by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — If the architecture and artwork of a church building is supposed to point to heaven, then one church in Topeka’s downtown literally does just that.
For more than a century, the twin spires of St. Joseph Church, one of two churches utilized by Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish, have dominated the Topeka skyline and are easily seen from Interstate 70 as it winds around the city. One of Topeka’s three Catholic churches on the National Register of Historic Places, the easily spotted building regularly attracts visitors who exit the highway for an unplanned stop.
“One of the things I’ve noticed being here as pastor the last eight years is I’ve never been in a parish before that I’ve had so many individuals, tour groups — people that are Catholic, Christian, people that are non-Catholic — stop by and see the church,” said pastor Father Tim Haberkorn.
Once inside the church, visitors —both Catholic and non-Catholic — are treated to a church that rivals the great cathedrals of Europe.
“I’ve been in a lot of beautiful places, but I’ve never had so many [visitors],” Father Haberkorn continued. “That says something. I think the spires of this church and the artwork of this church raise our minds, our hearts and our souls to the eternal.”
But that same beautiful building now finds itself in need of some tender loving care.
About 18 months ago, parishioners formed a committee to explore the possibility of restoring St. Joseph’s artwork to its original grandeur. During the course of its work, the committee discovered the building needed structural work done, too, to the masonry, brickwork, sandstone, gutters, stairway railings and lighting, as well as repairs to the stained-glass windows.
The project was originally estimated at approximately $2 million. However, the needed structural repairs added another $2 million to the final price tag. Although no one is in danger, the structural repairs are definitely needed before work can begin on phase two.
“We’re trying to catch it before it does become an issue,” said Bruce Danielson, one of the committee’s eight members and chair of the capital campaign.
Having already selected the general contractor, architect and ecclesiastical artist, the committee recently sent a feasibility study to the parish’s 750 families. With a response rate of 81 percent, the verdict was overwhelmingly favorable. In fact, with 50 percent of the funds on hand for phase one, Danielson said the parish is eager and excited to start just as soon as possible and is committed to however long it takes.
“The church was completed in 1900, but it took another nine years to furnish it, paint it, decorate it and make it beautiful,” said Teresa Thomas, chair of the restoration committee and a lifelong parishioner.
So, for the committee and the pastor, the work will be a labor of love — not only for themselves, but for future generations.
“We who have been able to grow up with that divine inspiration and artwork,” said Father Haberkorn, “feel it’s important to share that with the generations to come. That’s why we’re doing this.
“We feel we have a treasure that we possess, and we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to share it with everyone.”