Longtime parishioner reacts to church on the plains being named basilica

Julie Filby

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: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson