by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
LENEXA — Almost one hundred years ago, Louis Haefele came here from Seneca to visit his brother, Father John Anthony Haefele, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish.
During Louis’ visit, a pretty seamstress named Ella Marie Hurley happened by to deliver some altar cloths she had sewn for the parish’s first stone church, built under Father Haeflele’s direction in 1911.
Young Louis was impressed with more than Ella’s handiwork.
On Sept. 7, 1921, the couple was married by Father Haefele in the little limestone church that still stands on the grounds of Holy Trinity.
They had no idea they were starting a family tradition that would span a century.
Although Louis and Ella married in Lenexa, they returned to raise their two boys and four girls in Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca.
But Ella’s sister lived on a farm in Lenexa, where the family often visited.
One visit, in particular, was quite memorable, at least for Leonard, son of Louis and Ella. When Leonard was 18 years old, and the farm work had slacked off for the winter, he decided to make a trip to Lenexa.
Little did he know that there, like his father, he would meet his future wife.
“I came down to visit my cousins and my aunt and uncle,” he said. “While I was down here, I was fixed up with a blind date.”
Leonard’s date was 16-year-old Patricia Wise, a Holy Trinity School graduate and parishioner.
Three years later, on Aug. 22, 1951, they were married in the limestone church — 30 years after Leonard’s parents had been married there.
It was a simple ceremony, followed by a dinner for 30 at the bride’s home.
After the wedding, the couple started their life together by proving the adage that love can make any place a home.
“For the first couple of months, we lived in her brother’s barn between Olathe and Lenexa,” said Leonard.
When Patricia’s brother got married, the couple moved in with her parents, and Patricia remained there while Leonard served in the Army.
“When I got home from service,” he said, “we built a little house and raised our family.”
Leonard and Patricia raised five children in St. Paul Parish, Olathe, never once imagining that one of those children would get married exactly 30 years after them, again, at Holy Trinity Church.
But their daughter Carol was invited to play volleyball one evening with a singles’ group called the Catholic Alumni Club. There she met Joe Testa.
They fell in love and, purely by coincidence, set their wedding date for July 25, 1981 — continuing the 30-year tradition.
As fate would have it, the family was now in the newly formed Prince of Peace Parish, Olathe, which had not yet built its church.
“So we were attending Mass in a school,” recalled Carol. “And we wanted to get married in a church.
“We asked our pastor if we could get married in Holy Trinity and he helped us make those arrangements. We knew we had family ties to that church.”
Carol’s father said it was “thrilling” to walk his daughter down the aisle in the same church where he and his parents had been married.
“They were delighted,” Carol said of her parents. “I think my mom always felt like that church was home.”
The Testas raised their family in Prince of Peace Parish. But their daughter Joanna was always aware of all the family history that had taken place within the walls of Holy Trinity’s limestone church.
And she was charmed by it.
“Ever since she was a little girl, she wanted to get married in that church,” her mother said. “She thought that was very special.”
“I just thought the church was beautiful,” said Joanna. “And when I found out more about the history and the tradition, that’s where I wanted to get married.”
But she didn’t think it would be possible to hit the 30-year mark again.
“I thought that would be really neat if I could get married in 2011,” she said. “But I hadn’t really planned on it.
“It just kind of worked out that way.”
Indeed, Joanna met her future husband, Tyler Johnson, through mutual friends at Kansas State University, where they both went to school.
The couple started talking and then dating and then spending more and more time together, and . . .
On June 4, 2011, 30 years after her parents, 60 years after her grandparents, and 90 years after her great-grandparents, Joanna was married in Holy Trinity’s little limestone church.
“It was very surreal,” Joanna’s mother said about the wedding. “You just feel like you’re at home.”
The family was especially pleased that Joanna’s grandparents could be at her wedding and dance at her reception.
“Well, I’m kind of stiff,” said her grandfather. “But we were out there.”
The Haefele family recently celebrated another milestone when Leonard and Patricia returned to Holy Trinity to receive a special blessing commemorating their 60th wedding anniversary.
Friends and family gathered afterwards to congratulate the couple and reflect on the good fortune that has come from their Holy Trinity tradition.
“The history of it just means a lot to me,” said Joanna. “And it’s nice to see not just my parents, but my grandparents and my great-grandparents, were married there, and to see the nice tradition that followed — they’ve all had long-lasting marriages.
“Hopefully, we can learn by example.”
And what is her grandfather’s advice for staying happily married for 60 years?
“Perseverance,” he said. “Every marriage has its ups and downs. Probably there were times when both of us said, ‘Why did I do this?’ But we stuck with it, and had a lot of good years.”
“Put in [The Leaven] that if I had it to do over,” he added, “I’d do it again.
“For me, that says it all.”