by Joe Bollig
BUCYRUS — About 20 minutes before the 150th anniversary Mass of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish here on Sept. 28 began, the gray skies opened up and it poured.
And it poured and kept pouring. Latecomers entered the church soaked.
It seemed as if the Lord decided to provide his own “asperges,” commented Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, referring to the ritual sprinkling of holy water on the congregation.
In his homily, the archbishop noted that the history of the parish records show that the second and third churches were both destroyed in 1905 — one by a fire caused by a lightning strike, and its almost completed replacement by a tornado.
“So, I was a little bit concerned about what might happen to the church tonight,” said Archbishop Naumann.
Past history notwithstanding, the 4 p.m. anniversary Mass continued with hardly a concern about the downpour — until after the Mass, when everyone without umbrellas had to make a dash to the school for the anniversary dinner in the gymnasium.
Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass. Father Gary Pennings, the pastor, was the concelebrant. Deacon Tom Rothermich assisted, and seminarian Thomas Maddock served as master of ceremonies.
In addition to drawing from the history of the parish in his homily, Archbishop Naumann drew from the readings. He noted how the prophet Amos foretold disaster for the lovers of luxury in Zion in the first reading, and the indifference of the rich man toward poor Lazarus in the Gospel reading. The archbishop reminded the worshipers that Catholics must care for others as much as they care for their beautiful churches.
“As we celebrate the anniversary of this community here, we give thanks for all ways in which the Lord has blessed it, and the many sacrifices that have been made to make this community vibrant and alive,” he said.
“We celebrate the way parishioners through 150 years have cared for each other and noticed the needs of their brothers and sisters, and have assisted them,” he continued. “And we accept the challenge in our time to continue to persevere, to keep this community vibrant and alive, to continue to draw our strength from the Lord and set our priorities — putting God first in our lives.”
He asked parishioners to pray that God would put a deeper sense of gratitude in them so that they would not avert their eyes from the needs of others.
The genesis of the parish in what used to be Wea (which also includes the nearby hamlet of Bucyrus) lies in a debt repaid in 1858 by a Kansas City, Missouri, sawmill owner to William Schwartz and Anthony Vohs. He offered them a tract of land in northeast Miami County that had formerly belonged to the Wea Indian Tribe.
Interestingly, noted Archbishop Naumann, Bishop James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, is partially Wea Native American through his paternal grandmother.
German and Irish Catholics settled in the area, and were served by circuit-riding priests in the 1860s. A modest wood-frame church was finished in 1870, with other churches following. The cornerstone of the present church says: “Sept. 29, 1895” but the current brick church — dedicated on May 29, 1906 — is the third church built on that foundation.
The little country parish retains its rural character, but time has not stood still at Queen of the Holy Rosary.
Although the old brick grade and high school was closed in 1971, the growth of Johnson County has brought many new families, and a big, new $3.6 million Catholic school was completed in 2006. Parish and school leadership think that, in 10 years, the parish might have to expand the school and build a new church to handle projected growth, said parish secretary Katrina DeGraeve.
The parish has 700 families and more are joining every year. Several descendants of the original settlers still belong to the parish.
The long-standing October festival and turkey shoot have ended, but now the big draws are the annual September auction for the school and the 5K race, Running with the Cows, which began in 2009.
During dessert at the anniversary dinner, parishioners viewed a video history of the parish made by twins Matt and Jack McCabe. The video featured memories of older parishioners and a few thoughts about the future.
The evening ended with some diners receiving commemorative bottles of locally made wine. Earlier in the evening, anniversary cookbooks, Christmas ornaments and magnetic stickers were on sale.
The anniversary Mass and dinner were only the kickoff of a six-month-long series of events at the parish celebrating its 150th anniversary. Additional events are still being planned and will be announced later.
As if the 150th anniversary wasn’t enough to celebrate, Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish and School received exciting news on Sept. 26.
The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that Queen of the Holy Rosary School was being recognized as one of 50 nonpublic schools in the nation — and only one of six in Kansas — to receive the National Blue Ribbon School award in 2019.
The award is given on the basis of a school’s overall academic performance.
“We are delighted and humbled to receive this prestigious national award and I am so proud of our students and their families, as well as the school’s faculty, staff and administration for creating a culture of academic excellence in our school,” said the pastor, Father Gary Pennings.
The school was built in 2000 and has a faculty, staff and administration of 27 persons. The school has an enrollment of 203 in preschool to eighth grade.
What makes the school special?
“We have a strong student community,” said Nick Antista, principal for the past six years. “Our kids at all different grade levels know each other. They feel loved and part of a larger community.
“On any given day,” he continued, “you’ll see a 4-year-old high fiving a third-grader, or see a second-grader interacting with a seventh-grader, or an eighth-grader helping a kindergartner. It’s all day long you’ll see these kids helping each other, playing with each other and saying hi to each other.
“If you feel loved and part of a larger community, you can achieve at a much higher level.”
Every time the school sets the bar high, the kids find a way to jump over it, he said.