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Parish History

In October, 1876, Rev. Valentine Sommereisen took up residence in Hays City, thus becoming its first resident Catholic priest until he retired to his vineyard northeast of Hays where he lived in retirement until his death in 1897.

Besides ministering to the wants of the Catholics of Hays, he was also busy with the care of the German-Russian settlements that sprang up from 1876-1878.  In Hays he built himself a home and made plans for a little church.  He said his first Mass at Fort Hays on the First Sunday of Advent, 1876. Shortly after he arrived he purchased from Martin Allen and others Lots 1-3-7, Block 18.  This property was deeded to Rt. Rev. Louis Fink, O.S.B. Bishop of the Diocese of Leavenworth which comprised the whole State of Kansas at the time.  Fr. Sommereisen planned to build a little stone church on this property.  He had the foundation built and had acquired the windows but his dream of a stone church never materialized.

The spiritual work in western Kansas was evidently too much for one man.  A few years earlier a community of Capuchins migrating from Germany had made its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Father Commissary, Very Rev. Hyacinth Epp, O.F.M. Cap., was intent upon extending the field of labor of the Capuchins in the United States.  The German-Russian in the settlements around Hays needed the ministrations of German speaking priests.  The Bishop therefore called upon the Capuchins and invited Fr. Hyacinth to send his friars into this part of the Lord's vineyard.  Fr. Hyacinth accepted the invitation, and although the number of his friars was small, he sent two of his most energetic men to Ellis County.

It was a beautiful day in May, 1878, when two friars, Fr. Matthew Hau and Fr. Anastasius Mueller, stepped off the train in Victoria where they set up their headquarters.  The two men had to "rough it" for some time.  The first residence of the Friars was in the home of Aloysius Dreiling.  In September of 1878, they built a residence, an annex to the stone church which was built in the same year.  Fr. Matthew took over the pastorate at Herzog (Victoria) and some of the other German-Russian settlements in the County.

Fr. Anastasius looked after Hays and the other stations along the railway to the Colorado line.  He made his first visit to Hays City on May 16, 1878 and became the first Capuchin pastor of Hays.  He arrived at the church site finding a hole which had been dug for a foundation, the windows for the church and a debt of $200.00.  The windows were sold to the parish at Herzog (Victoria) when the Maxwell brothers built their church.  In that way, he cleared the debt and was free to go ahead with his own plans.


 By 1879, he had built up his little congregation where they could help along to complete the little church projected by Fr. Sommereisen.  It was rather an unpretentious frame building forty-two feet long and twenty-two feet wide.  A little room behind the sanctuary served as home for the priest.  Like Fr. Matteo de Bassi, the founder of the Capuchin Reform, Fr. Anastasius shared his adobe with a flock of pigeons.

The little frame church had the distinction of being the first church of any kind in Hays City that was used exclusively for divine service.  It was placed under the patronage of St. Joseph, the Foster-Father of Christ.  Services were conducted as regularly as possible for Fr. Anastasius.  His records show that during the first two years he spent in Hays, he had twelve baptisms, one wedding and one funeral.  In November, 1880, Fr. Anastasius purchased two acres of land from K. H. Lebold and Fannie Lebold to be used as a cemetery. 

In August, 1879, two Sisters of St. Agnes, Sister Agatha and Aurea, came to Herzog (Victoria) from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to open a parochial school.  The following year these same two sisters were asked to come to Hays during summer vacation to help Fr. Anastasius prepare the First Communion class.  They came to Hays, August 15, 1880.  Sister Aurea took sick soon after and died on September 7, 1880.  She is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Hays.  On September 15, 1880, Sister Prudentiana arrived to help in Fr. Anastasius' religion school.  The Sisters rented a house in town and used the church for a classroom.  They divided their time between Herzog (Victoria) and Hays.

The parish was growing, and the little frame church was entirely too small.  It had been the dream of the pastor and people to erect a stone church that would be an honor to God and in keeping with the architecture of the town.  The members of the parish had grown a little in wealth so they began in 1884 to haul stones from the quarries along the Smoky Hill River. 


Built 1886 - 1887

In 1886, the pastor and people found it possible to go ahead with the building of the new church.  About $2,400.00 was raised for this purpose, and building operations got under way.  On the 15th of August, Father Anastasius solemnly blessed the cornerstone of the new building.  Fathers Maurus and Godhard, O.F.M. Cap., assisted at the service.  By Christmas, the church was completed, except for the installation of the windows.  The style of the new building was Roman.  It was 72 feet long, 32 feet wide and 21 feet high.  A two story addition, 26 feet by 16 feet was added to the east side of the church.  Later a side chapel in honor of the Blessed Mother was added.  On March 6, 1887, Father Anastasius was delegated by the Bishop to dedicate the new church and open it for services.  The Rt. Rev. Louis Fink, Bishop of Leavenworth, came to Hays in September, and on the 4th of that month he solemnly consecrated the new St. Joseph's church.  The parish numbered about sixty families.  Father Martin Muelders, O.F.M. Cap., was pastor at that time.

In the year 1889, two lots (2-4, Block 17) were bought from John Leahy for $350.00.  Another (Lot 11, Block 18) was bought from Elisa Williams for $550; and still another (Lot 9, Block 18) from Samuel B. Reed for $350.00.  The title to all this real estate was placed in the name of the Rt. Rev. Richard Scannell, D.D., the first Bishop of Concordia, Kansas.


The Capuchin Province of St. Augustine was growing in number.  It was then possible to send greater numbers of priests into Kansas to provide abundant service to the people.  The parish at Hays was also growing, and an assistant pastor was necessary.  The monastery acquired in 1893 was old and unsafe.  The Capuchin Superiors decided in 1879 to build a substantial building that should serve as a friary or monastery.  For this purpose, they bought ten cords of native stone from the County Clerk in November, 1897.  Some weeks later the Capuchins also bought the flour mill of Andreas Meier and had the stones hauled to the location of the monastery.  Parishioners aided by hauling the material, but the total expense of the building operations was borne by the Capuchins.

In January, 1898, the foundation was dug.  Work progressed so fast that on March 25th, the corner stone was laid with appropriate ceremonies by the Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Anthony, O.F.M. Cap., the Minister Provincial of the Capuchins.  By September of that year, the building was complete and ready for occupation. On September 25th, the new building was opened for general inspection.  The next day the friars moved into their new quarters, and the monastic enclosure was established.  The new building was 72 feet long, 40 feet wide and two stories high.  The third story was added in 1915.  The cost of the original building was about $5,675.00.  While the monastery was being built, the lot east of the monastery property was bought by the Capuchins.

June 19th, 1898, saw a unique celebration in St. Joseph's Church.  Fr. Fidelis Meier, O.F.M. Cap., son of Andreas Meier of Hays celebrated his first solemn Mass.  He was the first son of the parish to reach this goal.  The little church was filled to overflowing, and the aisles were so packed that the "Asperges" was given from the altar rail.  Fr. Fidelis became one of the outstanding members of St. Augustine's Province.  He died suddenly December 8, 1938.  He is one of the few friars buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery.

Towards the end of 1898, it was found imperative to purchase additional ground for the cemetery.  Accordingly, three acres adjoining the cemetery were bought on December 12, 1898.  Title for the new holdings was placed in the name of the Bishop of Concordia. The custom of the people going to the cemetery in procession on All Souls Day was introduced in November, 1900.


Built 1901 - 1904
In this photo you can see the new (3rd) St. Joseph Church under construction to the far left, the first stone church in the middle and the old wooden first church located to the right of the stone church behind the trees.

In 1887, when the second church was built and consecrated, the official census of the parish showed sixty families.  Ten years later, the parish numbered 116 families.  The second church, considerably larger than its predecessor, was now becoming too small.  A larger church was becoming a necessity.  The pastor and people began to make arrangements for the larger church.

Fr. Mark Haas, O.F.M. Cap., the pastor in 1900 engaged Joseph Marshall, a Catholic architect in Topeka, to draw up plans for the new church.  These were finished in the spring of 1901.  The Rt. Rev. Bishop Cunningham inspected them and, on April 25, 1901, gave permission to make a loan of $10,000.00.  On June3, after a solemn Mass in honor of St. Joseph, the pastor and people went in procession to the new location and solemnly broke the ground for the new church.  Work was pushed energetically.  Forty men finished the excavating in about a week.  Work could now begin on the foundation, but the terrific heat, registering at times 110 degrees, put a stop to the labor.  Work was resumed later, and the cornerstone was laid November 28, 1901.

The Right Rev. Bishop of Concordia presided at the cornerstone laying.  Fifteen priests were present.  Rev Rudolph Stollenwer of Liebenthal preached the German sermon.  He was followed by Rev. B. Hayden of Solomon, who spoke in English.  A great mass of people had gathered for the occasion.  The cornerstone is of Vermont granite and was supplied by Hubert Gretten of Beloit.  While building operations were in progress, the pastor and people were not idle.  Fairs and suppers were held to raise money to meet the cost.  Even the Hays Military Band help along! They gave a concert at which articles were “chanced” off.  On this occasion, a tidy sum of over $800.00 was realized.

But it was easier to pay out money than to gather it, and building operations were suspended for a time because of lack of money.  Permission was granted to make another loan, and building operations resumed.  Poor harvests were the cause of the lack of money.  Father Mark did not witness the completion of the church.  In August, 1903, he was transferred to Dover, Ohio.  His place at Hays was taken by Fr. Richard Dei, O.F.M. Cap. Ten days later Rev. Bishop solemnly blessed the new bells.  At this time the exterior of the church was completed.  Plastering was not undertaken until March, 1904, and the work dragged on slowly because of the rather unskilled labor at the disposal of the pastor.  Finally, in June, 1904, the church was completed dedicated.

Dedication day was June 12, 1904.  So many people flocked to Hays from all directions that the church was not large enough to hold them all.  The Rt. Rev. John F. Cunningham, D. D. Bishop of Concordia, himself conducted the services.  Following the Roman Ritual closely, the bishop blessed the walls inside and out, after which the Litany of the Saints was chanted solemnly.  Only then were the church doors open to the faithful.  At the Gospel, the Rev. John Maher of Salina preached an inspiring sermon in English.  After communion, the Very Rev. Hyacinth Epp, O.F.M. Cap., founder of the Capuchin Province of St. Augustine, delivered an eloquent sermon in German.  The afternoon was given to general rejoicing.  The day was brought to a fitting close as solemn Vespers were conducted by Father Maher, assisted by Frs. Celestine and Richard.

All the usable furniture was transferred from the old church.  New pews were purchased for $576.76 from the Catholic School Supply Co., Milwaukee, in November, 1904.  The Stations of the Cross were canonically erected the next year.  Owing to the lack of funds no heating facilities were put into the church at first.  The winter from 1904-1905 was an exceptionally hard one.  Only the essential services could be held in the church.  When the winter was almost over the steam heat fixtures arrived and they were installed in March, 1905.

The high altar in the church was a donation of Mrs. Mary Murphy Morrell.  The side altars, set up in November 1904, were also donations.  The Sacred Heart altar with its statue was a donation of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Penny and Mrs. Magrane.  The Blessed Mother's altar with its statue was the gift of the John Schlyer family.  The following year the altars in the transept were donated.  Mr. Jacob Brull gave one altar with the statue of the Sorrowful Mother, Mr. A.A. Wiesner gave the St. Anthony altar.  The statue of St. Anthony was a donation of John Miller of St. Joseph, Missouri.  Altar and wall brackets for the sanctuary were a donation of John Gross, Jose Basgall, Peter Staab Jr., and John Schlyer.  In 1908, Miss Haffameier and Mrs. Jordan gave the chandeliers.  In the same year, more pews had to be set up to take care of the growing congregation.  In November, 1917, work was begun by Edward Paine to paint the church.  The job was completed in February, 1918.  The decorating cost $1,400.00.  The renovation of the altars cost $75.00 and painting of the pews cost another $300.00.  The church was now a worthy house of God.

Above is a photo of the laying of the cornerstone of the St. Joseph Church in 1901.  


When the Capuchins came to Hays in 1878, they found about twenty families that were practicing Catholics.  The parish grew and grew so that by 1943 the number of families belonging to St. Joseph's Parish reached 800.  While the parish grew in numbers, it was not growing in wealth. 
The standard method of raising money by pew rent was in vogue until the parish became so large that there were not enough pews to rent.  Then the "communicant money" was tried.  This meant that every member of the parish who had his or her first Communion at the age of twelve or fourteen was to pay a certain sum annually towards the support of the parish. 

St. Joseph Catholic Church as it stood in the 1920's.

Finally, in 1933, the envelope system was introduced.  The parishioners had a continual reminder of their obligation to the parish.  It was found to be less painful to pay off one's obligation by smaller donation over a period of a year than to pay it all in one lump sum.  During the first year this was tried, $22,000.00 was repaid off the staggering debt of over $89,000.00.  Within a period of ten years, the entire debt was wiped out and a $20,000 diocesan assessment was paid to help clear the bonded indebtedness on the Diocese of Concordia.  The annual report made to the parish in January 1944 showed that there was a surplus of $15,000.00 in the church treasury.


As the debt on the parish was being reduced, thoughtful parishioners began noticing how badly the church needed redecorating.  As long as the shadow of the auctioneer's hammer rested on the building, only the most essential repairs had been made.  Edward Paine, an interior decorator, had painted the church and had renewed the altars and the pews at a cost of $1,750.00 in the autumn of 1918.  In the years that followed, ugly marks had appeared on the ceiling and walls, attesting to the fact the roof had sprung leaks at one time or another.  The leaks were stopped, but there had just been no money for new decorations.

The Altar Society, always an active group in the parish, began to collect money to meet the cost of new painting.  They sponsored various many-making affairs which brought together the sum of $2,800.00.  At the same time, they canvassed the parish and collected almost $2,000.00 more to meet the cost of painting the church, the pews, and the statues.  This, together with many additional contributions from the various societies such as the D. of I., the C.Y.C., and individuals, made it possible to engage Mr. Alex Linenberger, a member of the parish and a church decorator, to redecorate St. Joseph's Church.  The contract price for the decoration was $4,500.00.  The cost of painting the pews was $275.00; and of the statues, confessionals, pulpit, baptismal font and various smaller articles came to $304.50.  He and his assistant toiled over and did a job that was very beautiful.  The walls and ceiling were given new coats of paint, the pews were refinished, and the statues renewed.  All this was done without creating a new debt. 

According to church law, in consecrated churches at least one altar, especially the main altar, must be immovable.  An altar of this kind consists of a table of a single slab of natural, solid stone affixed to stone supports.  The altar which stood in the church at the time and had served so well for forty years did not fulfill these requirements.  Therefore, it was decided to make a change in at least the high altar.  But a stone or marble altar is very expensive, and there was no intention of placing another debt on the parish. A parishioner, Mr. A.A. Wiesner, presented a marble high altar to the church.  To have one marble altar and two wooden one in the sanctuary would not harmonize. Therefore two other men of the parish, Mr. Joseph Wiesner and Mr. Leo Wiesner, sons of the donor mentioned above, gladly gave the money for the additional two side altars.  When the parish heard about this, there was a scramble to give the money necessary for two side altars outside the sanctuary.  Since A. A. Wiesner had given the original St. Anthony's altar, he also gave the new St. Anthony's altar and dedicated it to Alfred and Anthony Wiesner families.  Mr. Clarence Grabbe paid for the St. Francis altar.  So the church now had five altars of marble of which the parish could be justly proud.  The wainscots of these altars were of Alabama marble, the basses of Vermont green, and the top slabs of Ozark Tavernelle. The marble crosses and the candle brackets for the walls of the church were a donation of Dr. G.C. Unrein, M.D.  All marble was purchased from the Carthage Marble Corporation of Carthage, Missouri.  The setter was Mr. Joseph Rausch of Kansas City, Kansas.

To erect altars of this kind required a very firm support.  The weight of the high altar, for instance, was approximately seven tons; that of the top slap alone was 1700 pounds.  It was found necessary to build a support in the basement on which the high altar would stand and build supports in the floor of the church for the side altars.  Masonry of brick had also to be built to form the core to which the marble was attached.  This work was ably undertaken by Mr. John Eberle, a member of the parish.  He and his helpers had built a support that should always prove adequate for the weight of the altars.  To complete the high altar, it was necessary to erect a canopy or ciborium over it.  A ciborium is beyond doubt the most correct manner of covering an altar, and at the same time, by far the most beautiful.  The work of constructing this covering for the high altar was given to Mr. Herman Dreiling, a member of the parish and an altar builder of experience. It was decided to build this covering of unfinished oak.  After several months of hard work, this beautiful canopy was completed and installed in time for the consecration.  Mr. A. A. Wiesner also donated the canopy.  Since one of the main ceremonies of the consecration of a church consists in anointing the doors, it was thought proper to install new doors for the occasion.  Mr. Peter J. Jacobs, a member of the parish, contributed the money for the doors.  They were built by Mr. Herman Dreiling; the hand wrought iron straps and hinges are the work of Mr. George Kubitschek of Salina.  The doors were hung by Sigmund Leiker, Mr. Peter Spies, Mr. Joseph Gerstner, and Mr. T.J. Schreiner, all members of the parish.  Bishop Frank Thill solemnly consecrated St. Joseph's Church on May 30, 1944.


In 1954 Raymond E. Wicher came to Hays in response to an advertisement placed in "Our Sunday Visitor" by Fr. Alfred Carney.  He served St. Joseph's Parish faithfully under seven pastors.  Ray faced the challenges of helping the parish adapt to the changes in the liturgy brought about by Vatican Council II, always blending what was musically artistic, from the German hymns that the Volga Germans brought with them from Russia to the polyphonic chat of Rome with what was liturgically proper.  Ray retired in 1988 for health reasons and died in 1994.  His death marked an end to an era in the parish of St. Joseph. 

St Joseph Organist, Rich Dreiling,at the
new 1952 Wicks Organ.

During the summer months of 1958, St. Joseph's Church received a new concrete floor, heating system, bathroom facilities, and a complete new set of pews at a cost of around $25,000.

Fr. Thomas Haywood became pastor in July of 1969.  Before long, he became aware of the un-functional parish office situation.  At first, plans were considered for remodeling the lower area of the old monastery, but eventually it was decided to dismantle the old building and replace it with a modern building which would serve the needs of the present large parish; it was completed in January, 1972.  1976 would also bring many repairs and improvements.  The main altar was moved and the church underwent extensive renovations including: the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, cry room, new confessionals, exterior repairs and sandblasting, refurbished stations, replacement of lights, painting and redecorating.

The inside of St. Joseph Church as it looked in the early 1960's.

For over 16 years, the parish did not have any special projects outside of ongoing maintenance and repairs.  By 1992, it was necessary to repair and clean the limestone and weatherproof the exterior of the building.  Cracks and other defects on the interior of the church were also repaired and cleaned.  New flooring and paint put the finishing touches on the interior.

The most dramatic evidence of this project was the repair and enhancement of the Wicks pipe organ in the choir loft.  The organ was refurbished at the factory in Highlands, Illinois.  When it was returned to the church, its location in the loft was moved.  The pipes, which had been concealed at the back of the loft, were brought into the open, resulting in an impressive sound and appearance for the remodeled church.  When the pipes were relocated, a stained glass window, which had been concealed since 1952, was uncovered.

The specifications of the 1991 organ include:

  • 14 ranks of wind-blown pipes

  • 38 ranks of digitally sampled pipe voices

  • A total of 57 ranks not including the three percussion voices - the Harp, Carillon (Chimes) and Harpsichord.

  • The organ has 4 divisions: Great, Swell, Positive and Pedal.

  • 856 Pipes

A small organ from the same company was also added in the sanctuary at the same time.  This organ is electronic and may also be used to play the pipes from the organ in the loft.  This organ is mainly used for devotional services and small liturgical gatherings.

Organists for St. Joseph parish have been:

Richard A. Dreiling 1938-1953
Valentin Herzog cir. 1953
Raymond E. Wicher 1954-1988
Robert Maxwell III 1988-1994
Kevin D. Rupp 1994 - present

The acoustics of the church were improved with the addition of carpeting and a new sound system.  The cost of the improvements came to $350,000, almost nine times the cost of building the church in 1901-1904.

The canopy or "baldacchino" as it stood in the sanctuary of St Joseph Church from 1944 - until the early 1970's. 
Raymond E. Wicher,  St. Joseph Parish Organist, 1954-1988
Back of Church, late 1960's
Back of Church, 2016

With the turn of a new century, the current structure celebrated 100 years of providing a place for the people of St. Joseph’s to worship.   It was time to think about preserving it for the next 100 years. In the Spring of 2002, new bronze doors replaced the old original wooden doors that were installed in the mid 1940s. In 2003, Marble tile was installed on the sanctuary floor; the flooring in the main section of the church was replaced with ceramic tile and the refurbishing of the statues was begun in 2005. In 2006, repairing the stained glass windows began; this was completed in 2007.  Repainting of the church, replacing the sound system and restoration of the crucifix was completed in the summer of 2009.


After 135 years of spiritual leadership to the parish, the Capuchin Province of Mid-America decided that it was time to turn the parish back over to the Diocese of Salina Kansas for spiritual leadership.   Increased age of the men that have been serving the parish and low numbers in vocations at the time were the reason for the change.  The Capuchins were also following a new chapter in their province, turning a page to the "New Evangelization".  They would keep an active presence in the parish that they first started in the late 1870's, St. Fidelis in Victoria, Ks.  So, on August 1, 2013 Fr. Fred Gatschet and Fr. Charles Awotwi,  became the first diocesan priests since Fr. Sommereisen  to attend to the spiritual needs of St. Joseph's parish.  A new chapter in the parish had begun.

The bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi was installed as a tribute to the Capuchin Friars who had been in the parish for 135 years.  The statue was cast and shipped from Verona, Italy.  It is six feet tall made of fiberglass with a bronze exterior.  The gift of the statue was made possible to the parish and friary from an anonymous donor.


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