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HIstory of St. John's Catholic Church

Many Bohemians moved into the area north of Immaculate Conception Church in the year 1886.  These people had traveled from Central Europe and came to Kansas via Czech settlements in Chicago, Omaha, and Humboldt, Nebraska.  There was no land to be had in these areas, so they were encouraged to go west to Rawlins County, Kansas.  The Bohemians continued to speak in their native language and found it difficult to move into the English speaking community of Immaculate Conception parish.  As time went on, a Bohemian speaking priest would come once a year to hear confessions, and eventually the Mass was offered in both English and Czech.  In 1910, Fr. Placide Wolker, fresh out of the seminary, was sent to Lisle, Illinois to learn the Bohemian language.  He was then sent to pastor Immaculate Conception and Sts. Cyril and Methodius parishes.  Because of the large numbers of Bohemians, and the availability of a Bohemian speaking priest, the seeds for a new “Bohemian” church were being planted.

The Bohemians, longing for a church of their own, were lead by John Skolout and Fr. Placide in a project that would, when finished, represent the permanence of the churches back home.  It would be a brick structure that would be a monument to their faith and a reminder of their homeland.  Fr. Placide helped John organize and raise funds for this new church.  In the early spring of 1916, a collection was taken up that was later listed in the dedication book of the new church.

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While they were building the church, John Skolout held a bazaar and a dance in his barn to raise funds for the project.  John also donated five acres of his Burntwood Township land on which the church was built.  The deed of this property was officially recorded in the Rawlins County Courthouse on June 6, 1917. 

 

​The land lies in a five-acre tract on the NE ¼ of the NE ¼ of Section 2-2S-35W.  Another five acres was given in the NE ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 35-1S-35W for a cemetery.  The site chosen for the church is one of the most elevated spots in the area, and once the church was completed, it was visible from parts of the parish community, and in some cases, many miles beyond.

 

The architect that drew up the plans for the church was Mr. C.A. Smith from Salina, Kansas.  The building contractor, Mont J. Green, was from Manhattan, Kansas, and he employed Mr. C.H. Bixler to be in charge of a crew of six men.  They lived in a contractors shack built on the same property as the church, and Mrs. Bixler, wife of the crew foreman, cooked for the men.  Mary Skolout also helped feed the crew and often did their laundry by hand or with a foot-powered wood tub washer.

 

Excavations for the basement and foundation began on June 10, 1916, and the cornerstone was laid on July 16th of the same year.  Work continued all summer into late fall with the farmers of the area hauling materials from Beardsley, eight miles away.  They hauled eight railroad cars of red brick from the railroad siding where a fee was paid to keep the car on the siding until it was unloaded.  Many stories have been told of farmers leaving as early as 4:00 a.m. with their team and wagon to pick up brick, lumber, and other materials in Beardsley.  The materials would be carefully loaded in the wagon, hauled to the church site, and then unloaded and stacked.  Often it would take as long as four hours to make the full trip, where upon they could return home and begin their days work.  A comment was made by Fr. Jordan in a history that he wrote in 1957 that said, “After 40 years the trails made by the wagons are still plainly visible on the southwest side of the church property.”​

Many men helped during construction of the church, which utilized their many skills whenever needed.  The crew was kept supplied with materials at all times.  Even during harvest, the farmers were willing to drop their work and haul supplies to keep the project going.

 

The building was completed in the fall of 1916, but it was too late at that time of year to hold the dedication, so they waited to furnish the inside until the following spring.  Postcards were sent out to parish families in October of 1916, asking the young girls to help wash to floors in the church so that it would be clean for the celebration.  It is thought that some sort of parish blessing or informal dedication took place at the church before the winter months. 

 

When the church was completed, it was 98 feet long and 45 feet wide with the tower reaching a height of 85 feet.  Inside the tower, three bells were hung which weighed 1900, 1200, and 600 pounds.  The church was built in the Roman architectural style, and no additions have ever been made to this original structure.

The foundation was built of concrete with a pebble dashed finish, and the walls were erected of tile block and then covered with red pressed brick.  A large basement was finished which held two Torrid Zone furnaces.  There were two storage rooms in addition to the coal room, which was in the center of the basement west of the furnace room.  A small chute in the foundation made it easy to scoop the coal into the coal room.

Mr. Josef Svoboda of Kewaunee, Wisconsin furnished the entire church in the spring of 1917.  As an employee of Mr. Svoboda, Joseph Kanak was sent to St. John’s Church to measure areas of the church they were to furnish.  After going back to Wisconsin to help build the altars, Mr. Kanak came back to Kansas to help assemble them.  The high altar was purchased for the church by the Catholic Workman organization.  Joe Pochop constructed the base on which it stands.  The high altar was painted pure white and was richly decorated with gold leaf, and all the pillars were an onyx imitation.  The two side altars corresponded to the high altar in all details, as did the pulpit, canopy, and sanctuary railing.  The canopy was directly above the pulpit and worked like a sound system.  The priest’s voice could be heard clearly while he spoke in a normal tone.

 

The pews and wood finishings of the sanctuary were of medium stained oak, as were the presider’s chair, baptismal font, and the confessional.  The baptismal font was placed in the northeast corner of the church by the choir steps, and the confessional was in the southeast corner.  A Hinne’s Grand Chapel Organ was placed in the balcony.

 

The architecture of the ceiling called for beams running both directions, that formed square panels.  A picture or religious symbol was painted in each of these panels.  Those symbols were:  (Center row, front to back) Mitre and keys; Lamb resting upon a book; Star; Cross, Anchor and Heart; a Triangle; and a Lyre;  (North row, front to back)  Emblem of the “Catholic Workman”; Sacred Heart of Jesus; Nativity group. The Instruments of Christ’s passions; Requisites for Mass; and Viaticum; (South row, front to back) The Ten Commandments; Emblem of Death; Scales of Justice; Eternity; Sacred Heart of Mary; and The Name of Mary.

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The windows throughout the church were made of art glass and were furnished by the St. Josef Art Glass Company of St. Joseph, Missouri.  The twelve large windows were designed to represent full figures of saints and are shown and described later in this book.  The small windows portray busts of saints, religious emblems, and artistic designs.  Each window bears the name of the person or persons that donated that particular window.  Names ending in “ova” signify a donation by a woman, or a donation given in her name.  The second window from the back on the south side of the church was originally given by Theresia Holub, but it was broken and replaced by a piece from another window in the choir loft that was given by J.F. Kletchka.  The windows which read, “Na Pamatku” mean “In Memory”, the windows which read “Panny Osady” mean “Single Women of the Parish”, and the windows which read “Mladency Osady” mean “single Men of the Parish.”

 

​The Stations of the Cross were finished in stone and gold with the figures appearing in relief and painted in natural colors.  Originally, the descriptions of each station were written in Czechoslovakian, but according to Frank Vrbas, these descriptions were somehow pulled off to expose the English form of the words underneath.  Frank seemed to think that even at the time that the church was being built, the parishioners knew that someday the English language would be the predominant language spoken.

 

​A fence was placed around the entire church property.  The wrought iron fence stood on the east side of the church property much closer to the road than it stands today.  Wire fencing was used for the other three sides of the fence to completely surround the church property and to protect against roaming cattle in those early days.  This arrangement proved inconvenient for automobiles, so the wire fence was taken down a little at a time, and the wrought iron fence was completely pulled up.  This iron fence was then reassembled around the church itself on the south, east, and north sides.  Part of the wire fence was placed on the west side of the church but this was later taken out for easier access to the fuel tank.

The dedication of the church took place on May 31, 1917.  Bishop Cunningham represented the Concordia Diocese, Fr. John Hahn, from Orleans, Nebraska, preached the sermon in English, and Fr. Procopis Neuzel, from Lisle, Illinois, preached the sermon in Bohemian.  Fr. Placide sang in the choir on Dedication Day, and according to Richard Faimon, Fr. Placide had to go down to the sanctuary to help clarify the order of the Mass for the presiding bishop.  This confusion is easily understood when you consider that the Mass was being spoken in Latin, English, and Czech.

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Want to learn more about St. John's Church?  Consider ordering a 100th Anniversary hardback book or a DVD!  These are packed full of information, pictures, and stories of the history of St. John's!  Please fill out the contact information below to order!

The dedication of the church took place on May 31, 1917.  Bishop Cunningham represented the Concordia Diocese, Fr. John Hahn, from Orleans, Nebraska, preached the sermon in English, and Fr. Procopis Neuzel, from Lisle, Illinois, preached the sermon in Bohemian.  Fr. Placide sang in the choir on Dedication Day, and according to Richard Faimon, Fr. Placide had to go down to the sanctuary to help clarify the order of the Mass for the presiding bishop.  This confusion is easily understood when you consider that the Mass was being spoken in Latin, English, and Czech.

 

The first church committeemen were John Kacirek, John Skolout, Joseph Faimon, and Steve Cahoj.  The first Sacristan was John Skolout.  He was followed by Frank Musalk, Fred Robrecht, Oscar McKain, Elmer Burk, Stan Faimon, Virgie Burk, Pat Skolout, and now Cheryl Wilkinson and Susie McCain.

 

In the early days, the men sat on the north side of the church, and the women and small children sat on the south side of the church.  Later, the adults sat in the back and the school children sat up front with boys on one side and girls on the other.  Mass was celebrated one week at St. John’s and the next week at Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  Immaculate Conception parish still had Mass once a month.

 

Even though the Mass was in Latin, the universal language of the Church, the Gospel, homily, and other prayers were said in the language of the people.  Since St. John’s parish consisted mainly of Bohemians, only Czech was spoken in the early years.  Even the choir sang in Czech.  It was soon necessary to add German and English homilies, Gospels, and prayers as people began to join the parish.  It was not uncommon for a Mass to last three hours or more, and often families would bring lunches for the children because it was so long.  Eventually, the children were speaking English in school and there were fewer Czechoslovakian speaking priests, so English gradually became the language of the people.  At this time, the choir did all of the singing in Latin.

 

Originally, there was a small stable, just large enough for one horse.  It stood just south of where the garage stands today.  Usually the priest would come by train to Beardsley and then either walk or get a ride to the church.  Once in a while, a parishioner from Sts. Cyril and Methodius or from St. John’s would pick up the priest in Herndon at the Friary where they were living.  In 1921, Fr. Casimir Debef was given a car.  From that time on, the two rural parishes cooperated together to provide the priest with an automobile.

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