by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven
TOPEKA — A “girls trip” soon became much more when four longtime friends decided to travel together to all 10 churches designated as pilgrimage sites for the Year of Mercy in Kansas.
Marie Apel, Karen Madden, Cathy Brennan and Jean Stueve — all parishioners of Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka — had traveled together before.
“We had gone on a trip to Texas three years ago,” said Apel. “Since this is the Year of Mercy, visiting the churches seemed like a good idea.”
“Since the trip was only going to be three days in length, it wasn’t a big commitment of time,” said Stueve.
The distance, as they’d planned it, would be about 625 miles.
“We started at Assumption at 7 a.m. on July 6,” said Apel, adding that this is the oldest Catholic church in Topeka. “Father [John] Pilcher (the pastor) met us, gave us a blessing for safe travel and asked the Holy Spirit to be with us.”
From there, the group traveled to St. Mary Church in St. Benedict, which is near Seneca. Founded in 1859, more than a year before Kansas became a state, the current church — there were two earlier ones — was completed in 1894.
“It’s on the list of Kansas historical sites and is considered one of the eight wonders of Kansas,” said Apel.
The foursome was soon on the way to St. Benedict’s Abbey Church in Atchison, where a mural behind the altar depicts the history of the Benedictine order.
Following lunch in Atchison, they proceeded to their next stop in Kansas City, Kansas, and a visit to the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Considered the mother church of the archdiocese, it is home to the archbishop’s chair, or cathedra.
“We had a great tour, “Madden said.
From the cathedral, the group then headed to Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner. Although this was the newest church visited, the four found the architecture to be interesting and especially liked the old windows, which had been put into the new sanctuary.
The next stop on their tour was Sacred Heart Church in Mound City, which was built in 1941 as a memorial to St. Philippine Duchesne, the French nun who had spent a year among the Potawatomi there at the age of 71.
“Father Shawn Tunink, who was the associate pastor [at Most Pure Heart of Mary] is now assigned there,” said Apel.
“We went to Mass every day in order to get the indulgences for visiting the churches, and this was the first Mass he had [celebrated] at his new church,” said Brennan. “He hadn’t really moved in yet.”
“It was a very quaint and peaceful church,” said Apel. “After we finished dinner there, we traveled to Fort Scott where we stayed for the night. We got there about 9 p.m., after visiting all the Holy Doors in the archdiocese in one day.”
Getting an early start on their second day, the four were soon on their way to Wichita to visit the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“It was amazing and worth going to see,” said Madden.
Brennan said that of particular note were the portrayals of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary on all the doors.
From there, it was on to Dodge City and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“They were really prepared for visitors,” said Apel. “They had handouts for prayers that also pointed out different things to look at.”
The third and final day of their pilgrimage saw them visiting St. Fidelis Church in Victoria, called the Cathedral of the Plains and listed as one of the eight wonders of Kansas.
“This church was really built for the future ages,” said Stueve. “Settlers had to haul six loads of stone to St. Fidelis while working their own homesteads. We really got a history of the church on this trip and a sense of the history of the church in Kansas.”
From there, the foursome traveled to Salina, visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral before heading back to Topeka.
“Father Greg [Hammes, pastor of Most Pure Heart] said Mass for us when we returned as we couldn’t find a Mass on the last day of our trip,” said Apel, noting that a plenary indulgence could be received by passing through the doors, receiving Communion, going to confession and praying for the Holy Father’s intentions.
In looking back on their trip, all agreed that it was something very special. Even though it may have started out as just a “girls trip,” it became much more.
“It was very prayerful,” said Madden.
“Everywhere we went, we were warmly welcomed,” added Brennan.
“But I think my favorite was the door in Mound City at Sacred Heart,” she continued. “I am a nature lover, so the garlands of white flowers wrapped around grapevines and greenery made me feel a part of God’s wonderful creation.
“It was set in a gorgeous backdrop of stone walls. I felt so at peace in those surroundings.”
“I was very taken by the beauty and simplicity of the Holy Doors at St. Mary in St. Benedict as well as Sacred Heart in Mound City,” agreed Apel. “The lovely flowers that lined the handrails and the top of the door frame, along with the coordinating wreath, were very welcoming. At Sacred Heart, the Holy Door was inside the church and framed in burlap, tulle and foliage that fit the quaint, rustic church perfectly.”
In retrospect, Apel said the experience “impressed upon my heart how large and vibrant the Catholic Church in Kansas is and how blessed that I am to be a small part of God’s family on earth.”