St. Boniface in Scipio celebrates 150 years of Carmelite care
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
SCIPIO — When Father Jerry Williams visited St. Boniface Parish here for the first time in 1986 as vocation director for the Carmelites, he never imagined he’d be part of its 150th anniversary celebration 22 years later . . . but he hoped.
“I was traveling a lot and used to come here and help out during Holy Week,” he said. “I fell in love with it right away, and I would always leave here saying, ‘I hope I get assigned here sometime later in life.’”
Last November, when Father Jerry was finishing up his 14th year teaching in Chicago, his provincial approached him with the news that a new pastor was needed in Scipio.
“He said to me, ‘Your name keeps coming up and I need to know if you’re serious about that,’” recalled Father Jerry. “So I told him I had always considered going to Kansas later in life.
“Then he grabbed my arm and said, ‘Well, you’re kind of there.’”
“I guess ‘later in life’ snuck up on me,” chuckled Father Jerry.
It didn’t take Father Jerry long after arriving in Scipio this past July to settle into this small parish of 70 families. And the Carmelites, having just completed an extensive renovation of the priory at St. Boniface, have made a commitment, too.
“St. Boniface is the second oldest Carmelite parish in the United States; St. Joseph in Leavenworth is the oldest,” said Father Jerry. “Our provincial [Father Jack Welch] spoke about that at the anniversary celebration and said that with the renovation of this priory, the Carmelites have made a strong recommitment to stay in Kansas and to serve the archdiocese.”
The parish of St. Boniface was established in 1858 by a small community of German immigrants who still have many descendents in the area. The Carmelites arrived in 1864.
The priory was built in 1905; its recent renovation was financed by the sale of 450 acres of farmland owned by the parish. Father Jerry and former pastor Father Clyde Ozminkowski now live there and hope to open it up for individuals who would like to come there on retreat.
Earlier in October, St. Boniface hosted an open house of the renovated priory that drew 400 guests for a tour. Many of them were former parishioners who remembered attending CCD classes there, but had never before been allowed beyond the first floor.
So the 150th anniversary held Oct. 19 celebrated both the 150 years of history of one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese, and the renovation of the priory that will serve Scipio into the future.
“It was a glorious day,” said Father Jerry. “There was a festive atmosphere all day and a very successful and beautiful turnout.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann presided at the Mass. In addition to the Carmelite provincial, the Midwest regional superior Father David Simpson was in attendance, as were several other visiting priests.
“Fourth-degree Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard and Archbishop Naumann gave a beautiful homily on the role of priests in parish life and how that was an ongoing part of the Carmelite commitment here at Scipio almost from the beginning of the parish,” said Father Jerry.
After Mass, guests shared a dinner coordinated by the Altar Society. The day also included games and entertainment for children, a quilt raffle, and commemorative pewter Christmas ornaments struck with a picture of the church on one side and a brief history on the other.
The Feuerborn Family Funeral Services put together a DVD of the parish’s history for the occasion, and the parish is publishing a sesquicentennial history book that will be available by Christmas.
At the end of the day, Father Jerry said he was impressed with the history and stability of the parish, but also confident in its future.
“We have a fairly large population of young families, so it’s got a bright future still. There’s a real commitment and dedication by the families here to support and to care for their parish,” he said.
“My intention is to keep the doors of hospitality open,” he added, “so that not only outsiders, but also younger Carmelites will come and visit and hopefully fall in love with the place, like I did so many years ago.”