Basilica celebrates a legacy of faith
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
VICTORIA -- Several people commented it's not often you get to participate in a Mass with three bishops.
It's not often a church is named a minor basilica, either. And that's the reason three of the four bishops of the Catholic dioceses in Kansas were on hand for Saturday's designation of St. Fidelis Catholic Church as a minor basilica.
St. Fidelis is No. 78 in the United States to receive the minor basilica designation, and the first in Kansas.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a church wanting to be designated as a minor basilica "must stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy and have a certain renown throughout the diocese." The historical value and worthiness of its art also are considered.
When he learned on Feb. 21 that St. Fidelis' application had been approved by the Vatican in Rome, Bishop Edward Weisenburger of the Diocese of Salina, of which St. Fidelis is a member, asked several other bishops to help celebrate the Mass.
Bishop John B. Brungardt of the Diocese of Dodge City made sure his calendar was cleared, as he has a special connection to St. Fidelis. His great-grandfather, Balthasar Brungardt, helped build the St. Fidelis church more than 100 years ago.
Bishop Carl Kemme was ordained May 1 as the bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and had visited St. Fidelis on his way to Denver in the early 1980s when he was attending a seminary in St. Louis.
"We saw those two huge spires from the (interstate)," Kemme said of the 141-foot twin steeples. "So we decided to stop and see the church, and I can remember thinking it was so beautiful."
So when Weisenburger asked Kemme to participate in the designation ceremony, Kemme said although his first month as a bishop was a busy one, he was glad his schedule allowed him to come to western Kansas for the day Saturday.
Flanked by an honor guard from Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus members from all across the state, the bishops and more than 30 priests were led into the church by two deacons from Hays.
The deacons carried the two symbols of a minor basilica -- an umbrella and a small bell on a long pole.
Both were used in ancient times and still serve as symbols of minor basilicas today.
"Father (John) Schmeidler asked if I would be available to carry one of them," said Steve Urban, a deacon at St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church in Hays who carried the umbrella during the procession. "I thought it was a real honor, definitely willing to do that."
Weisenburger read the decree from the Vatican and congratulated the parish of St. Fidelis for carrying on its long "legacy of faith."
The historical event was the culmination of an extensive application process that began in February of 2013 by Father Jeff Ernst, then pastor of St. Fidelis.
It took less than five months from the submission of the application in September to earn the designation in February.
Ernst, now pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Lawrence, returned to Victoria Saturday for the minor basilica dedication.
"I love coming back here," he said during a luncheon that fed between 800 and 900 people. "I like the rural environment, and of course, the people."