Local Parishes

Emporia parish celebrates centennial with visit of saint’s relics

Father Nicholas Ashmore, pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Emporia, celebrates a Mass of thanksgiving on Oct. 29 in honor of the parish’s centennial. Father Ramiro Sanchez Chan, CS, director of the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry, concelebrated. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson

EMPORIA — It’s not every parish that celebrates its centennial with a papal visit. Yet, that’s exactly what St. Catherine Church here, a parish of 400 families, experienced on Oct. 29.

No, Pope Francis did not fly to Kansas. Instead, the parish experienced the visit of a significant relic — one of the last four vials of blood drawn from Pope St. John Paul II. The relic wasn’t the only highlight.

Festivities began at noon with the celebration of Mass in Spanish by Father Nicholas Ashmore, the current pastor, and concelebrated by Father Ramiro Sanchez Chan, CS, director of the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry. A meal for all parishioners followed the Mass.

Braden Weber and his son Francis venerate the relic of St. John Paul II while Brother Gilberto and Sister Monica Bernadette, both of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, look on. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Originally, games and activities were planned outside for both children and adults. Due to the cold weather (at one point, it was snowing), many people opted to take food to go or stayed inside the “little church,” which served as the parish church prior to the dedication of the current one in 2001.

During the meal, parishioners shared memories and viewed photos from the parish’s history. Parishioners also had the opportunity to learn about  St. John Paul II from signs placed on the grounds. Later, Father Ashmore welcomed the relic, leading a procession beginning outside at a nearby intersection and ending inside in front of the main altar. In a scene reminiscent of St. John Paul’s first missionary visit to Mexico in January 1979, parishioners lined the route and filled the church, singing while waving red and yellow flags.

Father Nicholas Ashmore leads the procession of a first-class relic of Pope St. John Paul II. The relic is a vial of blood drawn from the late pontiff during one of his last trips to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome in 2005. Three other vials of his blood are known to exist in the world with one being in his native Poland, one in Washington and one in Spain. This particular relic is a “missionary” or traveling relic and has been entrusted to the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

The relic, one of four, was brought by the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of Sisters founded in 1990 in Miami by Mother Adela Galindo. The community includes a group of Brothers founded in 2021. Due to Mother Galindo’s friendship with Bishop Slawomir Oder, who now serves as the bishop of the Diocese of Gliwice in Poland, the community has been entrusted with the relic. Bishop Oder served as the postulator for the canonization of Pope John Paul II.

During St. John Paul II’s funeral Mass in 2005, the wind kept blowing open the Book of Gospels atop the casket. According to Sister Lucia Maria, SCTJM, the book kept blowing open to the Gospel of John. So, the reliquary is designed in a similar fashion.

On the left side appears the late pope’s coat of arms, along with a Latin inscription that, when translated, says, “Be not afraid.” The right side features a replica of the late pontiff’s crucifix from the top of his crozier, along with an outline of what appear to be his hands holding the crucifix. The vial of blood appears in a circle roughly in line with the pope’s hands.

“We celebrate three realities today,” said Father Ashmore in his homily. “We celebrate our community. We celebrate the intercession of St. Catherine, and we celebrate the presence of Pope St. John Paul II among us.”

“The church teaches that we are the members of the body of Christ, and that is both a reality, but it’s also a mission,” he said later. “We have to be able to live out that mission. We can’t just revel in the fact that we are members of the body of Christ. We have to then live [that] out as faithful disciples, and everybody has a particular part in that mission.

“We aren’t a Mexican church. We aren’t a Salvadoran church. We aren’t a Peruvian church. Everybody’s culture is a part of who we are, and each part plays an important part of who we are as a parish. Our job is not necessarily to guard the culture which, of course, plays an important part in who are, but our job is to pass on the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Father Nicholas Ashmore kneels in prayer in front of the relics of Pope St. John Paul II. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

For cousins Armida Martinez and Teresa Rodriguez, the day provided an opportunity to share stories of their parents and grandparents who were among the first 50 families from Mexico at St. Catherine.

Rodriguez said that before their grandparents got married, their grandfather would get up around 3 a.m. and head to the church. He’d ready the wood-burning stove, warming the “little church” prior to the first Mass of the day.

Like Martinez and Rodriguez, Carmen Torres is a descendant of one of the original families. Her grandparents came to Emporia in 1925. Additionally, her parents met at the parish.

“I’m a little sad that my mom and dad aren’t here to see it, to see how [the parish] has grown,” Torres said. “It brought tears to my eyes to see how pretty they decorated the church.”

Likewise, Sister Guadalupe, who serves in the parish and is a member of the Missioneras Guadalupanas de Cristo Rey based in Mexico City, said the day brought her much joy, especially with the added gift of the relic visit.

“My joy started as soon as I got the news that St. Catherine’s was going to have the relic here at her own church,” she said, “and during the whole preparation, I’ve been in joy for this day.”

To view more photos from the celebration, follow us on Facebook.

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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