by Joe Bollig
WILLIAMSBURG — A house for priests ministering at Prairie Star Ranch had always been intended, but it took 20 years to make it a reality.
This month, the new Kapaun Priest House was finished, not long after Father Emil Kapaun’s remains were returned to Kansas and his funeral Mass was celebrated on Sept. 28 in the Diocese of Wichita.
Father Kapaun, a chaplain during the Korean War, died in a POW camp in 1951. He was named a Servant of God in 1993, and his cause for canonization was opened in 2008.
Father Barry Clayton, who received the Echo of Kateri award on July 30 for his service to the children at Camp Tekakwitha at the ranch, was very pleased when he recently saw the new structure.
“I have to say, I was quite impressed,” said Father Clayton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Osawatomie, Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in La Cygne.
“I think it will be a nice place for myself and other priests to go for personal retreats and also fraternal gatherings for priests, such as Jesus Caritas, for a day,” he added.
Construction began on the one- story, wood frame house in early May and was completed at the end of September. The 1,100-square-foot house has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, laundry and deck attached to the back.
Dan Himmelberg, consultant for the archdiocesan office of construction and real estate, provided guidance. The architect was Warner-Nease-Bost Architects, Inc., of Kansas City, Missouri. Gregory Wellnitz, director of Prairie Star Ranch, served as general contractor.
“Our team had been looking for a very simple modular home we could transform into a space of grace for all of our visiting clergy,” he said. “After a long period of searching, we found a small . . . modular home that was little more than the exterior shell.”
“It was ideal for our needs,” Wellnitz continued. “The house, being nowhere near finished, was taking up valuable space at the dealer, and so they were motivated to give us a great deal.”
Funding for the Kapaun Priest House came from the late Charles and Antoinette “Toni” Berkel of Bonner Springs.
“One of their many acts of generosity was to make a gift to Prairie Star Ranch in order to help us realize projects like the Kapaun Priest House,” said Wellnitz.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed the structure both at its groundbreaking and on July 30.
The Kapaun Priest House is a game-changer for Prairie Star Ranch, said Wellnitz. Before, there was no convenient place for priests to stay overnight.
Father Clayton is looking forward to using the facility.
“Although as priests we don’t need a lot, it certainly is a generous gift for us to have this available,” he said. “I will personally enjoy the back deck, looking out toward the backdrop of trees. This will serve as a retreat haven and good accommodation for a ministering priest at Prairie Star Ranch. I always find it a blessing to minister there. I’m sure a personal retreat or priest gathering there would be renewing.”
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