The Basilica of St. Fidelis
"The Cathedral of the Plains"
The First Basilica in Kansas and the
78th in the United States.
St. Ann Catholic Church History
The precise origin of the name of “Walker,” and even the earliest days of its first foundations are somewhat obscured by history. Apparently there was a Walker Station, located along Walker Creek on the old Smoky Hill Trail, for some years before anything resembling a town was begun. Perhaps the name was adopted in honor of Robert J. Walker, a Territorial Governor of Kansas in l857-8, or for one of the many explorers or military officers who also bore the name.
A military post, Fort Fletcher, was established on October 11, 1865, at a location about five miles south of the present site of Walker. It had been named in honor of Governor Thomas C. Fletcher, of Missouri. In May, 1867, because of difficulty with floods, as well as the distance from the railroad, Fort Fletcher was abandoned and a new post was established 15 miles to the northwest, Fort Hays. Traces of the foundations of a hotel, hospital, baking ovens, and markers still remain, in addition to the remains of a tree in which the wife of General Custer is said to have sought refuge from a flood. The site of Fort Fletcher is now owned by the great-grandson of one of the early settlers and serves as Fort Fletcher Camp Grounds.
With the completion of the railroad in 1867, the Kansas Pacific Railway began to run a train, mixed passenger and freight, each direction daily, with an occasional extra, as far as the end of the track at Sheridan, near the Colorado state line. The trains were protected from Indian attacks by armed railroad workers. This fast, convenient, and relatively safe means of transportation helped to increase the rate of growth of the area.
During the early 1870’s many English settlers located in the Walker-Victoria vicinity. In 1872, a small group of colonists from Ohio settled south of the present town of Walker; being unfamiliar with land that had never been tilled, and in an area where it never seemed to rain at the right time, they were not interested in agriculture and devoted their efforts to establishing a town. In May, 1873, a group from Pennsylvania settled along Big Creek, and later in the same year some New Yorkers settled farther west along the same creek.
Parallel to the history of the Volga-Germans of Ellis County, is the story of other German families, mostly from the former Kingdom of Hanover, Germany, which had been annexed to Prussia by the iron policy of the Mighty Bismark. These families, not finding their status as “Muss-Preussen” to their liking, came to the United States, settling temporarily, principally in Ohio and Kentucky.
In the fall of 1876, Herman Robben, one of their number, then a young man, came to Kansas, and having heard of a German Catholic settlement in Ellis County, made his way there. He rode from Junction City, Kansas, to Victoria, Kansas on horseback. He was the first man married in the new settlement. He was soon followed by his brothers, William and family, and George, a single man, Herman Schippers and Henry Tholen, whose home had been in Lancaster, Ohio.
In March, 1878, two brothers, Herman and Ulrich Berens, came from Junction City, Ohio.
The families of John Baumrucker and Adam Wagner had already been established on Big Creek, in the southeastern portion of Ellis County, when the Volga-German settlements were formed; they joined the congregation at Victoria, as did all the Germans who settled in the eastern part of the country.
Clemens Griese, an Oldenburger, found his way from Covington, Kentucky, to Victoria, in 1878. A further arrival in that year was Herman Schulte and family, who came from McCunesville, Ohio.
Later arrivals at various dates were William Funke, Gerard Wellbrock, Herman Tholen, all of Covington, Ky., Theodore Munk of Lima, Ohio, and William Schrant of Decatur, Illinois.
Matthew Robben, brother of Herman Robben, came in 1880, the Huser family from Covington, Ky., and the family of Henry VonLintel from Ohio. William Heyl, a Pennsylvanian, came from Herman, Pa., in 1882.
These families settled on land lying mostly between Walker and Victoria. They became affiliated with St. Fidelis Parish, Herzog.
Their language was the “Plattdeutsch,” which was not easily understood by the rest of the Germans. In manners, habits and customs, they differed greatly from the Volga-Germans, hence, although associated together in the same church, there was very little social mingling. Inter-marriages for many years were prevented.
The German people were thrifty and great workers; they were accustomed to diversified farming from the home land; they paid attention to the dairy industry. Hence, the financial depression, which swept the country in 1893 to 1897, found them in somewhat better circumstances than their Volga-German neighbors, who had staked their all on wheat farming alone.
At one time, within the memory of some of the older residents, Walker could boast of four general stores (Garrison, Schrenkler, Nick Schmitt, and John Brown), a bank (owned by the Cochran brothers, and operated by John J. Dreiling and Adam Dome), two lumber yards (Schwaller and Brull), two implement and hardware stores (Peter Braun, Nick Arnold, Nick Schlyer), four elevators and a flour mill, a hotel, a saloon, a pool hall, a newspaper known as the WALKER GAZETTE, a Methodist Episcopal Church, and two parks. The first post-office in Ellis County was located at Fort Fletcher.
A court record book, which is now in the possession of Ted Munk, indicates that many civil court cases were heard in Walker, beginning in 1879, with C. Schwaller, and later Nick Schmitt, as Justice of the Peace. Docket fees were 10-15 cents per day.
The following description of Walker is composed of excerpts taken from the “History of Saint Augustine’s Capuchin Province,” by Father Hyacinth Epp. O.F.M.Cap., first Minister Provincial of the province:
Four miles east of Victoria there is a small colony of Plattdeutsche Catholics who settled there about the same time the Russian-Germans settled in Ellis County. From the beginning they belonged to St. Fidelis Parish and they distinguished themselves for generosity, zeal and love for the priesthood and the Church. They were always ready to work for the church and if any building was under way they never tired of hauling the materials. Despite their distance from church, they were most regular in attending and for many years they sent their children to the Victoria parish school because they wanted their children to be well instructed in religion. When this proved too severe a hardship for the children, a school was opened in Walker in 1892 and conducted as a Catholic school for four months and as a public school for the rest of the school term. Moreover, one of the priests of Victoria always came to the Walker school once or twice a week to impart religious instruction. This system was put into effect on January 1, 1893. The school is a stone building, has two stories and cost $l,096.69.
Since the people of Walker desired very ardently to have a church in their own settlement, both the Bishop and the pastor of Victoria agreed and the latter promised to help them as much as possible. On Dec. 25, 1903, a priest of Victoria began to conduct divine services in the Walker school and this continued until the church was finished. In March, 1904, the parish began building its church. Fr. Emmeram Kausler was appointed pastor to supervise the work. The cornerstone was laid by the Bishop of Concordia on June 11, 1904. Once begun, the work made rapid progress and was ready for its dedication on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 30, 1905. Bishop Cunningham performed the ceremony, placing it under the patronage of St. Anne.
The Walker church, for which Fr. Emmeram had made the plans, is a solid stone building and presents a pleasing appearance. It cost about $10,000.00 and is practically free of debt (1907), for what is still due is small and covered by subscriptions. On the occasion of the dedication the Bishop celebrated Pontifical Mass and was assisted by Fr. Koeller of Gorham as archpriest, Frs. Stollenberg and Carl Weber as deacons of honor, Frs. Richard Die and Francis Laing as deacon and subdeacon and Frs. Anthony Burkart and Edward Heyl as masters of ceremonies. Fr. Raphael Schwarz, Superior of Munjor, preached. The services began at nine-thirty and were well attended by the faithful from far and near.
The cost of the altar, pews, confessional, statues amounted to $2,160; the cost of the windows with freight was $917.50 and is included in the figure of $10,000.
In 1904, five and one quarter acres lying one quarter mile north of the church was purchased for a cemetery. This cost $250.
In 1906 the parish had 43 families, partly of German and partly of German-Russian origin. The Christian Mothers confraternity had 28 members; the Third Order 16. In August, 1906, Fr. Emmeram was transferred to Munjor as superior and Fr. Pancratius Dockler succeeded him at Walker. In 1907 the latter procured a set of Stations which were painted in Innsbruck and a processional canopy of silk embroidered in gold.
In the fall of 1892, the present church property, about 5 l/2 acres, was transferred to Bishop John J. Hennessey, Bishop of Wichita, by J. H. and Etta L. Ward, and George and Luella J. Ward, for $25 and the condition that a school be built on the property.
On November 1, 1892, a Catholic school, with one teacher, was opened at Walker.
In 1900, once again, as in former years, Father Gabriel agreed that St. Fidelis Parish should pay half of the salary for the teacher of the Walker School District. It was customary for a priest to go to Walker once a week to give religious instructions in the public school. Shortly before Christmas in 1900, a school board member informed the pastor that no priest may give further instructions in their public school.
In 1901, the school opened on October l. A number of people complained about the short term. The pastor decided that it should be at least a six month term. It was hard to get a teacher; finally Jerry Basgall of Pfeifer agreed to teach for $25 a month, although others had demanded $40-$50. The students were asked to pay 25 cents a month of attend school.
On September 29, 1902, school opened with two Sisters of Saint Agnes, Sr. Viridiana and Sr. Emerentina.
The Sisters of Saint Agnes withdrew from the school in 1906, because of a shortage of sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia taught in the school from 1907 through 1923. A convent for the sisters was completed in September, 1908, at the cost of $1,750; this building was demolished in 1972. During the years 1923-1925, during construction of the new school building, all the children attended the public school, located in the former Methodist Church. Sisters of Saint Agnes again taught in the school from 1925 through 1948. A four year high school, also taught by the sisters, was conducted in the present school building from 1929 through 1939, along with the eight grades of elementary school.
On November 19, 1903, Bishop Cunningham gave permission to establish an independent parish.
Organizers of St. Anne’s Parish were: Herman Berens, Ulrich Berens, William Berens, Peter Braun, Peter Brungardt, Anton Dreiling, B. M. Dreiling, Nick Dreiling, Clement Griese, Joseph Griese, George Kippes, Mike Kippes, B. M. Kuhn, Adolph Leiker, John Leiker, Theodore H. Munk, Mike Riedel, William Robben, Sr., John Scheck, Ignatz Vonfeldt, and John A. Vonfeldt.
For the building of the church, every communicant was assessed 10 loads of stone. The stone was quarried from the Henry H. Robben farm, presently owned by Mrs. Francis Robben. The stone masons were M. K. Brungardt, Peter K. Wittman and Jacob Paul. Stone layers were Peter A. Dreiling, Adam Riedel, and Joseph Linenberger; the last named fell with the lift 54 feet, but was not seriously injured. Carpenters were Alex Schuler, M. K. Brungardt and Frank Mermis.
November 30, 1905, the Bishop dedicated the new St. Ann’s Church in Walker. On April 30, 1907, the blessing of new stations, which cost $400, and a cross in the cemetery took place.
During the summer of 1914, permission was granted to build a rectory. On February 23, 1915, Father Ulrich contracted with Tony Jacobs, of Hays, to build a two story rectory with a basement, for $5,393.00. The digging of the basement and hauling of rock began the next day. The new rectory was blessed on November 15, 1915.
Construction of the present school building was begun in the fall of 1924. The cornerstone was laid in 1924, The school was dedicated in August of 1925. In 1926, at the time of the Golden Jubilee of the Volga-German settlements, there were 120 school children, under the care of the Sisters of Saint Agnes. With the reorganization of school districts in the State of Kansas, the Walker School was incorporated into U.S.D. 432 in 1966. With declining enrollments and rising costs, the school was closed in 1971; most of the students now attend school in Victoria, with a few going to Gorham.
During the Second World War, the United States Army Air Corps constructed the Walker Air Base as a training center in 1942. It was closed on January 31, 1946, but the landing strip and some of the buildings still remain.
In 2011, St. Ann Parish has about 40 families. Mass is celebrated Saturday evenings at 6:30 from November through April and at 7:30 on Sunday mornings from May through October.