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.