Archdiocese Local

Is it any wonder?

VOTE NOW, VOTE OFTEN (Just kidding.)

by Joe Bollig The rest of the state is starting to discover what members of St. Mary Parish in St. Benedict have known for years: Their church is a wonder.

And after Jan. 29, 2008, it’s possible that the whole world will know.

The truly distinctive church right here in the archdiocese is one of the 24 man-made and natural sites that are competing for the honor of being numbered among the Eight Wonders of Kansas, a project of the nonprofit Kansas Sampler Foundation.

There’s not much time left, however, for Catholics to let their voice be heard. The voting ends at midnight on Dec. 31. The eight wonders will be announced by the governor on Jan. 29, Kansas Day.

You might expect that Cawker City’s huge ball of twine or tornado-ravaged Greensburg’s big hand-dug well would have the contest in the bag. Ditto the canyon-like Arikaree Breaks in the state’s far northwest corner, or Barber County’s Gypsum Hills.

But only two churches have been nominated — both Catholic.

It’s no surprise to Elmer Ronnebaum that his church is one of the two. (The second is St. Fidelis Church, the Cathedral of the Plains, in Victoria.)

“St. Mary’s Church is unique regionally because of its interior decoration,” he said.

The exterior of the limestone church, dedicated in 1894, is not altogether unusual for a Kansas church of its era. The interior, however, is a riot of sacred art. For years after its completion, the people and pastors of the parish continued to adorn their church with new liturgical furnishings, stained glass windows, statues, paintings and stenciling.

The stenciling was the work of artist George Satory, who decorated 150 churches between the 1890s and 1930s with his intricate and beautiful designs. All have been destroyed save for St. Mary Church, however, where his 1901 stenciling has been lovingly restored.

In addition to the stenciling, the church boasts 14 original oil paintings by Polish artist Tadeusz Zukotynski, who worked with Satory.

The total package is so impressive, in fact, that St. Mary Church has been called “a gallery of art” that is “equal to the churches in Europe.” The church was placed on the Kansas Register of Historic Places in 1977 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Ronnebaum said parishioners were surprised that their church was nominated, but also somewhat ambivalent.

“The parishioners are somewhat ambivalent because this is a church,” he said. “This is a house of worship, not necessarily a tourist attraction.”

Nevertheless, there have been more visitors to the church since it was nominated this summer, with some staying on for Mass. Several visitors told Ronnebaum that after learning about the contest and seeing photographs of the church on the Internet, they wanted to see it for themselves.

Readers can show their support for St. Mary Church by going to the Web site and voting, or by calling (620) 585-2374 to request a paper ballot. They can also vote by clicking on “Finalist: Eight Wonders of Kansas” on the St. Mary Parish Web site at:

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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