Longtime parishioner reacts to church on the plains being named basilica

Updated April, 22, 2014

St. Fidelis Church on the plains of western Kansas has been named a minor basilica by the Vatican.

The 141-foot twin towers of the Cathedral of the Plains, as it was dubbed by presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan when visiting in 1912, stand out impressively in the small farming community of Victoria, Kansas off Interstate 70, about 170 miles from the Colorado border.

“I still become emotional when we talk about the honor of it becoming a basilica,” said Victoria resident, Ethel Younger, who served as church secretary for 32 years. “I am so very proud of our church and all it stands for. Now with the honor of it becoming a basilica, it makes it even more grand.”

In March, Salina Bishop Edward Weisenburger received word from the Vatican that the diocese’s application to name St. Fidelis a minor basilica had been granted. There are currently only 78 minor basilicas in the United States.

“St. Fidelis Church has long been a place of pilgrimage and prayer,” the bishop said. “Indeed many have been drawn to the mystery and love of God by spending time in this inspiring church.”

Clergy from the Capuchin fathers of the Pennsylvania Province of St. Augustine were invited to erect a church in the area by the bishop of Leavenworth, Kansas in 1878. When the two fathers arrived, they found an unfinished church, one vestment for mass, a box which served as an altar, and a trunk where the Blessed Sacrament was kept. In 1911, the Capuchin fathers, known as friars, dedicated the vast Romanesque limestone structure that stands today. Stained glass windows from Munich were installed in 1916, and Stations of the Cross, imported from Austria, were added in 1917. In 1971, it was placed in the National Register of Historic Places as a building of architectural significance. In 2008, it was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.

“What a tribute to our ancestors,” Younger said of her longtime church home.

Younger’s great-grandparents were among the original settlers to Victoria in 1876. Her great-grandfather, Andreas Dinkel, was one of three individuals that purchased the largest bell in the bell tower when the church was built, weighing in at more than 2,000 pounds.

“I’m so proud to be of German-Russian decent,” she continued. “And I thank God every day that I live in the wonderful town of Victoria, and for the beautiful house of God that we have.”

Bishop Weisenburger will dedicate the church—which continues to be served by the friars, and draw more than 16,000 visitors each year—on June 7. For more information, visit www.stfidelischurch.com.

COMING UP: From the wilderness to the Promised Land: Learn your faith in the SJV Lay Division

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One of the famous episodes in the Old Testament is the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. The descendants of Abraham, whom God promised land to come to his descendants, wander for 40 years before they enter that land. A time of great miracles, to be certain – the manna in the wilderness, the rock that gushed forth water. But also a time of hardship and death – many battles that were lost, plagues that come up on the people. All of which is why the wilderness is associated with a time of great testing in the Scriptures.

We may seem like we are in our own wilderness today, aimlessly wandering without a sense of where life is going. Know that we, too, at the Lay Division of the Seminary, particularly our Biblical and Catechetical School instructors, intimately felt this great testing this past academic year. For the first time ever, we had classes online, by sheer force of circumstance in a world of coronavirus restrictions. In many ways, we felt our own desert wondering – unable to see students in person, unable to have normal interactions with students, lecturing to a little dot on a computer screen, seeing black screens with everybody muted, with no idea if students were smiling, laughing, crying, sleeping, or whatever else may be! This was, in many respects, wandering in the wilderness institutionally. Thankfully, the one thing that we can say for certain is that all of our lives fall under God’s infinitely wise, lovingly providential hand. It’s not merely cliché to say that God will bring good out of evil, but a true statement. And so we trust. God knows, and God takes care of all those who are faithful. And God works all things for good for those who trust in Him.

This upcoming academic year will be the start of a slow reintegration of our classes into parishes. However, we will still keep an online presence, with half of our classes returning to in-person locations throughout the Archdiocese of Denver and half remaining online. Certainly one of the positives about teaching classes online, and perhaps the good that God will bring for us institutionally out of our wilderness of this past year, is that it allows for expansion to reach potential students who otherwise aren’t capable of attending our in-person classes. Given that, taking a class with us will never be easier! It doesn’t matter what part of Colorado you live in — you can take a class online with us!

If you’ve never heard of who we are, then let me briefly introduce our institution: we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique: not just the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings which study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with him in the Church that he established with the Precious Blood of Jesus. Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study – year long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody!

Classes for this upcoming year begin on Monday, Sept. 13. Visit sjvlaydivision.org to see all of the options for classes, locations/online times, information sessions, and to register. Make the choice to study with us to learn your faith and come to know and love Jesus Christ!