Friday, June 24, 2016

St. Mary Catholic Church, Wymore, NE

The beginning of Saint Mary Catholic Church in Wymore, Nebraska is intimately bound up with the history of Wymore itself, which was platted on May 21, 1881.  Shortly thereafter, Wymore found itself at the junction of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroads, resulting in the rapid growth of the community.

Father A.C. Rausch of Table Rock paid a visit to the community in 1881 and was clearly impressed.  He requested to transfer his residence from Table Rock to the booming new community of Wymore.  Masses were celebrated in the homes of various parishioners until 1882, when the number of Catholics made such an arrangement unfeasible.  Even though the town was growing, Father Rausch acknowledged that these pioneer families were struggling to become established, so in 1882 he purchased 3 lots and constructed a combination church and rectory using his own funds.  At this time, the parish became known as Saint Mary's.

The exterior of the 1892 Saint Mary Church, Wymore as is appeared shortly after completion.
In 1885, the parish outgrew this small chapel and began construction on a larger, wood frame church which was completed in the fall of 1886.  Again, the parish continued to grow and new lots were purchased in 1891 for a new brick church which was dedicated on December 18, 1892.  

The exterior of 1892 Saint Mary's, circa 1940s.  The tower was likely shortened in the 1939 renovation.
The 1892 brick church would see many renovations over the years, particularly in 1939 and again in 1954.  Later, on June 15, 1957, a severe hail storm tore through the community, resulting in the complete destruction of many of the church's stained glass windows.  

The Holy Thursday Altar of Repose in the 1892 Saint Mary's Church.  Photo taken circa 1940s.
A new parish hall was completed and blessed on September 15, 1974.  By this time, the brick church had developed significant structural issues and was demolished on April 4, 1978.  The parish hall served as a temporary church until the parish's fourth and present church was completed.

Construction of the present church, designed by architect John Forman, began on October 24, 1980 and was dedicated by Bishop Glennon Flavin on July 26, 1981.  The steel, rectangular bell tower housing the bell from the previous church is reminiscent of the many grain elevator legs that dot the area landscape.

The interior of the present church building is very successful in its integration of old and new elements.  The slender gothic windows and plaster statuary of the previous church find a natural fit amongst the simple, clean lines of the interior.

Another outstanding feature of Saint Mary Church is its use of light.  A large clearstory floods the sanctuary with light, while the low-slung nave area dark and contemplative.  This feature gives visual prominence to the altar and an interior mood that changes dramatically depending on the weather and the time of year.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Saint Mary's is the feeling that the church simply belongs in the place where it's at.  It's not particularly ornate; its beauty comes from its subtlety, much like the landscape of the area.  The bricks of the interior echo the large clay deposits found to the west near Endicott and the wood is reminiscent of the cottonwood groves lining the Big Blue River just east of town.  It's a space that is at once holy and homey.  The fact that the interior has endured for 35 years without any significant alterations is significant.

The familiar faces of elaborately-clad stained glass saints stand as a proud and tangible connection to a past that continues to inspire new generators of parishioners.  The Apostles Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Peter stand on the right side of the sanctuary.

Christ the Good Shepherd and Saint Margaret of Antioch watch over the left side of the sanctuary.


Sister Loretta Gosen, S.PP.S,  History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska 1887-1987.  Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 1986.

Wymore, Nebraska Diamond Jubilee Historical Album 1881-1956, p. 15-16


Saturday, February 14, 2015

St. John Catholic Church, Hamilton, KS

Located on the very east end of town, with a great view of the rolling Flint Hills beyond, the very modest St. John Catholic Church in Hamilton, Kansas is evidence of a parish that has always been small, but faithful.

It appears that both the parish and church building trace their origins to the same year of 1898.  The building was little more than a roof over worshipers' heads, and improvements to the structure came slowly over the years.  Most dramatically, the nave was lengthened by ten feet in 1912 in order to accommodate a confessional.  The discovery of oil in the area brought a brief influx of parishioners and resulted in an unusually large confirmation class of 20 in 1928.  

Evidently, the church building was once topped by a small tower, which was removed sometime after 1938.  At this same time, the interior was also thoroughly refurbished.

As a side note, I didn't have a chance to visit Holmes Sundry, but I wish that I had!


Mary K. Peltzer and Fr. Michael Peltzer, editors. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita Commemorates Its First 100 Years. Topeka, KS: Jostens Publications, 1987.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Former St. Mary Catholic Church, Rockville, NE

The early Polish Catholic pioneers who settled south of the Middle Loup River near Rockville, Nebraska found it difficult to practice their faith with no church nearby.  On Saturday evenings, Catholic families would board the train at Rockville and ride to Loup City, where they would attend Mass on Sunday morning, and return home in the afternoon.  Occasionally priests from Grand Island would also visit the area to celebrate the sacraments.

This haphazard arrangement could not last, and the early settlers decided to send one of their strongest leaders, Joseph Roszczynialski(!) to plead their cause to the priests in Grand Island.  Their request for a permanent church was forwarded to Bishop Richard Scannell of Omaha, and the bishop granted permission shortly thereafter.  

Roszczynialski himself served as the architect and chief builder of the new 300-seat St. Mary of the Holy Rosary Church and also designed and built its high altar.  It's likely that Roszczynialski served as the architect for several other Polish Catholic churches in the area as well.  Construction of the 40 x 92 foot Rockville church began in the spring of 1908 and progressed rapidly.  The cornerstone was blessed on May 9, 1909 and by October 20th of the same year, the church was dedicated by Bishop Scanell.

At various times from 1910 to 1918, the parish found itself as a mission of either Grand Island, Loup City, Farwell, or Paplin.  Desperate for a more consistent life of worship, parishioners built a rectory in 1911, but seven more years passed before Rockville received its first resident pastor.  Even with a new rectory, Rockville only managed to secure a resident pastor for eight years, and in 1926 Rockville again became a mission of Farwell.  St. Mary remained a mission of several different area parishes throughout the rest of its history.

Various modifications were made to the church building over the years, including the addition of electricity in the early 1920s, a lowered ceiling and sanctuary renovation in the 1950s, and another sanctuary remodeling in the 1970s.  In 1978, the bell tower was struck by lightning and repaired by simply capping the tower at the roofline.  The former church's bell now resides at the nearby St.Mary Cemetery.

In many ways, the present day situation for Rockville Catholics is not so different than that of their forebears.  In 2006, St. Mary was clustered with five other area parishes, leaving Rockville with Mass only four times per year along with the occasional wedding or funeral.  Parishioners dispersed to various surrounding communities for the regular celebration of the sacraments and religious education.  The parish held it's final Mass on August 24, 2014 and the church building and its remaining contents were sold at auction on October 11, 2014.

In an unfortunate twist of fate, a radical traditionalist group calling themselves the "The Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI)" purchased the building for $16,000.  This non-Catholic group has no affiliation whatsoever with the Catholic Church and believes that there hasn't been a legitimate pope since 1958.  For more information about this group, this article features the insights of nuns formerly associated with them.


Jim Graves, “The Return to Rome, Five Years Later,” The Catholic World Report, 19 October 2012, accessed 29 January 2014.

Janis Lewandowski, "Rockville church remembered as 'little parish that could,'" West Nebraska Register, 10 October 2014.

Mary Parlin and Colleen Gallion, comps. 100 Years of Faith: The History of the Diocese of Grand Island. Grand Island, NE: West Nebraska Register, 2012.

Lauren Sedam, "Saying final goodbyes to St. Mary’s," The Grand Island Independent, 10 October 2014.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

St. Luke Catholic Church, Ogallala, NE

In the midst of the rolling western Nebraska Sandhills stands an expressive, angular Mid-Century Modern church designed by one of Nebraska's most prolific church architects.  Today, St. Luke Catholic Church in Ogallala stands as one of the largest and boldest Mid-Century churches in rural Nebraska.

(Photo source)
Early records indicate that in 1859, Jesuit Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet instructed and baptized 263 members of the Oglala Tribe near the Platte River, south of present-day city of Ogallala.  It's likely that Father DeSmet also offered the first Masses in the area.  Priests from Sidney and North Platte would later make sporadic visits to the area to administer the sacraments.  By 1887, area Catholics constructed a permanent church (pictured above).  Priests from St. Patrick Parish in Sidney (72 miles away!) served the Ogallala community from 1887 until 1913, when St. Luke received its first resident pastor.

(Photo source)
By 1922, the growing parish saw the need to expand its original church building.  This was accomplished by the addition of transcepts and a new sanctuary.  The exterior of the building was also coated in grey stucco.  The church's capacity was expanded yet again in 1949 with the extension of the choir loft and an addition to the front of the building.  St. Luke Parish continued to grow, along with the general population of the city and by 1953, a convent and elementary school were constructed. 

St. Luke reached a new milestone with the dedication of its new $250,000 church on November 29, 1960.  The work of prominent Nebraska church architect James E. Loftus, this structure represents his first known attempt at designing a truly modern church building.  And what an eye-catching success it is!  Unfortunately, the sleek exterior lines of the building have been compromised by the addition of a sloped steel roof and air-handling equipment.  Otherwise, both the exterior and interior of the church retain a high degree of architectural integrity. 

The spacious, unencumbered volume of the interior evokes a sense of lightness, while the almost Art Deco-like marble reredos naturally focuses one's attention towards the crucifix and altar area.

Large clearstory windows create a bright environment, while the much lower ambulatory humanizes the scale of the space.  The cream colored brick of the clearstory walls and the wood paneled sanctuary find complementary contrast with the white plaster ceiling and ambulatory walls.

The sanctuary features some wonderful Mid-Century detailing, including the light fixtures and woodwork.  The furnishings are simple, but substantial, and of noble materials.  The hidden lancet windows illuminate the reredos and crucifix in a wonderfully mysterious fashion.  

By the 1950s, the ideas of the Liturgical Movement had come to greatly influence church design.  One of these primary ideas was that only one altar should be visible from the main body of the church, since the altar is the primary symbol of Christ.  This principal is clearly illustrated at St. Luke, where, neatly tucked away beneath two low-ceiling transcepts, are the traditional side altars dedicated to Mary and Joseph.

Some may find it initially jarring to come across such a thoroughly modern church in a small western Nebraska community.  However, I think it's fair to say that the Lincoln Highway had a huge influence on the architecture of the communities it passed through.  As the modern concept of long-range vehicular transportation became the norm, modern structures flourished along the Lincoln Highway to reflect this new era of American life.

Today, St. Luke Church should be appreciated as an innovative and exciting structure that reflects the enthusiasm of the 1950s and 60s, while still hearkening to solid liturgical principals that hold true even today.


History of Saint Luke’s Catholic Church of Ogallala, Nebraska

Parlin, Mary, and Colleen Gallion, comps. 100 Years of Faith: The History of the Diocese of Grand Island. Grand Island, NE: West Nebraska Register, 2012.