Celebrating a century

by Joe Bollig

WATHENA — The celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Church here was every bit as special as the dedication liturgy on April 14, 1914 — but not as long.

“I noted in the history of the celebration of the dedication of this church by Bishop Ward, the bishop of Leavenworth at the time, that the services took three hours,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann in his homily. “We’ll try to keep it under three hours.”

Why so long? Part of the reason was that the sermon was given in two languages, German and English.

There was no German to be heard at the 100th anniversary Mass on May 11; instead, the melodious sounds of an African hymn filled the air.  The pastor, Father Francis Baykor, who is from the Diocese of Wa in Ghana, sang in the language of the Dagaaba people during welcoming remarks at the beginning of Mass.

“I sang in Dagaare, my mother tongue,” said Father Baykor, who became pastor in July last year. “It is a song we sing on the occasions of big celebrations of thanksgiving — ‘Sing with joy to the Lord for all the gifts that he has given us.’”

The liturgy began with a procession originating in the former St. Joseph School, across the street from the church. The procession included acolytes, an honor guard of the fourth-degree Knights of Columbus William T. Jochems Assembly 1716 from Atchison, children representing the parish and participating clerics.

The main celebrant and homilist was Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. He was joined at the altar by concelebrants Father Baykor, retired former pastor Father Roderic Giller, OSB, and Abbot James Albers from St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. Archdiocesan chancellor Father John Riley was master of ceremonies.

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann talked about Father Baykor’s song of thanksgiving.

“Father Francis . . . is a reminder that as Catholics we are part of a universal family that stretches across all the continents,” said the archbishop. “We have more than a billion brothers and sisters in Christ in every corner of the world.”

He noted the presence of Abbot James, whose grandparents were married in the church, and how the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey provided pastors for most of the parish’s history. He also thanked the two Benedictine Sisters who were present, noting how the Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison educated parish children for many years.

Anniversaries, the archbishop said, are also times to remember beautiful memories of how God blessed the parish.

“In 1869, the Civil War had only concluded four years earlier when the families of [the] Wathena area established this parish,” he said. “It was the beautiful and unselfish sacrifices of those first families that planted the Catholic faith in this part of what today is the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.”

Since the Fourth Sunday of Easter was also Good Shepherd Sunday, he urged that parishioners pray for vocations and encourage young people to discern possible vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The oldest members of the parish were honored during the Mass, including centenarians Cecilia Bauman Frankovich Dinning and Frances Gabriel Mitchell.

During a catered luncheon held in the parish hall, Dinning reminisced about the small, common, everyday events that made the life of the parish.

“We had picnics here where each woman who lived in the parish was supposed to fry seven or eight chickens,” she said. “That was a busy day.”

But could they really eat all those chickens?

“You ought to have seen them disappear, and all the cakes and pies and everything,” she said.

Sister Amelia Nowatzke, OSB, who taught at the school from 1964 to 1968, remembered how each teacher had three or four grades to a classroom.

“We also taught in the [parish] hall,” said Sister Amelia. “There was just no room.”

Occasionally, there was excitement, like the time Father Leo Horner (pastor from 1957 to 1963) lost his car.

“One day the students said, ‘Father’s car is going backwards out of the driveway and nobody’s in it,’” said Sister Bernelda Nanneman, OSB, who taught from 1958 to 1959. “So it backed up the street and went down the hill and crashed. He was out of a car for several weeks.”

The current church is only the second in the history of the parish, which was founded 144 years ago. The first church, built of brick, was located where the parking lot is now, between the church and the rectory.

Ground was first broken for the present church in spring 1913, and the first Mass was celebrated in the church on Feb. 22, 1914.

Although the church has seen some modifications and renovations, it has remained essentially the same since 1914, except for the replacement of the ambo, a post-Vatican II altar and the removal of the Communion rail.

One interesting feature is a large stained-glass window in the right-side transept with a relatively rare depiction of the death of St. Joseph. While this window was out with a company for restoration, a tree fell over and crashed through the temporary glass.

Only more proof, said the archbishop, of St. Joseph watching out for his church.


About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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