by Mark and Julie Anderson
HORTON — At 91, Leonard Winkelbauer is among the oldest parishioners at St. Leo Parish here. In fact, the parish is the only church family he’s ever known.
So Winkelbauer was celebrating with 200 of his closest friends when the parish marked the centennial of its church building on May 22.
The day’s festivities included a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by Father Dan Gardner, the parish’s current pastor, and Father Earl Dekat, one of the parish’s former pastors. After Mass, a dinner was held in the parish hall, followed by outdoor activities for kids of all ages.
Those “kids” turned out to include both the pastor and the archbishop when it was revealed that the activities featured various inflatables that included an obstacle course, a bouncy house and a jousting arena in which Father Gardner and the archbishop took a turn.
“I can now cross that off my bucket list,” said the archbishop, who handily dispatched the pastor in their bout.
But in his homily, the archbishop struck a more serious note.
He first emphasized the unique history of the church building. Architect Leo Bauer designed the structure in a Gothic style, and his father Victor served as the general contractor. Both were parishioners.
“Buildings, in some way, are an important statement of what we value,” continued the archbishop.
He is always amazed, he added, by the awe-inspiring churches found in many small towns throughout the archdiocese.
“What a testimony of faith they were to the people who erected them, who sacrificed heroically, oftentimes building structures at great personal sacrifice so that these places will be living symbols of the priority they placed on God,” he said.
In an article published in The Horton Headlight, Father Gardner evoked similar sentiments, but looked to the future as well, and “rebuilding not ‘brick by brick’ but person by person, faith by faith. Let our faith be the foundation for future generations.”
For Winkelbauer, the day evoked many memories, both happy and sad.
He recalled his son Phil, a newly ordained archdiocesan priest, celebrating his first Mass at the church in June of 1975.
“All he ever said [growing up] was, ‘I just want to be a priest,” said Winkelbauer of the current pastor of Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth.
A more difficult memory for him was the loss of his wife Wilma, who died on Holy Thursday of this year. The two had been married for nearly 69 years.
“We were trying for 70,” said Winkelbauer simply.
When asked if he’d ever thought he’d participate in a centennial celebration for a church building, he said, “No. That just doesn’t happen very often.”
In fact, the event’s rarity was marked by the color chosen for the day’s decorations — purple.
It was not due, joked Father Gardner, to the number of K-State fans in the parish. Rather, the planning committee looked up colors on the internet, and learned that silver is usually reserved for anniversaries of 25 years, and gold is the standard for 50 years.
Purple, he explained, is used for centennial celebrations due to its rarity. Plus, purple is associated with royalty.
Which made it doubly fitting.