by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — In the face of wind gusts clocking over 40 miles an hour, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann joined pastor Father Greg Hammes in breaking and blessing the ground for a new rectory at Most Pure Heart of Mary Church here on Feb. 18.
It was a moment more than a century in the making.
“The current rectory is about 100 years old and has been built onto a couple of times,” said Janice Hoytal, co-chair of the rectory building committee.
“It has needed to be renovated or replaced for a long time,” she added, “but there were always other parish expenses that were more pressing.”
In 1995, when Father Frank Krische served as the parish’s pastor, Sister Ann Moylan, SCL, coordinator of the parish’s aging ministry, began visiting Gertrude McCabe and taking Communion to her and her sister Mary Bothe.
According to parishioners, McCabe was an absolute joy.
“She was the most delightful woman in the world,” said Barb Chamberlain, a parishioner and friend who often visited with McCabe.
Over time, parishioners Ken McGarity and his late wife Velma began visiting McCabe, too.
“She was a great lady,” said McGarity.
McCabe eventually decided to leave her entire estate to the church, and specifically wanted it to benefit the priests that had served the parish so faithfully.
So McGarity, a certified public accountant, helped McCabe establish a trust, one designated specifically to build a new rectory.
The money would stay in the trust until the death of both McCabe and her sister. Both had already lost their respective husbands, William McCabe and Frank Bothe, and the sisters thought the rectory would be a nice way to honor their memories.
In 2016, the trust came to maturity, and Father Hammes asked Hoytal and her husband Joe to lead the effort to renovate and repair the current rectory or determine the best location for a new one.
“We evaluated the current rectory and determined it was not feasible to renovate,” Janice Hoytal said, adding it was cost-prohibitive.
“We toured other rectories in the area and talked with the priests to determine what the best option would be.”
That’s when providence stepped in, leading parishioners back to the site of a house that had once belonged to founding members of the parish.
“It just so happened that there was a house across the street from the church property that had been vacant for some time,” said Janice Hoytal.
“We approached the owners and toured the house,” she said. “It, too, was not going to be able to be renovated, but the location was perfect.
“We approached the owner stating we would like to purchase the house, but that it would either be moved or demolished. We were not sure how they would accept that idea as the house was owned by the daughter of the original owners and had sentimental value.”
As it happened, the original owners were George and Betty Noller, founding members of the parish formed in 1946.
Their daughter Kay Mauck was very excited that “we would be building a rectory on the site and knew her parents would be very happy,” Hoytal said.
With construction expected to take a year, the new rectory will be located at 1741 S.W. Stone Avenue, across the street from the church, the school and the church offices.
From the beginning, the committee’s goal was to build a rectory “for our priests that provided them with a warm and welcoming place to relax and rejuvenate from their busy lives,” Hoytal said.
“We wanted to be good stewards of the money left to us and build a house that everyone in the parish would be proud of,” she continued. “We wanted something that would withstand the test of time and last at least 100 years, as the current rectory has.”
The new rectory will have room for the priests to accommodate overnight guests and seminarians and it also includes a handicap-accessible suite. The priest in residence will have his own private area and space to entertain. The house will also include a chapel.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Father Hammes thanked everyone involved in the project and told those in attendance they were there due to “the vision of one lady” who wanted to leave a lasting gift on behalf of her sister and their respective husbands.
“It was a very generous gift,” Father Hammes said in his opening remarks.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Father Hammes thanked the archbishop for his presence, as well as those of the roughly 100 parishioners gathered. He also recognized the building committee members and Mauck.