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Kansas History and Heritage Project-Nemaha County Catholic Churches

Nemaha County Catholic Churches

The following histories are from "The History of Nemaha County," 1916:


The first Catholic settlers in this part of Nemaha county were Thomas Carlin and John Koch, who came here in 1857; the year after there arrived John and Joseph Koelzer, Joseph Assenmacher, Peter Blumer, Martin Stahlbaumer, John Dick, Margaret Draney, Michael Rodgers and Martin Rellinger. At the instigation of John Koelzer and John Koch, a little frame church was built in the year 1859. Peter Blumer donated twenty acres of land. Before the building was commenced John Koelzer had gone to Atchison to see the Rev. Augustine Wirth, O. S.B., then Prior of St. Benedict's College of Atchison, in order to make arrangement with him for a priest to come out here occasionally to hold divine services. After Father Augustine had given his consent they began building; and in June, 1859, Rev. Edmund Langenfelder, O. S. B. (died April 8, 1885), came out the first time, he being the first Catholic priest to set his foot on the soil of Nemaha county, Kansas.

In the fall of the same year, Rev. Father Augustine paid this place a visit; he was here also twice in 1860. In September, 1860, the Rev. Philip Vogt, O. S. B., was sent here to attend to the few Catholic families. In the spring of 1861, Rev. Emmanuel Hartig, O. S. B., paid his first visit to this place. The first church was a very modest building, the cash expenses for same having been $92.20. Its size was 12x25 feet.

When the church was about finished, there was wanting some glass and some other small things, which required about $20. And as nobody except Michael Rogers had any money, it was decided by John Koelzer, John Koch and Thomas Carlin to give Michael Rogers the privilege of naming the church, and then charge him $20 for it. Michael, not knowing but suspecting this manner of collecting, called it St. Mary's Church and had the pleasure of furnishing the $20 gold piece.

After having finished the church the people desired a stationary priest, and, in spite of not having had any harvest at all in i860 on account of the great drought, they built a parish house, which was commenced in the spring of,i86i and finished in June of the same year.

Their efforts and zeal were rewarded ; for Father Augustine, O. S. B., sent the Rev. Severin Rotter, O: S. B. (died April 1, 1898), who arrived here on June 18, 1861. He was the first resident priest of Nemaha county.

From here he attended the following missions :

St. Bridget's settlement, sixteen miles northwest of here.

St. Augustine settlement, now called Capionia or Fidelity, about twenty-two miles southeast of here.

St. Joseph settlement in the southeast corner of Marshall county. This mission was commenced on December i, 1861 ; it is now generally called Irish Creek.

Elwood and Belmont, near Wathena.

The first baptism administered in Nemaha county was that of Joseph Koch, son of John and Anna Mary Koch ; and the first wedding was that of Joseph Koelzer and Sophie Koblitz.

The names of people who constituted the parish in the year 1861 are : John Koch, John Koelzer, Joseph Koelzer, Martin Stallbaumer, Martin Rellinger, Margaret Draney, Peter Blumer, Thomas Carlin, Michael Rogers, Mathias Stein, W. Berntsen, John Dick, Martin Bedeau, Justus Aziere, Jacob Rellinger, Joseph Rellinger, Patrick McCaffrey, James Graney.

The salary of the Rev. Severin Rotter, O. S. B., in the year 1861 was $11.50.

How primitive the first church must have been, appears from the accounts, as they had paid $2 for making the pews, $2.50 for the tabernacle, $2.05 for the confessional, fifty cents .for a table in the priest's house, $3.50 for a bed.

In the year 1862 the priest had an income of $23.85.

After the parish had been thus established, more people moved in, and soon it was evident that the church was too small. Hence, in the year 1864, another larger church was built, whose size was 18x35 feet. It was Father Emmanuel Hartig, O. S. B., now Vicar General of the diocese of Lincoln, Neb., who built this church.

It was about this time that one of the Benedictine Fathers acquired an iron bell for the church. This bell, the first church bell in Nemaha county, had belonged to a boat which sailed on the Missouri river between St. Joseph and Weston. When it was rung first, everybody admired its "beautiful" sound. No one can give definite information of what has become of this bell.

In the year 1868 the priest's residence was transferred to Seneca, where a congregation had been organized in 1866. This was done principally through the influence of Mathias Stein, who had lived here several years and then moved to Seneca to open a furniture store.

Nothing remarkable happened from 1868 till 1880.

The priests who had charge of the parish from 1861 till 1880 were : Fathers Emmanuel Hartig, O. S. B., Pirmine Koumly, O. S. B., Thomas Bartl, O. S. B., Timothy Luber, O. S. B., Eugene Bode, O. S. B., and again Emmanuel Hartig, O. S. B.

In 1878 and 1879, Father Emmanuel advertised the place to a great extent by sending articles to different Catholic papers. His efforts were well blessed; people responded to his call, and at the beginning of 1880 there were here about sixty families. The church had to be enlarged, but instead of enlarging it, they decided to build a new one, which was to last for some generations. It was 40x90 feet.

When the church was finished by Father Emmanuel, O. S. B., the congregation purchased a' bell from H. Stuckstede, of St. Louis, Mo., which weighed 1,850 pounds. This bell was a beauty, indeed, for the congregation, especially so because it surpassed the Seneca bell in size. The people joyfully recollect the day it was consecrated by the bishop.

In the fall of 1881, Father Ferdinand Wolf, O. S. B., was appointed pastor of the congregation, and had charge until 1883, when Father Timothy Luber, O. S. B., succeeded him. He built the sacristy and the pastoral residence in 1883. From November, 1883, the pastor lived here again. Father Timothy, O. S. B., was pastor until 1885, when Rev. Fridolin Meyer, O. S. B., was appointed, who remained four years. He was succeeded by Rev. Ambrose Rank, O. S. B., who, on account of sickness, had to give up after five weeks' service. In September, 1889, Father Pirmine Koumly, O. S. B., took charge.

The congregation had in the meantime increased to 109 families, so that the church built in 1880 was entirely too small. The question arose what to do, to enlarge the church or to build a new one. For quite a time the people were divided, some were in favor of erecting a splendid new church of brick or stone, others, fearing the enormous cost, wanted an addition to the old church. At last they agreed to leave the decision to the bishop, the Rt. Rev. Louis M. Fink, O. S. B., who decided that a new church should be built of stone, and large enough for all future wants. And work was soon in progress. A subscription was taken up in the parish by Father Pirmine and Mr. Timothy Heinan, which amounted to over $16,000. During the year 1891 the foundation and basement were made at a cost of about $3,500. After they were completed they were covered with a good coat of cement to protect them against rain ; they had decided to wait at least one year before erecting the main building.

Father Pirmine was appointed pastor of the Seneca parish and entered upon his new field on July 6, 1892. His successor was P. Herman Mengwasser, O. S. B. On the second Sunday of September, 1892, the congregation publicly voted on this question proposed by the pastor: "Are you willing to pay your subscription to the church on or before June I, 1893, in cash or to give a bankable note for amount subscribed at six per cent, interest? The time given for payment of same limited to three or four years." All except nine gave their consent. But even eight of these afterward consented also, to the great satisfaction of priest and people.

In a short time all available place around the church was filled with stone, which the members of the parish hauled from a place three miles northeast of the church. On April 30, 1893, the Rt. Rev. Bishop laid the cornerstone, and on December 1 of the same year the church was under roof, except the tower.

In January, 1894, a new subscription of $14,500 was raised by the pastor, and the church building was completed November 13, 1894. On the following day it was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Bishoff amid a concourse of about 3,000 people. P N. Schlechter, S. J., of St. Louis, preached the German, and P. Charles Stoeckle, O. S. B., of Atchison, then of Seneca, the English sermon.

The dimensions of the church are 162x60 feet; ceiling in center aisle, fifty-two and a half feet high ; in side aisles, thirty-five feet high. The tower reaches 172 feet from the water table, and is covered with copper. The six windows in the transept were made by Mayer & Company, of Munich, Bavaria, at a cost of $2,400. The Sacred Heart Rose window above the altar is six feet in diameter and cost $275. Style of church is Roman.

In the year 1895, the congregation bought four bells of 3,200, 1,800, 900 and 500 pounds, respectively, from St. Louis, Mo.

In the spring of 1899 the new main altar, which cost $2,700, was set up.

In the year 1900, two side altars and a communion railing were put into the church at a cost of $1,500.

On September 7, 1900, Rev. Herman Mengwasser, O. S. B., was succeeded by Rev. Anthony Baar, O. S. B.

In the year 1901, the church was frescoed by G. F. Satory, of Wabasha, Minn., and decorated with twelve large oil paintings by Th. Zukotynski, of Chicago. The cost of this work was $4,100.

In September, 1903, the church was furnished with a set of fine Group-Stations of the Cross at a cost of $2,200. The year following, eleven Munich statues were donated to the church by various members of the parish.

At present the parish consists of about 150 families, and is in charge of Father Gregory Neumayr.

This place was called Wild Cat until the year 1883, when a post-office was established here, and the name was changed to St. Benedict.

By P. Joseph Sittenauer, O. S. B.

Although this is now the largest Catholic community in Nemaha county, the cradle of Catholicity in this county is not Seneca, but St. Benedict, formerly called Wild Cat. The first priest to say Holy Mass there, as early as May, 1859, was the Rev. Edmond Langenfelder, O. S. B., who was sent by the Rev. Augustus Wirth, O. S. B., then prior of St. Benedict's College, Atchison. The first child baptized in this county, on May 12, 1859, was Thomas Rogers, who now resides in the Seneca parish. The first Catholic couple to be married, on April 17, 1860, were Joseph Koelzer and Sophie Koblitz, the parents of J. P. Koelzer, of Seneca. Whatever Catholics may have resided in and about Seneca from that time until the early part of 1868 had to go to church at Wild Cat, where the priest resided since June, 1861, and from where he visited different missions.

It was mainly due to the efforts of Mathias Stein that the priest's residence was transferred to Seneca in the spring of 1868. Mr. Stein had for several years lived in the Wild Cat district, but moved to Seneca to open a furniture store. Rev. Pirmine Koumly, O. S. B., was the first resident pastor living at Seneca. He was, after about six months, succeeded by Rev. Thomas Bartl, O. S. B. Father Thomas was, after another half year, followed by Father Pirmine, who remained till the end of 1871. In the beginning. Holy Mass was celebrated in Mr. Stein's residence. In 1870, however, the small congregation purchased the public school house to be used as a church, together with the block on which it was situated. This is the block which now contains the church and parish house. Shortly after, a small residence and a frame addition to the brick church were erected.

The parish was greatly increased under Rev. Emmanuel Hartig, O. S. B., who was pastor from the spring of 1875 to the fall of 1881. He extensively advertised the Catholic settlement of Nemaha county and drew a considerable number of new settlers to this neighborhood.

A small beginning had already been made for a Catholic school, with Mr. Huhn as schoolmaster. But Father Emmanuel soon realized that he could not look for great success unless he put the school under the care of teaching sisters. He acquired, partly by donation and partly by purchase, the block on which the parochial school is situated. New buildings were erected and school was opened by the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. St. Scholastica's Academy, Atchison, in the year 1878. New additions had to be made in the course of time to meet the growing needs of the school.

The parish grew quietly, but constantly, under Father Emmanuel's successor, the Rev. Thomas Bartl, O. S. B., who had been pastor once before. He resided at Seneca from the fall of 1881 till the summer of 1885.

Sick and worn out by his many and long missionary labors, good old Father Thomas, as he is still called by the old residents, retired to his monastery at Atchison, where he died November 30, 1885, at the age of fifty-five years.

The time had now come for a more rapid and more systematic development of the parish. The merit of unifying and organizing the many forces that had been created by long and hard work belongs to Rev. Suitbert Demarteu, O. S. B., who resided at Seneca from August, 1885, to April, 1892. It was during the early part of his stay that the main portion of the present church was built, a grand structure for that time, which was a sign of unshaken confidence, both on the part of the people and the priest, in the great future of Sts. Peter and Paul's parish. When the church was completed, the small residence, consisting of two rooms, was moved to the north of it, and there served, for some years, both as sacristy and as residence, until a suitable dwelling was built in 1890.

Father Suitbert was a man of strong character and great energy. He, more than any other priest before or after him, impressed his personality upon this flourishing community.

As the thunderstorm, with its refreshing rain, must be followed by the warm rays of the sun to make the crops grow and ripen, so the energetic Father Suitbert was followed by the quiet and gentle Rev. Primine Koumly, O. S. B., who, from the summer of 1892 until the fall of 1895, ruled the parish and enjoyed the fruits of his earlier work at Seneca.

An ailment, which was due to a sick call on a cold night, whilst he was himself sick with influenza, developed to such proportions that he had to retire to his monastery. Though his health was never completely restored, he lived until July 27, 1904, a very active member of his community to the last.

Rev. Boniface Verheyen, O. S. B., was the successor of Father Pirmine, from October, 1895, to midsummer, 1898. It was during his time, in May, 1896, that the cyclone struck Seneca. The church was severely damaged by the storm, but none of the other church property suffered. The loss was repaired at once, and in the year 1897, the congregation had sufficiently recovered to undertake the building of a new school. The foundation for the new school house had been laid in 1895, but, on account of the cyclone, its completion was delayed for one year. Father Boniface intended to build a school that would be large enough for all future times, and many a one, at the time, thought that the proportions of the building were extravagant. Of late years, however, it has often been regretted that the school was not built larger at that time.

Father Boniface was recalled as professor to the college at Atchison in the summer of 1898, and, after an interval of four months, during which the Rev. Winfrid Schmitt, O. S. B., was pastor, the Rev. Charles Stoeckle, O. S. B., succeeded him. The church had now become too small to hold the congregation, and Father Charles added the sanctuary, thus gaining a considerable amount of space. Father Charles was also the moving force in establishing the new parish at Kelly, thus creating an outlet for the overflow for which there was not sufficient room within the confines of the Seneca and the St. Benedict parishes. Father Charles, though always looking healthy and robust, had long been ailing. He finally submitted to an operation, which bfought about his death on April 14, 1903. He was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas Burke, O. S. B., who presided over the parish for three years. During Father Thomas' time the school made great progress, as he strained every nerve to make it accessible for every Catholic child.

In August, 1906, Father Thomas was succeeded by the Rev. Lawrence Theis, O. S. B., who came at the time when it had become necessary to put the finishing touch to the parish. Until this time, the second story of the school house had served as a hall for the different entertain- ments. Through Father Thomas' activity an enlargement of the school became an absolute necessity. Hence, the former hall space was partitioned off into four school rooms, thus providing each grade with its own room. This caused an increase in the number of teachers, so that the old dwelling of the sisters had to be replaced by a new and modern building, which was erected in 1907. The want of an entertainment hall was soon felt and the opinion gradually prevailed that a parish like Seneca could not well thrive without an adequate place for lawful recreation. The auditorium was built in 1909 and 1910. It is a stately structure and affords ample opportunity for dramatic performances and different kinds of amusements for young and old. An addition was also built to the pastor's residence in the year 1909. The work and worry connected with the erection of these buildings nearly proved too much of a strain for Father Lawrence's nerves. His pastorship had to be interrupted by a rest of eight months, from January to September, 1910. After his return to the parish, Father Lawrence stayed for two more years, completing the different kinds of work which he had begun. But his failing health made it imperative in the summer of 1912 to relieve him of the heavy burden. He is now pastor of a smaller parish in Atchison county.

Father Lawrence was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Sittenauer, O. S. B. Since the parish now possesses all the necessary buildings, the task as pastor will henceforth be comparatively easy, although even the upkeeping of these buildings requires a great amount of care and watchfulness. The ease, however, is only a comparative one. Priests who exercise the care of souls in a large parish, with a numerous school annexed, have no idle moments.


The Kelly parish was organized in the fall of 1901, by Rev. Charles Stoeckle, O. S. B., then pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul's Church at Seneca, and Alois Nolte, of the Seneca parish. The site for the first church was selected and the foundation laid. Rev. Father Edwin Kassens, O. S. B., of St. Benedict's College of Atchison, was appointed parish priest the following spring and held his first services on Sunday, March 16, 1902. The services were held in the district school building. Services in the school building continued until July 20, 1902, when the frame church building was completed. The original building was 24x52 feet. The first services were held in the new church August 3, 1902, and the organ from the school building was borrowed for the service. The new church was dedicated August 27, 1902, by the Rt. Rev. L. M. Fink, D.D., then bishop of the Leavenworth diocese, now deceased, assisted by Rev. P Boniface Verheyen, O. S. B., of Atchison, and Rev. P. Charles, O. S. B., of Seneca; Rev. Anthony Baar, O. S. B., of St. Mary's parish, at St. Benedict's, and Rev. Father Edwin, O. S. B., the parish pastor.

In the fall of 1903, the parochial school was completed and the first term began September 18, 1903, with an enrollment of twenty-seven boys and fourteen girls. In August, 1905, another room was added to the school, and living rooms for the parish teachers. At the present term of St. Bede's parochial school there are sixty-one boys and forty-one girls enrolled.

Rt. Rev. Thomas F. Lillis, D.D., then bishop of Leavenworth, now of Kansas City, confirmed the first class of nineteen, on June 19, 1905. The first two years Father Edwin lived at the college in Atchison and made weekly trips to minister to the parish. For a time he then lived in a room of the church, but in May, 1906, at a meeting of the men of the parish, it was decided to build a parish house. Instead, a residence and lots were purchased and has since been used as a parish house.

The first mission was held beginning August 29, 1906, by Rev. Vincent Trost, C. F. M., of Louisville, Ky. On March 8, 1909, the Universalist church building in Kelly was bought by St. Bede's parish and added to the north end of the church building, together with a ten-foot addition.

On January 12, 1913, the church building caught fire and burned to the ground, only a part of the church fixtures being saved. At a mass meeting of the parish members it was decided to build a new church edifice. The years of 1913 and 1914 were poor crop years and the present edifice stands, a monument to the personal sacrifice of the devout members of the parish and to the help of friends and neighbors in Nemaha county.

At the formal dedication which took place Sunday, October 10, 191 5, the Rt. Rev. John Ward, D.D., bishop of Leavenworth diocese, read the dedicatory mass and delivered the sermon. Rev. Mathias Stein, O. S. B., Atchison, was celebrant at the mass, and other priests assisted.

The Kelly church is one of the most beautiful in northeast Kansas. It is of Gothic style, 54x100 feet, and from the platform as you enter the church to top of cross it is 125 feet. The church is built of matt-faced pressed brick, trimmed in Algonita stone, which harmonize beautifully in a structure that is very pleasing to the eye. The immense tower of the church rests on footings many feet below the ground, and through the basement three-foot walls support the tower. The basement is well finished, lighted and well ventilated, and nicely arranged. A roomy chapel occupies the east half, with a large seating capacity that is utilized for parish social events. Kitchen rooms are provided and everything is arranged �for labor-saving and comfort.

The church itself is neatly finished in white, with nicely arranged sanctuary, roomy pews and choir loft. The church steeple contains a thousand-pound bell, whose musical notes call the members to worship, and on week days peals forth the hour to the countryside, morning, noon and evening.

This website created June 12, 2011 by Sheryl McClure.
� 2011 Kansas History and Heritage Project