Special to The Hays Daily News

GRAINFIELD -- St. Agnes Parish will celebrate the centennial of the parish, One Hundred Years of Faith and Fellowship, on Oct. 3. Salina Diocese Bishop Paul S. Coakley, along with the Rev. James M. Thomas, pastor of St. Agnes, will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. with visiting priests concelebrating. Dinner and a program will follow at the Grainfield American Legion. This date marks the 100-year anniversary of the first Mass celebrated of the newly organized parish, Oct. 3, 1910.

The beginnings of the church in Grainfield

The first Mass in Grainfield was celebrated in the George Birrer home by Father O'Brian in 1885. Around 1908, early residents began discussing the possibility of starting a parish in Grainfield. When they interviewed Father Peter Hoeller at Park about the prospects of starting a parish in Grainfield, they received little encouragement.

In 1909, the men approached Father Bruno Ziegenfuss from Collyer, who was attending a mission at Grinnell, to discuss the matter of establishing a Grainfield parish. He advised them to meet with Bishop Cunningham when he was in Angelus for confirmation.

Bishop Cunningham's response was "All these towns around here want to build churches. If you think you can get enough money together, I shall consider your request. If you do build, I want you to build a decent looking church. I don't want any more chicken houses."

On Nov. 21, 1909, a meeting was conducted and immediately a drive was started for funds. While it took some time, nearly every cent of the pledges was eventually paid. During these months, Ziegenfuss celebrated Mass at infrequent intervals in various places, including above the blacksmith shop, in the grade school and in the opera house.

In the latter part of June 1910, Ziegenfuss presided over a meeting in the Birrer yard with a number of men and their wives present. Although things did not look too promising due to poor crops and insufficient numbers of supporters, the men decided to go ahead with the project of building a church. The new wooden church was blessed by Bishop Cunningham on Oct. 3, 1910. Although the structure still had cheesecloth on the windows and the pews consisted of nail kegs covered with planks, the bishop complimented the new congregation on the way they "built this fine little church."

Patroness chosen for parish

Credit is given to Mrs. George Birrer for choosing St. Agnes as the patroness of the parish, as she had a special devotion to the saint with her former parish.

Agnes (circa 304) was born of noble and wealthy parents and was a beautiful young girl of 13. Agnes is said to have paid no regard to her suitors, remarking that she could have no other spouse but Christ. As a result, the Roman governor had her executed by fire or the sword. She is quoted as saying, "You may stain your sword with my blood, but you will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ."

The symbols for St. Agnes are a lamb and palm representing purity and martyrdom. St. Agnes is the patroness of young girls. Her Feast Day is celebrated on Jan. 21.

Church and Rectory Total Loss by Fire:

On April 28, 1928, fire destroyed the church and rectory. The flames spread so quickly that nothing of importance was saved, and most of the parish records were destroyed. Very soon after the fire, provisions were made to use the high school basement for religious services until a new church could be constructed. Bishop Tief told Father Duchene and the men of the parish to build large enough for future expansion. It was decided to build a basement over which a superstructure could be built later. The church basement was first used on Palm Sunday 1929.

The building of the present church

Shortly after the arrival of Father Michael Hogan on Jan. 17, 1941, expressions of enthusiasm were voiced about starting a fund for a new and more ample church building. However, rumors of war along with poor crops and prices prevented any thought of building a new church. An effort was made to raise funds from 1943 into the 1950s.

It was decided in 1947 not to build upon the foundation of the basement church because it was not considered large enough for the growing needs of the parish. The basement was used for a parish hall until the present education center was built.

The planning for the construction of the church began in 1948. The church was to seat 450 people and was to be built of brick and stone trim. Construction began in the fall of 1949. It was estimated that 1,000 people attended the cornerstone laying on Jan. 20, 1950. Monsignor John G. Wolf presided.

The design of the church structure is an American adaptation of Italian Romanesque. The exterior walls are faced with buck brick and the roof is Spanish red shingle tile. Terrazzo covers the floor. The exposed wooden trusses and purlins on the ceiling are made of natural oak. The wood-carved Stations of the Cross, canonically erected in 1951, were hand carved by the Fernainando Stuflesser family from Tyrol, Italy. The statues and crucifix were also produced by the Stuflesser family. The pews, also of natural oak, were assembled and installed by Father Hogan and the men of the parish. A 10-foot crucifix of natural oak rests against a huge Broccatell Siena marble cross cut in perfect design. The new St. Agnes Church was dedicated by the Bishop Frank A. Thill on May 9, 1951.

Windows installed

The most striking feature in our church is its beautiful stained glass windows, which were installed in 1958. Father Clement A. Kruse wanted the windows that adorned God's house to be an inspiration to prayer and reflection. Nearly a year was spent designing the windows that were fabricated in Holland. Every piece of glass is German antique with hundreds of bubbles in each. The use of multi-hued "chunk glass" deeply enhances the beauty of the windows.

It was decided to portray the power of Christ and the kindness of Christ in the eight nave windows. The clerestory windows show the symbols of the Seven Sacraments and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Rose Window depicts the 'Ecce Homo' in the center with the instruments of Christ's passion done in brilliant chunk glass. The Christ the King window contains many symbols of his kingdom, including a shaft of gold-colored glass descending from Christ to the wheat elevators in Grainfield. St. Agnes is portrayed in the sanctuary window, and the Blessed Mother is honored in the window in the north wing.

Building the education center

The parish needed a place for religious education and for meetings. St. Agnes Education Center was constructed in 1964. It was complete with a full kitchen, large multi-purpose room, classrooms, library and restrooms. It is used for many purposes including youth education, retreats, a meeting place for St. Agnes Ladies Organization and Knights of Columbus, prayer services and wakes, funeral dinners, parish picnics, Labor Day sale, and many more activities of the parish and West Vicariate. The final demolition of the old basement church took place in 1975.

Our Lady of Grace statue

In commemoration of the parish's 75th Jubilee, an outdoor statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, was erected.

Mission parish

With the decline in the number of priests, the laity is being encouraged to take a more active role in the Church. This is evidenced by St. Agnes Parish becoming a mission parish to Sacred Heart Parish, Park, in 1993. In July 2009, Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Grinnell, joined St. Agnes as a mission parish to Sacred Heart Parish, Park.

Vocations from St. Agnes Parish

Vocations from St. Agnes Parish include Rev. Ernest Gallagher, Rev. Bill Kraus, O.F.M.Cap., Brother Gerald (Jerry) Selenke, SCJ, Sr. Mary Mattern, CSA, Sr. Eileen Marie Mattern, Maryknoll Sisters, Sr. Gregory Kraus, OP, Sr. Roserita Weber, OP, Sr. Elizabeth Gallagher, CSJ, Sr. Agnes Dreher, CSJ, Sr. Christina Meyer, CSJ, and Sr. Carlene Headrick, SFCC.