by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — “Are we being good ancestors?”
Dr. Jonas Salk, a medical researcher who pioneered the first successful polio vaccine, said that’s one of the most important questions people can ask themselves on a regular basis. Every choice, he said, no matter how small or how large, has consequences for future generations.
If that’s one of life’s most important questions, parishioners at Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish in Topeka can answer affirmatively. In fact, their recent generous and enthusiastic response to a multimillion dollar restoration project for St. Joseph Church led to an unexpected award.
Dedicated to “supporting the preservation of Kansas’ heritage through education, advocacy, cooperation with like-minded individuals and groups, and participation in the preservation of historic structures and places,” the Kansas Preservation Alliance prides itself on “preserving the past to enrich the future.”
On May 18, the nonprofit organization presented an Honor Award to St. Joseph Church at its 39th annual Awards for Excellence ceremony in acknowledgment of “individuals, organizations and institutions that have carried out exemplary efforts to promote historic preservation in Kansas.”
The award, one of 10 given by the alliance, was presented to the church in recognition of the major exterior restoration project recently completed, which included everything from repointing all of the church’s mortar, cleaning and patching the brick and limestone, and the addition of gold leaf to the crosses on top of the church’s spires, to the installation of period-appropriate lighting for all exits, and the restoration or replication of many original elements like the hardware, window frames and glass patterns.
According to the ceremony’s program, in order to be considered for an Award of Excellence, properties must “meet the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and have an association with significant events or persons in Kansas or U.S. history.”
Additionally, properties “must possess distinctive characteristics of type, period or method of construction or style of architecture and/or provide information important to the history or prehistory of Kansas.”
On hand to accept the award were representatives from the parish and the dozen or so contracting firms associated with the work, including SFS Architecture.
The architectural firm nominated the project for the award by submitting an application of more than 30 pages detailing the various phases of the project, supplying before-and-after photos and summarizing the church’s historical significance.
The award surprised Father Tim Haberkorn, the parish pastor. Due to scheduling conflicts, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony, but expressed his thoughts in a recent interview.
“When I received the letter informing us of this award, I was totally surprised and elated,” he said. “I think it only confirmed and affirmed the good work we as a parish are trying to accomplish and achieve.”
“Personally, as pastor and a native son of the parish,” continued Father Haberkorn, “it is a way of honoring our ancestors and showing our ongoing appreciation for their many sacrifices.”
Decades from now, lifetime parishioner and finance council member Mark Burghart said he hopes his descendants will appreciate the sacrifices he and his fellow parishioners are making now to restore the church to its splendor, just as he appreciates the sacrifices made by the parish’s earliest families.
As a tax attorney, Burghart assisted the church with his expertise. But he was only one of the many who offered their time, talent and treasure to help the church complete its restoration work. He specifically praised Teresa Thomas, parish secretary and chair of the restoration committee, for her role in the project.
“When we began in 2014,” said Thomas with a smile, “we were talking about restoring the interior of our church and made the mistake of asking Shawn [McGarity, a member of the board of the Kansas Preservation Alliance,] to check out our structural integrity.
“We’ve been very, very blessed, and are thankful for all the cooperation and the generosity of the state of Kansas and the tax credits and also the grant that kind of kick-started our whole project.”
“We have had contributions not only from the state but from literally thousands of individuals across the whole country — former parishioners, people interested in history, people interested in architecture — and we want to thank each and every one,” she added.