Move marks end of era at St. Joseph
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
They all have moved many times before, sometimes halfway across the country. But this move is different.
The three Capuchin priests still living in the St. Joseph friary in Hays are busy this week moving their belongings, but not that far.
Fathers Earl Befort, pastor of three small area Catholic parishes, and retired priests Father Canice Froehlich and Father Felix Petrovsky will join eight other Capuchins at the St. Fidelis Friary, approximately 10 miles from Hays in Victoria.
The Mid-American Province of Capuchins announced in the spring of 2012 it would be leaving St. Joseph -- a parish the Capuchins started in 1878 -- in late summer 2013.
For the first time in 135 years, the ministerial care of St. Joseph Parish will be returned to the Diocese of Salina. Befort has served as St. Joseph's pastor since 2012. Now, another familiar face in Hays, Father Fred Gatschet from Fort Hays State University's Catholic Campus Center, part of the Diocese of Salina, will take over as pastor of St. Joseph's.
"We come to do a job and then, when we have done what we can do, we move on and let others carry it on," Father Charles Polifka, Capuchin provincial minister, said at the time of the announcement about the Capuchins leaving St. Joseph's. "It takes humility to acknowledge that it is time to move on."
Humility and service are two of the staples of the Capuchin Franciscan order. That's why Befort, Froehlich and Petrovsky all looked at the move as business as usual.
"I'll miss the wonderful people here," said Froehlich, who will turn 93 in August, "but it's not that far."
Froehlich and Petrovsky, 83, are natives of Pennsylvania who grew to appreciate Hays and western Kansas after being assigned to the area as young priests many years ago.
Befort was born in Ellis County and grew up in the midst of its strong German heritage.
"I don't mind moving somewhere else," said Befort, who will continue his pastoral duties in Schoenchen, Antonino and Catharine, as well as his positions as chaplain at Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School and president of the TMP alumni association.
For Befort, it's going home in some respects. He is a 1961 graduate of St. Francis Seminary, formerly run in what is now the St. Francis friary. The friary underwent extensive remodeling within the past year in anticipation of more priests moving there.
Save for his nine years of training back east, the 70-year-old Befort has never lived away from Ellis County -- he was born in Schoenchen and watched the current friary at St. Joseph be built in 1971.
He knows the St. Joseph Parish will never be the same without the brown-robed Capuchins.
"I'm sure it won't," he said, "but it will take on its own flavor with the diocesan priests. It'll be fine."
"The Capuchins started this parish, so there's a long history; it's tied to our history," he said. "But I feel good we're leaving the parish in good condition."