The Basilica of St. Fidelis
"The Cathedral of the Plains"
The First Basilica in Kansas and the
78th in the United States.
Holy Cross Catholic Church/Shrine History
Pfeifer, Kansas/Shrine History
The New Holy Cross Church at Pfeifer, Kansas, May 3, 1918
Written in German by Father Peter Burkard
and Translated into English by Sister Francesca Kellher C.S.J. May 3, 1974
After great preparations, the Parish of Pfeifer, in the Smoky Valley, assembled for a worthy celebration of a beautiful Feast, May 3, 1918. On the Feast of the Founding of the Holy Cross, the Patronal Feast of the Parish, the Most Reverend Bishop Henry J. Tihen, from Denver, delegated to take the place of Most Rev. John J. Cunningham, Bishop of Concordia, who was ill at the time, dedicated the new Holy Cross Church.
This was a great day of joy and jubilation, in the midst of war, chaos, for the people of Pfeifer as well as all Ellis County Catholics, and the surrounding areas, in which all of them heartily participated. The feast day sermon, in English, was given by the Rev. Vicar General John Maher of Salina, Kansas. The Rev. Dr. Charles Menig of the Tipton, Kansas Parish delivered the German Sermon.
The very exterior of the edifice is magnificent in its Gothic Style of Architecture. The new church is a masterpiece of architecture and can be ranked with other beautiful churches of Western Kansas and of which our people can feel justly proud. The architect H. W. Brinkman from Emporia, Kansas, who in the last ten years designed many beautiful churches for Kansas, as well as others outside the Sunflower State, brought his great artistic talent to perfection in designing the New Holy Cross Church.
Gothic, projecting heavenward, prominent, like the sublime prototypes in the Rhine Valley at Strassburg, Cologne, and Xanten arises the new Church, by the Smoky River. Because it is dedicated to the Holy Cross, the foundation or base, as well as the whole structure is in the form of a cross, with the sanctuary to the east. The west front with the main entrance has three doors. The main steeple in the center with the bell tower, the clock, the symbol of vigilance, the weathervane above the golden cross is 165 feet high. The two small towers which flank the large one, and make a striking façade are each 100 feet high and give balance to the cross flower. Many small turrets ornamented with cross flowers or blossoms give the impression of movement, life, and youth to the inanimate stone and to the graceful towers. This praiseworthy and very satisfactory artistic finish was accomplished in cement and artistic stone, the work by the Algonite Stone Mfg. Co. in St. Louis, Mo.
This same kind of material, which from a short distance can hardly be distinguished from genuine Bedford Indiana stone, was also used for the frame work as well as the gabled roofs of the portals. The native yellowish free limestone was utilized for the rest of the magnificent structure.
Our eyes are fascinated by a magnificent mosaic of the Last Judgment over the main entrance, which was designed by Professor Bianchi, a Venetian artist, and furnished through the Daprato Firm of Chicago. The mosaic depicts the second coming of the Savior Christ as Judge. In the background it shows two angels who carry or hold up the cross. Toward the front, one angel blows the trumpet while another one holds the Book of Life. The pleasing unfading colors intermingled with golden rays are a pleasing effect on the eyes as well as on one’s emotions, but especially so when the evening rays of the setting sun seem to send the last greetings to the Savior.
As one steps inside through one of the three portals, you are in the vestibule, the so-called Paradise, which extends through the whole width of the church. Under the north tower is the Baptistery, while in the southern one, the stars which lead to the choir loft are found. In the vestibule on the tile floor, one sees the inscription in German “Mein Hous ist ein Bethhous” (My House is a House of Prayer), also the date of the completion of the Church in 1918. The total overwhelming impression of the interior of the Church is massive.
Three swinging doors connect the vestibule with the nave of the church. As we enter, we stand under the choir loft. The vaulted cross-formed ceiling rests on four small pillars attached to the back wall and on four in front. A large space 120 feet long, 52 feet wide, and at the transepts it is 68 feet wide. The main part of the transepts is 28 feet wide and the two side parts each 12 feet, lies before us. The vaulted gothic ceiling rests on tall slender, green Ionian pillars. This Scaglola or ornamentation as well as the marble finish on the pulpit was accomplished by the master hand of Mr. Charles Skog from Chicago. The capitals on the columns and the pilasters depict grape leaves and grapes, as well as heads of wheat artistically done in (Stukkartur) by a Kansas City Architecture Decorating Co. H. F. Simon. All the plastering was done by J. J. Kelly and sons.
The sanctuary is the natural continuation of the center nave and is divided into two parts—the east one with the high altar is cathedral in shape and a step higher than the connecting west one, which is finished by two side chapels. The whole front is in an octagonal shape. The two side chapels, or the side niches, contain the side altars. All this space down to the communion railing portrays a beautiful chapel. There is also a spacious sacristy surrounding the whole sanctuary, with three doors from the sanctuary leading to it. There are also two outside entrances to the sacristy. Four double Gothic windows illumine the sanctuary aided with more light coming from the windows in the side chapels.
In the transepts huge triple Gothic windows both on the north and the south side light up the interior of the church, as well as all the other double Gothic windows on both sides of the edifice. A seven-panel rosette window on the west front lights up the choir loft. Whenever possible, local artists and laborers were selected and employed.
Two confessionals under the third window are partly built into the wall. The fine artistic woodwork was done by John J. Linenberger and Son, a native son of Victoria, one of our neighboring parishes. In general, local artists and handy workers were selected, if possible, in the whole construction. Thus, Joe B. Bissing from Hays was contracted to do or construct all the window and door frames, the doors, as well as the oakwood parts of the three galleries or balconies. All these productions are real works of art.
The foundation was laid out by the artistic hand of our faithful untiring stonemason and contractor Mr. Peter Motz (Father Burkard’s brother-in-law from Germany who was asked to come over for this construction. He lived with Father Burkard and assisted many of the people in the construction of the stone houses and other buildings in the area. He taught many a parishioner the artistic trade of stonemason. He engineered the exterior construction of this magnificent church. His memory will live as long as each stone stands upon each stone as it points to the Azure Blue Sky penetrating the depths of Heaven. His work is an art that is ranked with the artists of centuries ago.) All the stone cutters, masons, and carpenters worked under his direction, guidance, and management. Slowly, but steadily the building grew, to its final completion.
The roof made of tiles is the work of the Firm Ludovici, Coffeyville, Kansas. All the tin and copperwork—including the little angelus tower was undertaken by the Peters Hardware Co. of Emporia. Most of the work was not contracted, but was done by paid or donated labor.
With praiseworthy zeal and ardor, the members of the parish took part in the exacting and hard labor without pay. Without charges all the stone was cut and brought to the building site, also all the sand that was needed. As well as all the freight that had to be brought from the stations at Victoria, Bison, and Hays, 10, 14, and 20 miles away. All this made it possible to construct the beautiful church for the unbelievable sum of about $48,000.00, which could well be valued at $75,000.00 by anyone who realizes what it would cost to build such a magnificent edifice.
Two-thirds of the amount was collected and donated by the small parish of about 75 families. This deserves recognition and praise, especially so since the year 1917 was a complete failure of crops. When God in His goodness blesses us with fruitful harvests, it won’t be long nor difficult to pay off the rest of the debt.
A Brief History of the Pfeifer Parish:
The now completed church is the third one to be erected by the rather, so to say, young parish. The beginning of the settlement took place in 1876, when the First German-Russian Catholic immigrants came from the Russian Province of Saratov on the Volga arrived and settled here. The first time Holy Mass was offered by the Rev. Valentine Sommereisen was the fall of 1876. The first Church, a frame building, was erected in 1879 by the Rev. Jos. Cal Mayershofer O.M. Cap. It was a building 28 x 26 feet, but later on it served for or was used for a school.
The second church, a massive stone structure without a tower 65 x 40 feet, was built in 1890 by the resident Pastor Rev. K. J. Withof at a cost of $2,700.00. The cornerstone was laid on April 28, 1890.
A document written in Latin on ordinary paper was placed in the cornerstone. (Fr. John Poell translated the Latin into English.) When the church was torn down, 25 years later, it was badly deteriorated. Along with the document a few coins were found: 1) a 1890 one cent piece; 2) a 1869 nickel. Both of these coins with some other coins, as well as a worn-down dime, a silver coin from Canada, were again put into the cornerstone of the new Church.
In about two decades of time the population grew and increased so much that the second church was considered to be too small. In the summer of 1906, the Most Rev. Bishop John J. Cunningham appointed the Rev. Peter Burkard, a Diocesan Priest, as Pastor of the Pfeifer Parish with the commission to build a new rectory and to enlarge the church or build a new larger one. With ease and promptitude the first task was carried out. The people were happy to again have a resident Pastor, as for quite some time they had been deprived of one. They considered it an honor to build a spacious pretty rectory of stone. In the fall of 1907, it was completed at a cost of $6,000.00 and nearly debt free and it was ready for occupancy. The second task was a heavier and slower one to accomplish, due to fact that there was no ready money on hand to either enlarge the old church, or build a new one. Besides there were opposing attitudes toward both projects. It was difficult to decide which project would be best.
Toward an enlargement there were several objections: 1) The church had no architectural style to it, no tower for the bells, even the walls looked ugly — in comparison the two-story school building surpassed the church in beauty, and so did the rectory. To the contrary shouldn’t the church, the house of God be the outstanding building of the group, or the most beautiful edifice in the village? 2) If enlargement had to be done toward the east, the sanctuary would need to be taken down, if in the west the bell tower would have to be built on or added on. To give the building some character, the rather flat roof would have to be heightened but the two ugly walls would be left of the old building and the result would be anything but an imposing suitable house of God. Besides it would require a big sum of money to do all this renovating, so that the pastor, along with most of the parishioners couldn’t warm up to this idea, and decided against it.
So, now the way pointed to a completely new structure. The first problem was to make plans, to find ways and means to raise the money needed. In the year of 1908 a free will offering, a wheat collection was begun or started. Many offered 3 to 15 acres of wheat or about 5% of their planting or sowing. Quite a number did not take part in this collecting, but even so by this means over $2,000.00 was put into the building fund. Since several well-to-do members did not take part, it was thought best not to continue this method.
At a voluntary meeting of the parishioners, it was suggested and decided by a small majority, to collect annually from every family 3% of the wheat harvest or crop. This was to be continued till the required sum to build was collected.
The next year was a crop failure, for most of them, and not much could be brought in; however, 1910 was a good year. Now was the time to require the 3% also from the minority, who had voted against the plan. With much patience and effort this was accomplished with the exception of 8 families who absolutely refused to donate for the new erection. The year 1911 was a complete failure for most of the people, but in 1912 they were blessed with a bountiful crop. The collection of 3% of this crop caused the pastor much unpleasantness and trouble. The bad example of the families who in 1910 refused to do their duty influenced other families by now, who also refused to give the 3% toward the new building fun, and this caused quite a disturbance and disunion in the parish, so much so that 18 families who lived in Rush County, which belonged to the Wichita Diocese, resolved to break away from the Pfeifer Parish and start a new parish of their own.
Nothing in the least could be done about this disagreement. Gradually others decided to join the movement. At this time 40 families belong to Loretto who formerly belonged to the Pfeifer Parish. Some of these families had paid close to $2,800.00 to the new building fund, but this was all faithfully returned to them.
By the time the collecting of the wheat percent on the crop of 1912 took place, the number of willing new church builders had grown less, in spite of all this the building fund rose to $11,671.15 by December 31, 1912. After so many families left, the need for the new church, because of the need of more room, was really not necessary any more, and as a result the opposition faction seemed to have gained the upper hand. When the pastor paid no attention to the rift, and went ahead with the building project, a regular storm of excitement and opposition reigned in Pfeifer in 1913 that threatened to bury the church building project, also get rid of the priest in some way. However, the good God who guides the hearts of men, like streams of water, and often rewards our good intentions with the dew of this cross, in the end turns everything to our advantage and our good.
In the year of 1913 there was again a complete crop failure, but at the same time God blessed us with a good fruitful holy mission. In preparation for this mission, we made a novena to St. Anthony. On nine Tuesdays Holy Mass was offered in his honor with the intention that through his intercession with God would obtain the blessing of peace and unity, as well as the spirit of sacrifice and willingness to build the new church for His honor and glory.
The year 1914 brought the Parish the best and richest harvest they had ever known besides the wheat sold for a good price. This gave the declining low and depressed church building project new energy and life. Today as it stands completed and ready to be dedicated, there is hardly a family in the parish that isn’t willing to take part and pay just dues for the cost of their beautiful church.
It is not to be denied that for many families this accomplishment required a hard and heavy sacrifice. To His honor and to the honor of the Holy Cross, these needed sacrifices were joyfully and gladly made. May God, the Rewarder of all good, bless both the small and the great sacrifices with His Heavenly Benediction.
(These are the words of Father Peter Burkard, Pastor who saw to the construction and completion of this most beautiful church. Today they are the pearls of recorded history.)