mention in this earlier history of any items coming from the pro-Cathedral in Wichita.
Still I asked Scott Hoefer of Hoefer Stained Glass if it was possible that the windows had first been installed in another church. “The (Odin) windows are installed in detailed wood framing,” Hoefer said, “The chances are real slim that the two churches would have exactly the same opening in the stonework.” Further evidence, and most revealing, is the sponsors of the windows, documented in glass, are family names of Odin parishioners. The “ventilators” with the family names are made of the same glass as the illustrations above them.
It is unknown where Father Cornelius Leunissen, the pastor at Odin and the author of the 1954 history, received the information about the windows coming from the pro-Cathedral. He was not able to ask Father August Heimann, who was pastor at the time the church was constructed. Father August Heimann passed away in 1951.
History must side with the earliest writing unless further evidence proves different. But now we are left to wonder, where are the windows from the pro-Cathedral in Wichita?