St. Joseph Parish in Olpe celebrates its 125th anniversary
by Marc and Julie Anderon
OLPE — Home from Houston for a visit, Deacon Dale Steffes had the perfect answer for anyone who posed the question, “Where are you from?”
“Heaven,” he’d say. “After all, there’s no place better than Olpe, right?”
Deacon Steffes was one of more than 600 people, including current and former parishioners, who gathered June 27 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Joseph Parish. Mass was celebrated by former parishioner Father Francis Wendling, OFM; current pastor Father Anthony Williams and former pastors, Father Tim Haberkorn and Father Berard Doerger, OFM, were concelebrants.
Around 400 people attended the Mass, with an additional 200-300 participating in a daylong celebration that included a pulled-pork potluck dinner, games, concessions, bingo, and musical entertainment.
A highlight of the Mass was the recognition of Elizabeth Bechtel, 103, and Megan Barnhart, six months, as the oldest and youngest parishioners, respectively.
Other parishioners recalled happy moments spent within the parish.
Mike and Beth Skalsky, who carried down the gifts during the offertory procession with their four children, said they cannot imagine a better parish for their family.
“It’s a special parish,” Mike Skalsky said. “There’s a level of faith and commitment here that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Parishioner Marie Haag said it’s been exciting to watch her grandchildren become part of the loving community of the parish.
“There’s a love and tradition here that you cannot buy. It’s been ingrained in people and handed down through the generations of families who have helped build this parish community,” Haag said.
Former parishioner Rosella Nuessen Hight and her husband Jim traveled from Bella Vista, Ark. Brother Mike Haag took time from his ministry in Zuni, N.M., to come for the celebration.
As he reflected on the parish’s history in his homily, Father Wendling also spoke of a future filled with great hope.
“While our hearts are filled with gratitude to almighty God for his many blessings, we are equally filled with hope as we look to the future,” he said. “We believe beautiful young women are going to fall in love with handsome young men and celebrate their love in the sacrament of matrimony in this church. Young couples will give birth to babies and they will be baptized here and become members of the church and temples of the Holy Spirit.”
Father Wendling also spoke of the number of religious vocations that have arisen from within the parish.
“Forty-some Sisters have joined the convent from this parish in the last 125 years,” he said, “and they are praying for us daily.
“One diocesan priest,” he added “five religious priests and one religious Brother are with us in prayer.”
St. Joseph Parish: Then and Now
Located 10 miles south of Emporia, Olpe has a population of around 500, mostly of German descent. In 1885, this farming community received its first permanent pastor, Father Alexius Centner. That same spring, parishioners decided to build a church.
To raise funds, parishioners held a three-day fair, the proceeds of which were used to build a 20-by-50-foot church, finished on Aug. 6, 1885. By 1892, the church was enlarged with the additions of a choir loft, church tower and additional seating areas.
In 1905, under Father Samuel Gelting, OFM, plans began in earnest for another church, one that would serve the needs of the growing Catholic population. The original plans called for a stone church, and an acre of land was purchased from Mary Westfall, seven miles west of Olpe. The land would provide the necessary rock for the church, but the distance proved too much and plans stalled for a while.
Under the leadership of Father Peter Alcantara Welling, OFM, plans for the church were revived, and in 1908, parishioners agreed to build the foundation out of rock while the church would be built of brick. Dedicated on Oct. 15, 1911, the church structure still stands and serves the needs