Pictured above are Msgr. John Hackenbroich (pastor of St. Mark's from 1941-1951) with several youth of the parish in front of the Marian grotto. Behind the grotto is the old rectory.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of the 1850's and the Homestead Act enticed many of these immigrants to the prairies. Despite the harshness of frontier life, worsened by a severe winter and an even more severe grasshopper plague in 1874, the settlements grew. As early as 1874, masses were being celebrated in St. Mark by Father John Schurz, who served many of the Catholic communities in and around Wichita. Since there was no church yet, masses were celebrated in people's homes.In the early 1870's, German immigrants began settling the area that was later known as St. Mark. Those early pioneers sought peace, freedom from religious discrimination, and good land to farm, all of which were scarce commodities in Germany at that time. They brought with them their heritage, a strong sense of family, determination, and faith in God.
By 1875, St. Mark parish had been established and a small frame church built on land donated by the August Wilkus family. This was the first building (other than a house) built in the entire town. Father Schurz became the first resident pastor a year later. By 1879, St. Mark had a rectory and the church had been enlarged to a seating capacity of 250. A decade later the church was too small for the 135 families which now belonged to the parish, so a new church was erected in 1885 and enlarged a year later. On Easter Sunday 1888, over 1,000 people attended mass at St. Mark. At St. Mark, the homily and confessions were said in German until the 1940's and World War II. German was even used in the school until the 1920's, when the state banned German from elementary schools because of the strong feelings after World War I.
The construction of the present church was begun June 18, 1903, with the blessing of the corner stone by Bishop Hennessy, "Soli Deo In Honorem S. Marci Ev. A.D. 1903" or (this church is dedicated) "To God alone, In Honor of St. Mark the Evangelist the Year of Our Lord 1903." Father Bernard Schmiehausen supervised the construction, which was completed in 1906. Much of the material for the new church came from the Wichita watch factory, which was purchased in 1900 for $4,516.50. The parish must have longed for their homeland, because the blueprints came directly from Germany. The church is 137' long, 55' wide, with 24' ceilings, a 30' nave and a 125' tall bell tower. The parishioners hauled usable material from the watch factory by horse or ox drawn cart and donated much of the labor on the construction. They also made yearly contributions from 1905 to 1908, and again in 1911, when the interior was redecorated.
In 1905, parishioners donated $100 per family for stained glass windows which were ordered from Mainz, Germany, and installed. Skilled laborers were hired for the woodworking and all the finish work on the inside. The massive wooden altar, pulpit, communion railings, and baptismal font were constructed out of white walnut or "butternut" at the Dubuque Altar Manufacturing Company and shipped by rail to Colwich. The statues on the high and side altars were ordered, as well as the Pieta and the exterior statue of St. Mark. The church was consecrated on February 25, 1906, by Bishop Hennessey. There were between 2,000 and 3,000 people in attendance. The total cost of the church was $35,124.54.
As stated earlier, the windows came directly from Germany in 1905. The "Hl" before each saint's name is an abbreviation for the German word "Heilig," which means "Holy." On the east side of the south wall is the first window of Hl. Familie or the Holy Family. The next windows follow from the back of the church to the front along the east wall: Hl. Anna, Hl. Bernhard, Sorrowful Jesus (above confessional), Hl. Joseph, and Hl. Paulus (Paul). On the east side of the high altar is Hl. Matthias and on the west is Hl. Marcus (Mark). Then, on the west side of the church starting in the front is Hl. Petrus (Peter), Assumption of Mary (above door), Sorrowful Mother (above confessional), Hl. Nikolaus (Nicholas), Hl. Wendelin, and on the south wall is "Die Taufe" or "The Baptism" of Jesus by John the Baptist.
In 1911, the ceiling paintings were added in the nave. They were painted on canvas and later applied to the ceiling. They are Elizabeth of Hungary, John-Evangelist, Matthew-Evangelist, Aloysius-Patron of Youth, Rose of Lima-Patron of Young Women, Luke-Evangelist, Mark-Evangelist, and Boniface-Apostle of Germans. Along the center of the nave there are three ornate circles, from these used to hang Coleman lanterns, although most of the masses were celebrated during the daylight hours because there was no electricity. The parish added electricity in 1933. The church had a coal furnace and it was not unusual for mass to be said in the basement, because it was too cold in the church. The altars are all original, only the angels on the high altar were added later. We have six relics at St. Mark, all with letters of authenticity for them: The Holy Cross, two of St. Mark, St. Boniface, St. Peter, and St. Paul. Some of these relics were listed on the church inventory as early as 1894. The stations of the cross are original to the 1911 interior decorating.Most of the statues were purchased when the church was built. On the high altar is Mary the Sorrowful Mother and St. John the Disciple. On the west side at the side altar is Mary the Blessed Mother with the Child Jesus and next to her is Our Lady of Perpetual Help. On the east side, at the other side altar, is St. Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the back of church by the staircase is St. Anthony of Padua, and on the east side by the baptismal font is the Pieta', with Mary holding Jesus after he was taken down from the cross after being crucified. Our patron Saint Mark is in the vestibule to greet everyone as they enter the church.
In 1926, the year of St. Mark's Golden Jubilee, the choir finally received its much anticipated organ. However, it was too big to fit so the choir loft had to be enlarged. It was a hand pump organ, the best they could afford. The organ still has its original ivory keys and lacquered wooden stops. The organ had more knobs and foot pedals added during the restoration done in 1985. The organ is still all mechanical with the exception of an electric bellows that was added in 1955. The parish has found that the architecture of the church is a wonderful acoustic vehicle for our organ.
In 1983, the interior was redecorated under the direction of Monsignor George Schmidt. The walls, statuary, and altars were refinished, and in May 1991, St. Mark was placed on the National Registry of Historical Monuments.
In 2010, St. Mark’s Church was renovated with Msgr. John Gilsenan as pastor. The interior of the church needed to be repainted (along with plaster repair) but the Capital Improvements Committee had also been charged with bringing the entire church back to the period look of the early 1900’s. This involved purchasing pews that would look like the original pews that had been removed from the church in the redecoration of the early 1960’s. The Capital Improvements Committee knew that the complete renovation would also include flooring that would enhance the decorations done by the artist over the main altar and in the main body of the church. Our committee’s three-fold purpose then became the artistic restoration of the main altar murals and the wall and ceiling decorations throughout the church, the purchase and installation of period pews, and the purchase and installation of flooring to complement the entire historic look of the church.
The goals of the parishioners were accomplished with the completion of the renovation in June of 2010. The finished look of the decorations along with the pews combined with the type of flooring installed (carpeting in the aisles and vinyl wood planks under the pews) reminds one of the rich architectural histories of our parish church building. The colors and styles of the wall and ceiling decorations add just enough of the look of the time when the church building was originally finished around 1906. The wall colors were picked from a part of the original church decoration that was covered over by a stairwell in the 1920’s when the choir loft was added. That set the color pallet for the entire color scheme in the 2010 renovation. The murals above the main altar were removed and replaced and kept as close as possible to the originals. The vinyl flooring planks have even caused people to bend down and feel them to see if they are wood or not! One thing was added: the statue surround that holds the statue of St. Mark in the vestibule. We felt that this would be the perfect spot for St. Mark the Evangelist to be placed and to be seen by all who enter and leave our beautiful church building.
Over the main entry door is a statue of St. Mark. It arrived after the building was complete, so that a hole had to be cut from inside the bell tower so St. Mark could be placed in his niche. The original roof was slate. During the 1983 refurbishing of the church, the roof and steeple were refinished in copper. The refurbishing of St. Mark was made possible with a very generous memorial from Agnes Meyer.
To the north of the church is the cemetery. There is a Children's Memorial, a Priest Memorial, and a CYO Memorial (Catholic Youth Organization). Several of the priests who served as pastors, or young men from the parish who then later became priests, are buried or have grave markers there.
Preservation of heritage is important to the St. Mark community. For many in the parish who are descendants of the early settlers, it means a link with their ancestry; but, for all parishioners, it symbolizes the continuation of a strong parish spirit and a viable faith.Standing a few yards from St. Mark Church is a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The grotto and a very special tradition of devotion to Mary began over 50 years ago with an old German priest, Monsignor John Hackenbroich. His own special devotion to Mary, and the devastation of World War II, motivated Msgr. Hackenbroich to start the devotion of saying the rosary before Sunday mass and ending mass with the hymn, "Mary, Help Our Valiant Soldiers." By the time the war ended in 1945, 47 men from St. Mark had served. Several had been badly wounded, some had been decorated for their valor, and one had spent two years as a prisoner of war, but all had survived. In thanksgiving for the safe return of our men, the grotto was built. Petrified wood, quartz, and granite from Monsignor Hackenbroich's collection was used, along with rocks from parishioners, stones brought back from overseas, and limestone from the Flint Hills of Kansas. Again, during the Korean and Viet Nam wars, members of our parish served in the military. Again the parish offered the rosary for their safe return. Again several were wounded, but all survived. The tradition of the Sunday rosary may have been initiated in times of crisis, but Marian devotion at St. Mark has continued and thrived. St. Mark families continue to take their turns leading the rosary before each Sunday and weekday mass, as they have done in the past.
Msgr. George Schmidt, pastor, began the process to include St. Mark Church on the registry of historical places. In May of 1991, St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church was named to the National Register of Historical Places. Only one other parish in the Diocese of Wichita holds this honor. St. Mark Church is the first Sedgwick County property outside of Wichita to be named to the National Historical Register.
In the year 2000, St. Mark parish celebrated it's 125th anniversary. It has been enriched by the addition of many new families in recent years. As the parish grew, so did our needs for improved facilities to meet its educational and social responsibilities. The parish purchased 14 acres for expansion and on December 2, 2002, construction began on a new Parish Life Center. It houses parish offices, eight classrooms for religious education, and a hall for parish events. Bishop Thomas Olmstead dedicated the Parish Life Center on October 12, 2003. Father Shawn McKnight and Father David Lies were pastors during the construction phase and we are grateful for their guidance in making plans a reality.
Not all parishioners share the German ancestry, but they do share an appreciation for pastoral life, belief in the importance of family, and a strong faith in God. These are the common bonds that bind together the members of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish.