Influential people in the starting and maintaining of St. Joseph School
The three chief influences for starting and continuing St. Joseph Catholic School are Fr. John Moeder, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters, and the sacrifices and hard work of our parish families.
The first of these chief influences is Fr. John Moeder who became known as Msgr. Moeder on Dec. 13th,1963 . He served as the shepherd of our parish from Oct. 9, 1942 – Nov. 9, 1955. He was known throughout the McPherson community for his fire and brimstone sermons. He loved his Catholic faith, wanting to make sure our Catholic identity was taught and passed on to future generations.
Fr. Moeder was an innovative and charismatic man who could get things done. A few of his accomplishments while he was here were to build a new Catholic Church, complete with a new bell, and a new Catholic School. At his coming, the parish numbered about 65 families with almost 300 persons. McPherson was growing due to the oil refinery and many fine industries making their home in McPherson. The first church, which had been enlarged in 1936, was now too small. In 1947, plans were made and funds were collected for a new brick church. Bishop Mark K. Carroll solemnly blessed the new church building on Sunday, Oct. 2, 1949. Fr. Moeder was instrumental in encouraging the high school youth, the San Jose Club, to raise the money to buy a bell for the church which they did. His concern turned immediately to building a parish school, wanting a Catholic education for the parish children.
He was experienced in this area. He had served as an assistant in the diocesan school chancery while a curate at St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1935. On Jan. 14, 1936, Bishop Schwertner appointed Fr. Moeder pastor of St. James, Augusta. On Sept. 8 1937, the catholic school there was reopened under the guidance of Fr. Moeder. On September 15 of that same year, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters were sent to teach there. Here begins the history of these sisters being invited to teach in the parishes where Fr. Moeder served.
After a brief stint as Chaplain in Newton’s, St. Mary’s Convent, Fr. Moeder was appointed pastor of St. Joseph in McPherson in October of 1942. He supervised the building of the new school at 200 S. Chestnut with the help of 3 parish leaders as committeemen: Paul Eisenbart, Cecil Reffner, and R.R. Blubaugh. Construction started in May and was complete in September, although it was not ready for the opening of school on Sept. 8. Makeshift classrooms were used until September 21st, when the new classrooms were used for the first time. Bishop Carroll on Oct. 30, 1955, the Diamond Jubilee (75 years) of St. Joseph Church, dedicated the new school. Since Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters had worked at previous parishes where Fr. Moeder served, it was a natural fit for him to ask the Adorers to also come here. Fr. Moeder was assigned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Colwich on November 9, 1955, just days after St. Joseph Catholic School was dedicated.
Fr. Moeder’s dedication to Catholic education, his charisma and innovative abilities, and his association with the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters, gave our school the foundation of greatness on which we still build today.
Our second chief influence is the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters. Sister M. Catherine, Sister M. Coletta, Sister M. Fridolin, and Sister Elizabeth Ann were the first 4 sisters to staff St. Joseph Catholic School. Among the 18 sisters who taught here, Sister Hildegarde Leiker served as principal for 20 years. The Adorers taught here until May, 1975.
The Precious Blood Sisters were asked to come to the Wichita Diocese in Kansas in 1933 by Bishop Schwertner to teach. Their mission to minister Christ’s presence in the world and to witness to God’s love was the perfect fit for our new Catholic school, intermingling academics with morals and strong discipline. They established the foundation for high scholastic achievement, which is still maintained today. The school has been accredited by the state since 1956.
The sisters’ dedication to serving the poor, the oppressed and the deprived still rings true in our school today. Since the mid 1980’s, our diocese has been dedicated to a stewardship way of life. All families of any social class are encouraged to attend St. Josephs, tithing according to their own family income. Because of this, tuition is not charged; alleviating the reason poorer families cannot afford Catholic School Education. (As a side note, a token tuition of $35 per family per year was charged in 1977. Total school expenses that year were $27,800.)
Our faculty and students today participate in service projects to help the poor in our own community and throughout the world. Special food altars are set up during November and during Lent to provide food for our local food bank. The students host children from the Angel Tree of life during Advent, raising money by extra chores done at home, from which gifts are bought. Our families support the mission work of the church through the Holy Childhood Association Lenten Rice Bowl sacrifices. Many other mission projects are undertaken as local, national, and world needs arise.
The third characteristic of the sisters that we embellish is that of adoration. Each class K-6 attends Mass twice a week with our morning pre-K class attending one day a week. On the last Friday of the month, Mass is preceded by benediction. During the seasons of Advent and Lent, we gather as a community on Monday mornings starting our day with a prayer service. The school prays as a community each afternoon before school is dismissed, utilizing our intercom system. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is introduced to the children in Kindergarten, helping the children through a hands-on-approach to establish a relationship with the Good Shepherd. Our parish hosts adoration for 48 hours weekly. Our second graders make a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament each Wednesday right after Mass. Twice a year, at the beginning of Advent and Lent, the parish hosts an extra day of adoration. Classes frequently sign up for a time of adoration to introduce the children to this special way of coming to know Jesus.
The value of strong academic education intermingled with good moral upbringing, dedication to serving the poor, and adoring our Lord are influences the sisters brought to us that are still alive in our school today.
The third chief influence on our school is the sacrifice and hard work of the parish families. This sacrifice goes back to the time when the church property in the 200 block of South Chestnut was first deeded to the Roman Catholic Church on Oct. 13, 1879. The first church building was erected in the early part of 1880, under the direction of Father Nicholas Fowler. St. Joseph was a mission parish at that time, as Fr. Fowler resided in Florence. Over the years, until 1937, St. Joseph switched back and forth from being a weekday mission church to a Sunday mission church being served by many priests from other central Kansas towns. At its lowest point, the McPherson mission numbered 5 families, about 15 people. Our parish really began to flourish with the opening of the oil industry in McPherson in 1927. It had grown enough by June of 1937, that Fr. Michael O’Donovan was appointed as the first resident pastor and a permanent rectory was built near the church. It was after Fr. John Moeder arrived in 1942 that the Catholic population multiplied calling for the new church on South Chestnut to be built in 1949, with the Catholic School being completed 6 years later in 1955.
The parish families made great sacrifices to build a new church and school in six years time, making sure they had the best there was to have at the time. The Altar Society cleaned and decorated what would become the home for the sisters, buying new furniture and welcoming them on a very hot August 15, 1955.
The parish continued to grow. At Christmas Eve Masses in the late 1970’s, the church became so crowded that “the pews were packed like sardines!” The aisles were full from the front of the altar to the back of the church. Because of fire laws, it became necessary to issue reservation tickets to attend Midnight Mass!
By 1985, there were 300 families and 1100 members in the parish. The parish bought property at 520 E. Northview where the school and shell of the church were completed in May of 1991, under the direction of Fr. Doug Campbell. The school was completed first due to a sizable donation from the Mingenback Foundation which required the funds be used for educational purposes. The first day of class in our new school was May 19, 1991. Mass was held in the gymnasium with the 5th and 6th graders setting up the altar and chairs in the gym each Friday afternoon and parishioners taking them down on Sunday after Mass. Giving up their beloved sanctuary to attend Mass in a gymnasium was a huge sacrifice for our parishioners. Talk about sacrificial love!
1996 brought the Builders of Faith Campaign, organized to raise the capital necessary to complete our sanctuary. Again the parishioners were called to go above the call of stewardship, to dig deeper and to sacrifice to make this happen. “We cannot all give the same amount, but we can sacrifice equally” was the challenge placed before the parishioners and again they took on the challenge. The sanctuary was completed and Bishop Eugene Gerber dedicated the church on June 1, 1997.
In addition to the financial sacrifices of our parish families, hours of time and loads of talent have been donated to our school making it the top-notch school it is today. To keep the school structure in great shape, men and women alike have worked to pave the parking lot, fix the leaks in the roof, tape the gymnasium floor for basketball, paint the classrooms, refurbish the kitchen, and most recently beautify the sanctuary with new paint adding to the atmosphere of prayer and adoration in the church.
The facility was again remodeled in 2010 with funds from the Spirit is Building campaign. This brought the addition of the beautiful adoration chapel and bell tower and a renovation of the current gym into a parish hall. The school also gained a new wing of classrooms, gymnasium, library, atrium, service kitchen and commons area.
We couldn't fulfill our mission to “educate the total person in the image of Jesus Christ” without the unity of our dedicated parents, the support of our parish families and the many sacrifices of our staff. Parents and parishioners alike have donated their time to help as teacher aides in the classrooms. Our parents organize and work major fundraisers like the pumpkin patch and Oktoberfest inviting the McPherson community into our school to celebrate with us. Each year our pre-kindergarten and kindergarten parents build a float for our city All School’s Day parade, normally incorporating God into the theme, witnessing to God’s love in the world. It is in preparing for these events that a sense of community is built, forging friendships between parents that will last a lifetime.
Each era has brought a need to sacrifice. We will be called, as parishioners of old, to “make equal sacrifices” so that we can day by day continue to build up the Body of Christ, witness to God’s love, and walk as compassionate companions.
Information was gathered from Mrs. Belen Olson, volunteer historian of St. Joseph Parish. Information was gleaned from:
1. The McPherson Sentinel, November 15, 1955
2. 1954 Kitchen Kapers, sponsored by the St. Joseph Rosary and Altar Society
3. Builders of Faith, Newsletter No. 1 of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, March 4, 1996
4. Early Catholicity in Kansas and History of the Diocese of Wichita, by the Rev. John M. Moeder, J.C.D., Copyright 1937, Diocesan Chancery Office, Wichita, KS
5. History of the Diocese of Wichita, by Father John M. Moeder, J.C.D., Copyright 1963