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‘This special place’

Our Lady of the Snows celebrates 100th anniversary

by Joe Bollig

MAYETTA — Despite living halfway across the country, Deacon Scott L. Aikin had to return to “The Rez” this spring.

Deacon Aikin, from the Archdiocese of Seattle, is a Prairie Band Potawatomi. He returned for the 100th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of the Snows Shrine on Trinity Sunday, May 31.

“I am one of just a couple of [Catholic] clergy in the tribe,” said Deacon Aikin. “Archbishop Charles Chaput [of Philadelphia] is another tribal member.”

Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, dedicated in 1915, serves Prairie Band Potawatomi Catholics and others who live on or near the reservation, located north of Topeka in Jackson County.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass, which was held in a large tent to accommodate the crowd. There was a potluck dinner following the Mass.

The concelebrants were former chaplain Father Bob Hasenkamp, Father Larry Bowers, current chaplain Father Chris Rossman, and sacramental minister Father Duane Reinert, OFM, Cap. Deacon Aikin assisted and Msgr. Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies.

“We have many, many memories of the way God has used this special place to nourish the lives of all those who have been part of this chapel, this little community of Our Lady of the Snows,” said Archbishop Naumann in his homily.

Jerry Tuckwin, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, was among those attending.

“I was born just a mile south of here,” said Tuckwin. “We walked up here [to the shrine] barefoot during the summer.”

His grandfather James V. Blandin, donated the altar and Tuckwin was baptized at the shrine. One of only two existing photographs he has of his mother was taken outside the shrine.

His cousins Milton LaClarie, Lawrence Hale and Roy Hale reminisced how the Jesuits from St. Mary’s sang hymns and prayed in the Potawatomi language. The Potawatomi language was heard at wakes and funerals, too.

“We had that [prayer] book [in Potawatomi] and had rosaries for the funerals,” said Roy Hale. “They said the prayers in Indian and sang songs. They sang all night long. Milt’s mother could sing that good.”

At one point it seemed Our Lady of the Snows wouldn’t have a 100th anniversary.

“When I was assigned to Holton and Mayetta [in 1987] this was also a part of my charge, but the church had been closed for 22 years,” said Father Bob Hasenkamp.

“After talking to some of the people out here, we decided that we needed to restore the church,” said Father Hasenkamp. “The great thing is that they have restored the Catholic community here on the reservation. The big credit is to the people here.  I didn’t do that much, I was just here. They pitched in and took responsibility for themselves . . . with the help of Sister Therese Klepac, who worked out here for many years.”

Father Rossman, who served at the shrine since 2009 and has been chaplain since 2010, said that its community spirit is strong.

“I think it is a very tight-knit and loving community, not just because they share a common heritage and ethnicity as Native Americans and Potawatomi,” said Father Rossman. “There is a really great spirituality here — a Catholic spirit in addition to that Potawatomi heritage.”

 Our Lady of Snows Timeline

  • 1837 — The first Potawatomies came to Kansas. Subsequent groups came in 1838, 1840,1848 and 1850. The Mission Band Potawatomie lived at Sugar Creek Mission in Linn County and near Osawatomie from 1837 to 1846.
  • 1847 — The Mission Band moved to the Potawatomie National Reserve, living there from 1847 to 1861.
  • 1848 — The Prairie Band (Chicago) arrived in Kansas, having left their Great Lakes homeland in 1833 and lived near Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • 1861 — The size of the Reserve was reduced and became the home of the Prairie Band Potawatomi. The Citizen Band Potawatomi moved to Oklahoma starting in 1869.
  • 1880s to 1900s — Potawatomies were served by pastors from Holy Cross Parish in Emmett, St. Joseph Parish in Hoyt and the Jesuit Fathers at St. Marys.
  • 1901 — The Catholic Potawatomi acquired Mount Calvary (Shipshee) Cemetery.
  • 1911 – Father John A. Murphy, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Emmett, celebrated Mass at the Blandin School, south of the present shrine. Funds were raised for a church.
  • 1912 – Groundbreaking for the new church took place in early June. Most construction was finished by late October, but the shrine was not fully completed and dedicated until 1915.
  • 1912 to 1918 — The Potawatomi were served by pastors from Emmett, Holton and Mayetta.
  • 1918 — Father Francis Geintiz, pastor in Mayetta, served from 1918 to 1934.
  • 1924 — St. Joseph Church in Hoyt was closed, and its windows and bell were acquired by Our Lady of the Snows.
  • 1934 — The Potawatomie were served by nearby pastors.
  • 1938 — The Jesuits of St. Marys began celebrating Mass every Sunday beginning Easter.
  • 1952 — The parish hall was built.
  • 1965 — The Jesuits left St. Marys and ceased serving at Our Lady of the Snows. The shrine was closed for 22 years.
  • 1987 — Father Bob Hasenkamp, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mayetta and St. Dominic Parish in Holton, reopened Our Lady of the Snows.
  • 1987 to 1994 — Sister Therese Klepac served the Potawatomies until her death.
  • 2001 — The parish hall was renovated and named in honor of Sister Therese Klepac.
  • 2008 — Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. — archbishop of Philadelphia, Kansas native and Prairie Band Potawatomi — celebrated Mass at the shrine on April 13.
  • 2012 — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrated a Mass on Oct. 21 for the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
  • 2015 — 100th anniversary Mass with Archbishop Naumann on May 31.

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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