By Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It is said that good things come in threes.
And they sure did on Oct. 13, when a trio of women — Liz Dennis, Agnes Schiffelbein and Frieda Schmidtlein, all in their 90s and all lifelong members of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish — carried up the offertory gifts at a special Mass of thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
The Mass was one of several activities held to mark the centennial of Sacred Heart, part of the combined parish of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph formed in 2006 by the merger of the two parishes.
Three native sons of the parish were also on hand to concelebrate the Mass — archdiocesan vocation director Father Dan Morris, former pastor Father Al Rockers and pastor Father Tim Haberkorn.
After Mass, parishioners shared fellowship and memories at a social hour followed by a plated dinner.
Dennis, 91, recalled being in the parish’s grade school, watching her children receive their sacraments, participating in the Altar Society and attending Mass with her husband.
Schiffelbein, 91, said she started playing the church organ in seventh grade — and wound up playing it for another 60 years. She played at graduations, weddings and funerals — including the funerals of her parents and her beloved husband of 66 years.
Schiffelbein said she and her husband often prayed for vocations from within their family, and their prayer was answered with the ordination of their grandson. Father Matthew Schiffelbein now serves as the pastor of Christ the King Parish in southwest Topeka.
“It’s just been a wonderful life for me,” she said.
In his homily, the archbishop discussed the importance of anniversaries.
“Anniversaries are important in the life of marriages and families. They’re important for parish families as well,” he said.
The occasion gives the parish an opportunity to recall those who helped to “lay the foundation of this parish family” and help mold it into a thriving community.
“One of the signs of the vitality of a parish community,” he said, noting his three concelebrants, “is that from it are vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Sacred Heart has a great tradition of fostering vocations to the priesthood.”
The archbishop also expressed his thanks to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, representatives of which were also in attendance. He noted their “big and important contribution” to the parish over the years.
“It occurred to me in reflecting on our celebration today that sometimes those of us who have grown up in the faith, some of us who have been given this gift from our earliest days, that often we take it for granted,” he said.
It was his hope and prayer, however, that all Catholics, particularly those gathered, would realize the great gift they have been given and come to cherish it deeply.
The archbishop said that with the gift comes “a great responsibility to not keep this gift to ourselves, but to share it with others, to be witnesses in the world of the joy of the Gospel.”
After Communion, Father Haberkorn expressed his gratitude to the archbishop for his presence and to everyone involved in planning and facilitating the celebration.
He then turned his attention briefly to the church’s Sacred Heart statue.
Once located at the back of the church, the statue was for some time in desperate need of repair. Upon Father Haberkorn’s assignment to the parish, the statue’s restoration was high on his priority list.
Now, it sits in the front of the church sanctuary, reminding parishioners of their patron, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“Every time I pass that statue, I always say, ‘Lord, give me a heart like yours,’” said Father Haberkorn. “That’s my prayer for all of you as we celebrate this special day.”