Remembering Our Past
Nearly 55 years ago, when the parish of St. Joseph's in Hays had grown to approximately 1600 families, it became necessary for another Catholic church in the city. In 1952, Rev. Alfred Carney, OFM. Cap., then pastor of St Joseph’s received canonical permission to erect a church/school complex in "east" Hays. Construction began in 1953 on land donated by the Peter C. Dechant family. The cornerstone was laid on October 4, 1953 by Bishop Frank A. Thill. The auditorium was designed to seat 750 people and was to be used as a "temporary church" until a church and rectory could be built. Also included in the structure were twelve classrooms, cafeteria, parish meeting rooms and a convent addition for the Sisters of Agnes, many of whom were teachers in the school.
On Sunday, May 30, 1954 the dedication ceremony of the St. Mary's Church and school was inaugurated with a solemn procession of the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from St. Joseph’s Church to the new church. On May 31st, the actual dedication and blessing took place.
Architects for the complex were Shaughnessy and Bower of Kansas and contractors were O.D. Milligan Company of Manhattan. The altars, as well as the pews, were made by Herman J. Dreiling of Hays. The stained glass windows were made and installed by the Emil Frei Stained Glass Window Company of St. Louis. The statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which was processed from St. Joseph’s Church, was installed over the high altar of St. Mary’s. The statue was hand-carved of Brazilian wood in Portugal by the internationally known sculptor Hilis Arnold. The statue, called the “Dim of Fatima” now adorns the side of the Tabernacle. The statue of St. Joseph and Sacred Heart of Jesus, made of marble from Italy, were originally over the side altars. The side altars have been removed for the sake of liturgical renovation, but the statues remain.
St. Mary’s was served by the Capuchin Fathers for thirteen years. On September 21, 1967, St. Mary’s was given canonical status as a separate parish and the Diocese of Salina was given the responsibility for the parish’s pastoral leadership. Bishop Cyril J. Vogel assigned Immaculate Heart of Mary’s first pastor, Msgr. Armand Girard. At the same time, a house located north of the church was purchased to serve as a rectory and parish office.
In 1975, Father Jerome Morgan replaced Msgr. Girard as Pastor. During his pastorate, the convent was remodeled to accommodate parish offices, reception area and meeting rooms. In 1981, an activity center was added.
In 1982, Father Roger Meitl became pastor; and in 1984, Father Albert Dwyer assumed pastoral leadership until 1988 when the Very Rev. Melvin T. Long was appointed pastor. During the two years of his pastorate, plans were initiated for the construction of the new “gathering space.” In 1990, Rev. Donald D. Zimmerman was assigned as pastor. Within the first six months, the gathering space was completed, one-half of the monies donated from the estate of Paul and Euphrosine (Roth) Wasinger and the other half from the people of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish. A natural stone altar was a gift of and memorial to Anna Freitag. The Tabernacle stand of the same stone was a gift and a memorial to Al H. and Frances Rupp.
In 1995, the health ministry of Immaculate Heart of Mary was established, promoting wellness and spiritual support. The Parish nurse and volunteers offer blood pressure checks, personal health counseling and a variety of other services.
In 1998, St. Joseph’s Tri-Parish Elementary School relocated to the St. Mary’s Complex and was renamed Holy Family Elementary School. It serves as an elementary school for all the parishioners in the Heartland Parish Community.
The parish has grown to over 1700 households. It is an active and vibrant faith community with hundreds of people, led by a team of dedicated staff members involved in a variety of ministries. As in years past, the parishioners of St. Mary’s are called to meet the challenge of change as we prepare to build a new church. We ask God’s blessing on this project as we move forward in faith, laying the foundation for the future.