By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
VICTORIA -- Long known as the Cathedral of the Plains, St. Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria officially has been named a minor basilica.
Bishop Edward Weisenburger, bishop of the Diocese of Salina, of which St. Fidelis is a member, received news from the Vatican in Rome earlier this month the parish's request to become a minor basilica had been granted.
In 2011, St. Fidelis parishioners celebrated the 100th anniversary of the church -- a sprawling 24,000-square-foot structure that seats more than a thousand people -- just three years after it was named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas in 2008.
Also listed on the national Register of Historic Places, St. Fidelis draws thousands of visitors each year, many coming from Interstate 70 after seeing two matching 141-foot high steeples tower high into the skyline.
Father John Schmeidler, pastor of St. Fidelis, thinks the new designation will bring even more visitors to the church.
"When people hear it's a basilica, they just like to see them," he said. "And there are different special blessings for visiting a basilica."
Schmeidler was assigned as pastor of St. Fidelis last August, but he is quite familiar with St. Fidelis.
A native of Hays, Schmeidler graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in 1983. He is a priest in the Capuchin Franciscan order, which is in charge of running St. Fidelis.
Weisenburger will be in Victoria on June 7 for a special dedication of St. Fidelis as a minor basilica.
Father Jeff Ernst, former pastor of St. Fidelis who now is at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, was instrumental in getting the minor basilica application process started.
A church is named a minor basilica by the pope. Now, St. Fidelis is one of 78 minor basilicas in the United States.
"It's the pope's church now," Schmeidler said.