St. Joseph Catholic Parish - Wichita, Kansas

History

SAINT JOSEPH CHURCH

St. Joseph Catholic Church was dedicated on October 16, 1887 by the pastor of St. Aloysius Church, Fr. Michael J. Casey.   St. Aloysius was located in downtown Wichita, and was simply unable to provide for the needs of the hundreds of Catholic settlers pouring into Wichita in 1885 and 1886. Fr. Casey urged Bishop Joseph Mary Fink of the Diocese of Leavenworth to invest in the land at the corner of Burton St. and Millwood Ave. for a new church to ease the burden on St. Aloysius.

**The first St. Joseph's Church, according to old photographs, was a stark, narrow, high-gabled structure of grey stone and brick, 30 feet wide, 50 feet long and 70 feet high. It was located just where the IHM Motherhouse now stands.**

During the early years of St. Joseph's the church served as a chapel to St. Aloysius, which Bishop John C. Hennesy made into the Cathedral for the new Diocese of Wichita in 1888. Sitting west of Wichita, it was to serve the booming town and its growing population. Unfortunately, beginning in December of 1887, freezing rain and sleet covered much of the region with ice.   A blizzard topped the ice with a thick blanket of snow with little melting until February of 1888. 

 When summer did arrive, a drought ravaged the state.  The boom of the early 1880's ended with the death of many cattle and the ruin of many crops.  Wichita's rising population of around 40,000 dropped to around 10,000 within a year.  Nearly as quickly as St. Joseph's Church was founded, the doors were boarded up and for nearly 20 years would remain closed during the long recovery for the state of Kansas.

Eventually, the economy improved for the region and it no longer made sense to pass an empty church on the way to Mass downtown.  So it was that on October 31, 1909 Bishop Hennesy re-dedicated St. Joseph Church with a Holy Mass.  The Bishop himself donated a new altar and other furnishings for the Church exceeding $1,200. Father T.A. McKernan, an associate from St. Aloysius Cathedral, frequently said Holy Mass and signed records for St. Joseph Church.

It did not take long before regular Sunday Mass attendance reached a sustainable point.  On October 7, 1913, Bishop Hennesy declared St. Joseph Church a parish on its own.  Father Dennis Healy was appointed as St. Joseph's first pastor.  He took residence in a six-room stone house across from the church that Bishop Hennesy had bought and given to the parish.

Within another year, the church building itself proved too small to accommodate the growing new parish.  Father Healy and St. Joseph's parishioners sought permission from the Bishop to build a larger church.  After receiving the bishop's blessing, the parish mortgaged the church property, borrowed another $20,000 and began work.

The architect of the new church building was Frank "Frenchie" Juarie, one of St. Joseph's parishioners.  Much of the work; hauling materials, excavation, and construction, was done by parishioners themselves.

On July 16th, 1916 Bishop Henry Tihen of Lincoln Nebraska, a former pastor of Wichita's Cathedral and by extension unofficial pastor of St. Joseph Church in its days as the cathedral's chapel, dedicated the new Church building.

**photo of the dedication stone**

The life-sized crucifix which currently hangs by the Blessed Mother's altar is one of the few, if not the only, link to the original St. Joseph Church.  Old photographs show it near the high altar in the original building.

 

SAINT JOSEPH SCHOOL

Sister Mary Margretta and Sister Mary Manuel of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) had been teaching catechism to the children of St. Joseph on Sunday mornings.  With the availability of the old church building, which for a time sat next door to the new church building, became the new St. Joseph School on September 10, 1917.  The school opened with 50 students and as attendance increased a curtain was hung down the center of the building to section off a second classroom.

The old church served as St. Joseph's School until 1921, when it was demolished to make room for another fixture from St. Joseph's history.  More on this later...

Father Healy, residing in the old stone house across from the new school, began to suffer the ill effects of tuberculosis.  After being admitted to St. Francis Hospital, he was joined in his room by members of the church committee.  The parish mortgage, having been paid off, was burned at Father Healy's bedside.  Days later, on February 1st, with the parish debt paid off Father Dennis Healy died.

 

THE REDEMPTORISTS

Bishop Hennesy had at one time considered joining the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer; or the Redemptorists as they are commonly known, during his time in Ireland.  He maintained a close association with the Order and had asked on several occasions for the Redemptorist community to settle in the Diocese of Wichita after his installation as bishop. 

 The invitations had always been declined.  However, at the time of Father Healy's passing in 1920, the new Redemptorist Provincial in St. Louis was a Kansas-born priest from Greenbush named Father C.D. McEnniry.  He welcomed the opportunity to establish a Redemptorist presence in Wichita, and therefore accepted Bishop Hennesy's invitation to take over St. Joseph Parish.

St. Joseph's first Redemptorist pastor was Father Peter Maas, who arrived on April 1st, 1920.  His first Mass was on Easter Sunday, April 4th.  He bluntly greeted his new congregation with a comparison to his former, larger marble church in Kansas City: "I am your new pastor.  They have sent me to this crackerbox church in Wichita."

Father Maas took up residence in the old stone house across the street and continued saying Mass at St. Joseph on Sundays (Father Healy said daily mass at Sacred Heart Academy and Father Maas continued the practice).  As a religious community, the old stone house would soon be inadequate, and the parish continued to grow.  When Father Maas arrived in Easter of 1920, the school had 53 children enrolled.  By the end of the school year enrollment nearly doubled to 98.  Clearly, the old church building was proving inadequate as well.

 

THE NEW SCHOOL AND RECTORY

In 1921, a new school building was constructed north of the old church building.  This building, which still serves as the school today, would have several additions over the years.  The top floor served as the school proper, with the open first floor serving as the Parish Hall.  Bishop August Schwertner dedicated the new school on September 4th; just in time for the new school year.  The new principal was Sister Mary Steven B.V.M. with three other sisters teaching 145 students.

The new school building played host to the parish center of activity.  The first floor, which would later be converted to classrooms, served to host dinners, theatre productions, and various other church functions.

Father Maas then turned to providing better living accommodations for the rest of the St. Joseph Redemptorist community.  With a brand new school building and a new church, Father Maas had the old church torn down in June 1922 and broke ground on a new rectory building.  It was completed by the end of that year.

 

FATHER JOHN MILLER

Father Maas was pastor of St. Joseph from 1920 to 1924.  His successor was Father "Black John" Miller - so called to distinguish his name from countless similar names and also in reference to his dark complexion.  During his tenure Father Maas had sent to Rome for a picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Her picture was kept at the base of the Blessed Mother statue on her Altar.  In 1925 Father Miller moved the Blessed Mother's statue and promoted the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help into the alcove on St. Mary's Altar.  It was at this time that the first Novenas to Our Lady of Perpetual Help were held on Tuesday evenings.  This special devotion to Mary is continued at St. Joseph Parish to this day.

**photo of Our Mother of Perpetual Help**

Father Miller also faced a very interesting challenge in 1928.  The congregation at St. Joseph had grown steadily until there were 1000 dedicated parishioners.  The new church, only twelve years old the time, could seat only 288 people.  With over $10,000 still owed on the new school, options were very limited regarding how to increase space in the church.  Father Miller's solution was an astounding architectural feat.

 

THE CHURCH BUILDING IS STRETCHED

Bishop Schwertner approved $4000 to have the sanctuary area of the church moved back 24 feet.  The new space would be filled in and supply 144 new sittings.  The same man who built the church, Frank "Frenchie" Juarie, was put in charge of the project.  Beginning in April of 1928 a new foundation was laid for the sanctuary and it was relocated. On May 25th the remaining gap was filled in with masonry, brickwork, and roofing as well as new stained-glass windows.  On July 4th the work was completed, and the capacity of the church was increased to 432.

 

FATHER JOHN MUELLER

In 1930, Father John Mueller succeeded Father "Black John" Miller.  By this time there were six Redemptorist priests and two brothers at St. Joseph.  In 1931 there were 300 parish families and over 200 children at St. Joseph School, all despite the depression years.

The most memorable element of Father Mueller’s tenure at St. Joseph was the grotto he built behind the rectory.  With weathered stone hauled by himself and two parishioners by truck from the Flint Hills near Emporia, he built a stone structure with three sections.  The center section was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette complete with statues of each. On each side were small towers and Father Mueller had lighting installed throughout the grotto with colored lights.  He completed his project in 1932, and for several years it was a West Wichita attraction.  The Redemptorists enjoyed relaxing in the quiet peace of the grotto.

Unfortunately, the grotto gradually was dismantled to make room for the expansion of the Sacristy on the North end of the church and the addition of a garage for the Rectory.  By the end of the 1940's, Father Mueller's grotto had disappeared altogether.

 

THE CHURCH IS REMODELED

Another of Father Mueller's undertakings was the remodeling of the Church.  There was no capital available to address some of the interior needs of the church and the priests and parishioners could do no more than discuss the problems.

However, on July 13, 1933 lightning struck the church and ignited a fire that slowly burned for most of the day before it broke out and was discovered.  The organ was destroyed, and the walls, statues, and altars were damaged before the fire was put out.  Fortunately, insurance covered the damages, and Father Mueller was able to make the necessary improvements to the church.  On September 26th, 1933 there was a dedication service for the like-new church interior.

On May 7th, 1935 Father Mueller blessed and placed on the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help two crowns; one for Mary and one for the infant Jesus.  These, as the picture itself had ten years earlier, came from Rome.

 

FATHER FRANCIS FAGEN

In June of 1936 Father Francis Fagen became St. Joseph's pastor.  He was an exceptional preacher and public speaker who had been active in Redemptorist mission work.  It was during Father Fagen's tenure that the Diocese celebrated it's Golden Anniversary on October 20th, 1937.  St. Joseph parish joined with every other parish in the Diocese in celebration by decorating the campus.  The celebration lasted an entire week.

St. Joseph celebrated it's silver jubilee (albeit a year early) a month later in November of 1937.  Having been established as a parish in 1913, the silver jubilee was not actually until 1938, but on the heels of the Diocesan celebration it seemed somehow appropriate.  A solemn high mass was celebrated with Fathers "Black John" Miller, John Mueller, and Francis Fagen.

Father Fagen accepted the challenge of raising money for an addition to the school building.  Knowing the lingering effects of the Depression and tough times, Father Fagen began a campaign in earnest.  He and the other Redemptorists solicited donations from surrounding areas, and nearly every parish organization held events to raise the $27,000 needed for the addition.  By June of 1938, with $6,000 raised so far, Father Fagen received word from the Redemptorist Provincial in St. Louis that Rome had approved a $22,000 loan.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, on May 5 1939, Father Fagen received word that he was to be transferred to St. Alphonsus Parish in Chicago to serve as Rector and pastor.  From there he eventually came to serve as the Provencial Superior for the Redemptorists in the midwest, south, and western United States.

 

FATHER LOUIS KEMMER

Father Louis Kemmer was named the new pastor for St. Joseph.  He had already been serving at the parish for five years, so the transition was smooth.  On May 24th, 1939 the ground was broken for the new addition.  A sunken gymnasium and new kitchen were welcome additions to the school.  Dedication services were held on October 1st, a solemn day as Bishop Schwertner died the same morning.  Monsignor Farrell, pastor of the Cathedral, nevertheless celebrated the dedication which was followed by a grand banquet.

By late 1940 there were 375 families at St. Joseph with 335 children in the school.

 

FATHER AUGUST ZELLER

On May 5th, 1942 it was announced that Fr. Kemmer was being transferred to San Antonio, and Father August Zeller from the Redemptorist Seminary in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin was named St. Joseph's newest pastor.  He served during the WWII years of 1942-1945.  As a consequence of the war the population of Wichita increased, and this was reflected at a parish level.  The number of students at the school was 355 in 1942.  By 1944 the number had jumped to 450.  Between six Holy Masses on Sunday, over 1600 people were attending.

St. Joseph enjoyed a prosperous time during these somber war years.  All debt had been paid off, a substantial amount of capital was set aside for future projects, and publication of St. Joseph's first bulletin was started by Fr. Zeller.

Prior to becoming St. Joseph's pastor, Fr. Zeller was a well-respected professor.  During his time at St. Joseph, he also found himself teaching classes at Friends University, Wichita State University, and Mt. Carmel Academy.  As an active Knight of Columbus, he continued participation with the Order in Wichita and has been honored by Council 4118, which bears his name to this day.

 

FATHER ARTHUR KLYBER

Father Arthur Klyber was named pastor following Fr. Zeller on July 18, 1945.  Plans had been underway since before his arrival, but it was his privilege to host the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Redemptorists arrival in 1920. 

 With the exception of Frs. Maas and "Black John" Miller, both deceased, all former pastors were in attendance.  Fr. "Curly" Mueller celebrated a Solemn High Mass, and over three days in late October 1945, there were dinners, dances, plays, and other social functions celebrating the Jubilee.

On Sunday October 28th at 10 o'clock in the morning, Bishop Winkelmann celebrated a Pontifical High Mass with the many visiting priests, and in the evening the Jubilee was closed with a banquet prepared by the Altar Society.

One of Fr. Klyber's enduring accomplishments was as the founder of the St. Joseph Federal Credit Union.  The official charter was signed on May 29, 1947.  Several members of the parish served as officers and board members, with the credit union offices floating amongst their own homes or business offices until March of 1979.  There it moved to 1902 W. Douglas.  In 1990, it became Catholic Family Credit Union and remained on Douglas until 2011, when a new central branch was built just north of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School on Socora St.

Father Klyber also instituted weekly bingo games in 1949 to help cover costs of the "tax" collected from all parishes to help support Cathedral High School.  Originally intended to be held bi-weekly on Friday nights, it moved quickly to weekly on Tuesday nights.  While weekly bingo at St. Joseph ended some time in the late 80's or early 90's, the St. Joseph Men's Group recently began hosting a Bingo event every three months to complement a Bingo Fundraiser for the School sponsored by the PTO held every October.

Father Klyber made several improvements to the campus including the enlargement of the Sacristy and installation of the restrooms on the north side of the church.  Sadly, this involved the removal of part of Father "Curly" Mueller's grotto.

 

CAMPUS IMPROVEMENTS

Father Klyber was also instrumental in building the convent that sits on Vine Street behind the school.  Currently occupied by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita (IHM's), it was completed in August of 1949 to serve the growing population of the B.V.M. sisters.

Fr. Klyber also cleared the area across from the Church and Rectory, turning it into the now-recognizable playground and parking lot area we see today.  This was in anticipation of a project Fr. Klyber wanted to complete, but would not have the opportunity to do - build a new gymnasium.

 

FATHER PETER SATTLER

The year 1950 was a significant year for St. Joseph Parish.  First, Bishop Mark Carroll addressed the growing west-side of Wichita by dividing St. Joseph Parish and forming Christ the King Parish.  Two Hundred families from St. Joseph Parish helped charter Christ the King in July of 1950, and the first daughter parish to St. Joseph was born.

In November of that same year, Fr. Klyber was assigned as Novice Master for young Redemptorists in Missouri.  Father Peter Sattler became pastor.  He would carry on during the expanding years of St. Joseph.  Even with the establishment of Christ the King, attendance at Sunday Mass and enrollment in the school continued to climb.

Among the improvements under Fr. Sattler were three new wings to the school.  In 1951 he added what is now our current Parish Hall featuring a new and larger kitchen.  Next, in 1954 he added the southeast wing with one classroom upstairs and another downstairs (our current adoration chapel).  Finally, in 1955 he added a complementary southwest wing with a classroom upstairs and an athletic room with lockers and showers on the first floor.

Even with Father Sattler's work to accommodate a growing parish, in 1954 it was announced that St. Joseph's second daughter parish would be established to the south.  St. Anne's Parish was officially established by Bishop Carroll On May 1st, 1955.  St. Anne's first pastor, Father James Wilkinson, stayed at St. Joseph until July of 1956 when he was able to move permanently to his new parish.

 

FATHER THOMAS LANDERS

Fr. Sattler was notified of his reassignment on December 10 of 1955, and on January 3 Fr. Thomas Landers was installed as St. Joseph's pastor.  This appointment was his 3rd assignment at St. Joe and Fr. Landers was already beloved.

The parish had accrued some debt from previous improvements and Fr. Landers worked to pay it down.  The most significant improvement under Fr. Landers pastorship was the paving of the lot across from the church and school. 

 Originally the site of the old rectory and a handful of other small homes, it was now an unusable field of dirt and mud.  A plan implemented by the Holy Name Society to raise money for a new parking lot was kicked off in early 1956.

It was known as the Square Yard Club.  The entire area of land was sectioned into 7,000 square yards and the total cost of paving and concrete, $10,500 total, was divided by the total area.  Each square yard equated to $1.50.  Over the course of a year or so, donations came in to cover only half the designated area however, and in 1958 the parking lot as we know it now came to be.  In the end, it was agreed it worked out for the best as the children at school still had a field on which to play.

1957 also saw the opening of the parish's St. Vincent de Paul store at 722 W. Douglas.  This store, operated by the SVdP Society of St. Joseph, remained open until 1986.

 

FATHER RALPH MICHAELS

June 14th, 1958 saw the sad departure of Fr. Landers and the arrival of new pastor Fr. Ralph Michaels.  Fr. Michaels was witness to the formation of St. Joseph's two grand-daughter parishes.  First, St. Cecilia Parish in Haysville opened on May 22, 1959 out of St. Anne's Parish, and St. Francis of Assisi out of Christ the King Parish on July 1 of the same year.

Fr. Michaels is also credited for organizing the first Gala Dinner to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph on Sunday March 19, 1961.  This annual Parish Dinner continues to this very day celebrated on a Sunday near to our Patron's Solemn Feast.  St. Joseph Parish put on its 50th Parish Dinner in 2010.

Sadly, Fr. Michaels died from complications following a car accident on July 15th, 1963.  His funeral was held at St. Joseph's on July 18th.

 

FATHER JOSEPH ELWORTHY

Fr. Elworthy arrived at St. Joseph on August 9th, 1963.  It was during his years at St. Joseph that many of the liturgical changes following Vatican II were implemented.  The First Sunday of Advent on November 29, 1969 was the first Mass celebrated in English.  On December 20, 1969 the priest said Mass facing the congregation.  Midnight Mass on Christmas Day of 1965 was the first concelebrated Mass.

A few parish projects during these included the remodel of the Rectory parlors, the establishment of the current school office in the room immediately left of the main entrance, and the remodeling of the Parish Hall.

 

FATHER GERARD LIEBST

May 8th, 1967 brought the announcement of Fr. Gerard Liebst as new pastor at St. Joseph.  At the time of his arrival the parish was continuing to thrive.  The Parish Dinner was growing in popularity and support with each passing year, and there were around 775 families and 2,200 parishioners.

On April 1st 1970, the parish celebrated 50 years of Redemptorist service with a Golden Jubilee.  The "cracker-box" church that Fr. Peter Maas arrived at had grown a lot in fifty years, but retained much of the humble and quiet reverence that marked St. Joseph's origin.

The Redemptorist community at the parish suffered several illnesses among the priests, including a heart attack suffered by Fr. Liebst on May 3rd, 1971.  He eventually recovered, but on May 21 Fr. Joseph Ostrander was picked to assume pastorship of St. Joseph.

 

FATHER JOSEPH OSTRANDER

Fr. Ostrander had been at St. Joseph for nearly 10 years already and his appointment was well-received.  Fr. Liebst, too, maintained his residence at St. Joseph's rectory which itself underwent some remodeling in the basement.  The church building also received new carpeting and a remodel of the baptistry in the latter months of 1971.

In October of 1972, Fr. Ostrander officially transferred the remaining parish property from the ownership of the Redemptorists to the Diocese.  From the early days of the Redemptorist service, some of the smaller houses on the property remained in Redemptorist possession.  Now, the Diocese had sole ownership of St. Joseph Parish property.

Again, a medical condition sidelined one of St. Joseph's pastors.  On November 3rd, 1972 Fr. Ostrander underwent heart bypass surgery and was not able to resume pastoral duties until January of 1973.  On May 17th, he resigned as pastor for health reasons.

 

FATHER MARTIN STILLMOCK

Fr. Martin Stillmock had arrived at the parish the year before in 1972.  He succeeded Fr. Ostrander as pastor immediately upon Fr. Ostrander's resignation.

Fr. Stillmock did not build any new structures during his pastorship, but instead focused on making improvements, remodeling existing structures and establishing a "building fund" for the future.  Among these improvements were exterior work on the church, as well as interior painting and renovation of the Stations of the Cross.  The biggest improvement came in the spring of 1980, when the current handicap ramp on the south side of the church was installed.

Fr. Stillmock's 'building fund" was in response to his recognition that future space would soon be necessary.  Previous pastors also foresaw this need.  It would be during the next pastor's tenure that the latest campus building would be erected.

 

FATHER WILFRED LOWERY

Father Wilfred Lowery was pastor of St. Joseph from 1981 until 1987.  During his time there were two significant events in the life of the parish.  Preparations for both events consumed much of his early tenure as pastor.  Finally, his work came to fruition.

Groundbreaking for the St. Joseph Parish Center took place on March 17, 1985.  On October 27th of the same year, Bishop Eugene Gerber blessed the new addition at its formal opening.  Thanks in large part to Fr. Stillmock's building fund and the generosity of parishioners under Fr. Lowery, the $500,000 building project was paid in full prior to the building's dedication.  The Parish Center, in which our current Parish Office resides, also houses meeting rooms, a kitchen, our Parish Library, and our gymnasium.

 The other major event of Fr. Lowery's tenure was the celebration of St. Joseph's Centennary in 1987.  Actually, because the Diocese would also celebrate 100 years in '87, the parish celebrated it's jubilee in September of 1986.  Men of the parish grew "centennial beards" while the women sewed pioneer dresses.  From Saturday the 27th to Sunday the 28th, the rich history of the parish was celebrated with displays of old photographs, antiques from the late 1800's, an old-time market with canned goods and supplies, and finally a Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Gerber.

 Following the mass, which was concelebrated by both Redemptorist and Diocesan priests including former pastors and included an Honor Guard of thirty 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, was a grand parade around the streets of the area around the parish.  This was also followed by live entertainment with music, dancing, and games.

 

FATHER WILLIAM PARKER

July of 1987 brought Fr. William Parker to St. Joseph as its pastor.  Following the Centennial Jubilee there was a period of calm and quiet around the parish.  In 1988, the first non-religious principal of St. Joseph School replaced Sister Dorene Good, B.V.M. after 12 years in the role.  Fr. Parker also oversaw a minor renovation in the front office are of the old rectory.

In April of 1992, Fr. Parker was selected as the Director of the Redemptorist College Seminary Program, and so ended his term as pastor.

 

FATHER DANIEL ANDREE

In May of 1992, Fr. Dan Andree was named pastor.  Before he even arrived on July 1st, the parish was pounded by the infamous hail storm of June 19th, 1992.  After arriving, Fr. Andree spent the rest of '92 and most of '93 overseeing the repair and remodel of the church.

 It was decided through a series of Town Hall meetings to renovate the church at the same time repairs were being made.  The roof was repaired in May of 1993, and in June the church furnishings were moved to the Parish Center gym while the remodel was taking place.  On September 19th, 1993, Bishop Gerber re-consecrated the newly renovated church.

 

*** to be continued...

St. Joseph Catholic Parish

316-261-5800 + 132 S. Millwood Wichita, Kansas 67213 + saintjosephwichita@gmail.com

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