by Diane Gasper-O’Brien
The Register, Diocese of Salina
SALINA — The bells in the tower of a beautiful new church in Manhattan began ringing at straight-up noon on Jan. 28, signaling the start of a day of grand celebration.
About an hour later, some 600 people marched across the street from the Alumni Center at Kansas State University into the newest church in the Diocese of Salina — St. Isidore’s on the K-State campus.
Bishop Gerald Vincke accepted the keys to the church from the contractor, knocked on the door and walked inside. And the celebration began for the 14,000-square-foot limestone church and student center at the corner of Anderson and Denison streets.
Numerous clergy were in attendance, including Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The dedication ceremony during the Mass included blessing the church and congregation with holy water, anointing the walls and the altar with chrism, incensing the altar, and lighting candles on the altar and all around the church.
During the anointing of the altar, the bishop poured oil onto it, then rubbed the oil into the marble top with his own hands.
Bishop Vincke likened the ceremony to the baptism of a baby.
“[Parents] bring a baby to the waters of baptism and are asked, ‘What do you ask of God?’ One could say that we are baptizing the church today,” he said.
Father Gale Hammerschmidt, pastor at St. Isidore’s, could only shake his head after Mass while thanking everyone. Overcome with emotion, he once even paused for several seconds before continuing on.
“I am humbled by the hundreds and hundreds of people who have so appreciated this mission that we have been on,” he said. “I’m so grateful to God that he put the right people in the right place during this journey.”
One of those “right people” was Father Hammerschmidt himself.
A Kansas State alum, Father Hammerschmidt knew of the ongoing discussions about a new church. When he was assigned to serve as pastor at St. Isidore’s in 2017, he heard about it immediately. By the next year, he and the board had begun an ardent fundraising campaign that raised $11 million toward the $18 million project.
Less than five years later, the dream became reality.
After a new student center was built, the old church was demolished. During construction of the new chapel, Mass was held at the Alumni Center and/or at the student center.
Now, visitors to St. Isidore’s are greeted by a large, ornate baptismal font as they enter the church. Eyes are drawn to the wooden overhead arches. A stunning golden mosaic on the front of the marble altar from Italy draws them closer to the front of the church.
Stained-glass windows of St. Isidore (the church’s namesake) and St. Robert Bellarmine (the student center namesake) were saved from the old chapel and are in plain view over the choir loft above the back of the church. Those windows also can be seen from the outside, over the front doors.
“The Catholic Church is the world’s largest proponent of beauty, because one of God’s attributes is beauty,” Father Hammerschmidt said. “If you design something beautiful, you are indeed honoring God.”
“As much as the building is beautiful, it’s even more beautiful today, because you are in it,” Bishop Vincke said, particularly addressing the students. “That’s why this church exists. You are Christ’s body, the church. This church is a gift to you.”
Either expanding St. Isidore’s or building a new church had been discussed for many years. More than 1,500 students attend one of several Masses at St. Isidore’s on any given weekend. The old church held about 425 people, with 80 more seats in the library to watch Mass on video.
The new space will seat 650, with additional chair seating for overflow.
Stan Weber, who attended K-State in the early 1980s, said he remembers the church being full 40 years ago.
Weber, who played quarterback for the Wildcat football team from 1980-84, spent a lot of time at St. Isidore’s. He and his wife are both alumni of K-State, and all four of the couple’s children attended the university — and St. Isidore’s. Weber, the long-time color analyst for K-State Sports Network, still frequents the church.
“St. Isidore’s has always been a big part of our lives,” he said. “It’s a great place to be for young people making informed choices about their faith.”
Dave Dreiling, one of the lead donors for the project, agreed.
“This project tugs at my heart like nothing else,” Dreiling said. “These 18- to 22-year-olds are making the decision on their own faith, not that of their parents. They are getting involved and developing their faith, and a lot of them will be active parish members decades from now.”
After much planning and meeting with focus groups that included alumni and students, a Neo-Gothic traditional architecture was chosen for the design. All along the way, the architects took students’ suggestions seriously.
“I’d say 99 percent of the students said they wanted the church to look like a church,” Father Hammerschmidt said. “We weren’t going to do anything other than traditional.”
Ridge Pinkston, a history major from Kingman, was a member of the building committee. He is particularly interested in architectural history and was instrumental in helping choose the traditional Neo-Gothic architecture theme for the new church.
“It is really rewarding to help in the building of something beautiful like this,” Pinkston said, “something that will honestly change people’s lives.”
“I know the choices I make as a student really center around St. Isidore’s,” said Grace Gorges from Clearwater, another student who served on the building committee. “It has had a big impact on my life and my own personal progression, just my life in general. This gives more students the chance to experience that.”
One stakeholder in the project for many years who wasn’t present, Dr. Jack Peterson, was recognized at the dedication. Peterson was a former K-State professor and chair of the St. Isidore Foundation Board who led the charge for building a new church. He lost his battle with lung cancer last September and didn’t get to see the project to completion.
Nonetheless, Peterson’s legend will no doubt live on for generations to come.