Local Parishes

Assumption celebrates reopening, centennial of church building

Catholics from the Topeka Region participate in a eucharistic procession during the afternoon of Oct. 9. The procession began at Assumption Church — which celebrated its reopening and centennial earlier that day — and wound its way around the Kansas Capitol. As the procession made its way to the south side of the Capitol, which faces the Kansas Supreme Court building, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann offered prayers in defense of human life. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone — or in the case of Assumption Church here, until it was closed.

Like the rest of the archdiocesan churches, Assumption, one of two churches utilized by Topeka’s Mater Dei Parish, closed for Mass in March 2020 due to COVID. Never did parishioners dream it would be more than three years before Sunday Mass would be celebrated there again.

Although the church temporarily reopened for daily Mass in early 2021, an inspection conducted in November of that year revealed significant structural issues involving the church’s twin bell towers. On March 1, 2022, the church closed to begin necessary repair work.

In addition to taking the bell towers down and capping them, parishioners also engaged contractors to complete a process known as tuckpointing in which poor mortar was removed and replaced all along the church’s exterior.

Father Matt Nagle carries a monstrance containing the Body of Christ through the streets of Topeka. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Known as “the oldest Catholic church in Topeka” as well as the “Mother Church of Topeka,” Assumption was originally built in 1862. In 1922, that church burned down. Construction of the current church building began in 1923. Earlier this year, the church’s iconic bell towers were removed altogether to allow construction crews to replace the roof.

So, it was with great anticipation that parishioners welcomed the reopening of the church for Mass on Oct. 8, even if the iconic bell towers are not yet restored. For now, parishioners have turned their attention to the parish’s second church building, that of Holy Name, as it, too, is also in need of some repairs. Both churches are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Prior to the official reopening, parishioners offered public tours of the church on Oct. 6 as part of a weekend of festivities to mark both the centennial of the church building and its reopening. The weekend also included a trivia contest on Oct. 7.

Approximately 200 people participated in the re-opening Mass celebrated at 8 a.m. by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on Oct. 8, followed by a breakfast hosted by the Knights of Columbus.

Altar server Ian Mead, Deacon Jody Madden, Deacon Bob Ortiz, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Father Matt Nagle pray during the Introductory Rite of the Mass celebrated Oct. 9 to mark the reopening of Assumption Church, one of two churches utilized by Topeka’s Mater Dei Parish. The Mass was the first one celebrated at the church since March 2020. The Mass also served as one of a weekend’s worth of events, all timed to celebrate the centennial of the church building itself. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann expressed gratitude for “those who helped to build this church” and noted the church’s “very strategic and important” location across the street from the Kansas Capitol. He also commented on the church’s beauty.

“Part of the reason why our churches are different is that for us, they’re not just meeting rooms. They’re not just places where we gather, but we believe that the real presence of Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist.”

The archbishop acknowledged all that went into that beauty, however.

“So, as we celebrate the 100 years this church has been in existence,” he said, “we give thanks for those who sacrificed greatly to be able to build this beautiful, beautiful space where we honor and worship God.”

Likewise, Father Matthew Nagle, who has served as pastor since July, said he’s thought a lot about the connection parishioners and the entire Topeka Catholic community have to not only a parish church, but also Assumption itself.

“Assumption is the Mother Church of Topeka, so I think it’s important we stay connected to our history and our roots,” he said. “So much of Topeka Catholic history began at Assumption. Also, Assumption is very strategically located downtown. It is very important to have a vibrant Catholic presence next to the Capitol.”

Finally, he added, “Since I came to Mater Dei, I’ve thought a lot about the connection people have to a church building. Some of the most important moments in our lives happen at the parish church: baptism, first Communion and confirmation, weddings, funerals, etc. In the process, a church becomes a second home.

“I’ve only been here a few months, but in talking to people, it was obvious how much they loved Assumption and how much they longed to attend Mass there once again.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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