by Joe Bollig
HOLTON — Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic made the 150th anniversary celebration of St. Dominic Parish here on Dec. 6 modest by necessity.
But celebrate they did.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at the 10:30 a.m. Mass, with parochial administrator Father William Dun-Dery as concelebrant.
Father Jonathan Dizon, who had been serving as pastor from July 2018 until early November, was present but unable to exercise his ministry due to immigration status complications stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann touched upon the history of the parish, praising the pioneering founders.
The archbishop also noted the parish’s curious Christmas connection: The first Mass was celebrated for Holton Catholics on Christmas Day in 1870, and the first Mass in the current church was also celebrated on Christmas Day, this time in 1923.
No reception or dinner was held after the Mass, but each person received a gift bag that contained, among other things, a commemorative iced sugar cookie.
Holton, with a population of about 3,250, is served by 11 churches. Churches are an important part of small-town life.
St. Dominic’s parish events — two annual chicken fries and Lenten fish fries — are attended by many in the community, according to Larry Tanking, a parishioner since 1969. The parish also participates in the local food bank and the annual “Coats for Kids” drive.
“I would recommend this parish to anyone,” said Tanking. “The people here are friendly, devoted Catholics, for the most part. They’d help anyone do anything.”
Retired pastor Father Bob Hasenkamp, whose brother Don and sister-in-law Pat are parishioners, was pastor from 1985 to 1991.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” said Father Hasenkamp, now living in Topeka. “I really felt a sense of welcome.
“People were very supportive. From the first day I arrived, I felt welcomed. [As an incoming pastor] your reputation always precedes you,” he said. “They knew I came from another small parish in the country. St. Dominic’s was a good fit for me as far as my priestly ministry was concerned.”
Father Hasenkamp still claims a bit of a living legacy there, in fact. There’s a garden across the street from the rectory where he planted four little grape vines to make wine.
“Those [vines] are still there, still producing grapes,” said Father Hasenkamp. “I think someone in the parish harvests them and makes wine. Whenever I visit, I check my grape vines.”
Holton was founded by a six-wagon train of Free State settlers from Milwaukee that arrived in the fall of 1856.
There was no sign of Catholics in the history of Holton until 1870, when a few recently arrived Catholic families asked the Jesuits at the mission in St. Marys to send them a priest. They did, and Masses were celebrated twice a year, for the Christmas and Easter duties.
The Catholic population increased, encouraged in part by the arrival of the Kansas Central Railroad, to the point where a church could be built. The wood-frame church was completed by January 1874 and Benedictine priests traveled there to celebrate Mass on the third Sunday of each month.
Father John Begley became the first permanent pastor, and Father Alexander W. Jennings became the first resident pastor in 1886.
Pastors from St. Dominic also served mission parishes St. Agatha in Larkingburg (1884-1924), St. Joseph Parish in Hoyt (1899-1924) and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mayetta (built 1915).
Today, St. Dominic Parish has 215 families and shares a pastor with St. Francis Xavier Parish.