Pioneering Parish Celebrates 150th Anniversary

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

EDGERTON — A good word to describe Assumption Parish here would be “before.”

The roots of Assumption Parish reach back 150 years: before Lincoln became president, before Kansas was a state, before the Civil War, and before there was a cathedral in Leavenworth or Kansas City, Kan.

Members of this historic parish remembered the “before,” and celebrated everything up to the present during a 150th anniversary Mass on Aug. 16, with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann as celebrant and homilist.

“This is one of the earliest parish communities in the archdiocese, so it’s quite an occasion that we celebrate today,” said Archbishop Naumann in his homily. “Anniversaries of parish communities are opportunities to remember and give thanks for the many blessings that have been received over the years.”

The 150th anniversary of Assumption was an opportunity to remember and give thanks for the many “miracles of grace” parishioners have received through the sacraments and inspired preaching, he said.

Archbishop Naumann was joined at the altar by Assumption pastor, Father Bill Fisher, and retired Father Jerry Sheeds, pastor from 1987 to 1996. An outdoor parish potluck dinner was held immediately following the Mass.

The roots of Assumption Parish reach back to six pioneer families who began settling the area in 1857. In time, they were joined by other immigrants — some French, but mostly Irish.

The first two churches — named in honor of St. Columbkille — were located in the present parish cemetery a mile and a half southeast of town. The first was built of logs; the second, of stone. Neither church exists today.

The present white, wood-frame church was dedicated on the solemnity of the Assumption on Aug. 15, 1893. The name was changed to reflect the parishioners’ deep Marian devotion.

Perhaps no parishioner has stronger connections to the parish’s past than 86- year-old Ray Braun, a lifelong member. Two of the three persons named on the bell in the church tower are his grandfathers. The first Masses for the embryonic Catholic community were celebrated in the little stone house of his great-grandfather, John McCarthy. That house, at 199th and Sunflower Road, still stands.

Although Edgerton started out as a stronghold of Catholicism, this began to change in Braun’s lifetime. As a boy, he remembers the Ku Klux Klan becoming a major force in Edgerton. They met in the Masonic Hall and had a cross that lit up with red light bulbs, he said.

Although hooded and robed, their identities were known.

“Everybody knew who was in the Klan by their horse,” he said. “They rode horses in their Klan parades, and everybody knew everybody’s saddle horse.”

Klan prejudice was met with Irish Catholic obstinacy. When the Klan held their picnic, the Irish Catholics held their own parish picnic,said Braun.

But Braun also has fonder memories. “I lived in the big house right next door to the church when I was a kid,” said Braun. “I had to serve daily Mass, or Grandma would twist my ears.”

“And then we had summer school,” he added. “The Ursuline nuns from Paola would come and teach summer school. If they didn’t stay in our house, they stayed [in the rectory], and Father [David] Hart stayed in our house. My grandmother, mother and my wife have been dedicated to helping priests all their lives. Every priest who was here has been to our house.”

Father Bill Fisher, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Baldwin and Assumption Parish since 1997, said this parish tradition of supporting pastors remains strong today.

“Whenever anything needs to be done, they get together and they work together to get it done,” he said. “Recently, they built a garage and resealed the asphalt all around [on the parish property].”

Assumption Parish has those qualities that make it an archetype for the small town Kansas Catholic parish, said longtime parishioner Kurt Hoffman.

“It’s a nice parish to be a member of,” he said. “It’s a fun parish. Very low key. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you see fit. But if you want to be involved, there’s always something to do.”

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