Special to The Hays Daily News

After 134 years of service to St. Joseph's Parish in Hays, the Capuchin-Franciscan friars soon will return the ministerial care of St. Joseph Parish in Hays to the Diocese of Salina. The Mid-America Province of Capuchins will continue serving the parish until recently installed Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger appoints a new pastor. The coming months will be a time of transition for the friars who serve there and for the parishioners.

With deep roots in Ellis County and in particular in Victoria and the surrounding small communities, the friars will continue serving parishes in Victoria, Catherine, Antonino, Schoenchen, Walker and Vincent. It is also their intention to continue to support Catholic education in Ellis County at Thomas More Prep-Marian and rest home and retreat ministries, offering personnel when available.

"We come to do a job and then, when we have done what we can do, we move on and let others carry it on," said Father Charles Polifka, Capuchin provincial minister and Hays native. "It takes humility to acknowledge that it is time to move on,"

The Capuchins came to western Kansas to serve German immigrants. In time, as the numbers of friars grew and other needs emerged, the province moved into other areas and other ministries, including a substantial commitment to a new mission in Papua New Guinea and expanded ministry to a growing Spanish-speaking populations in Lawrence, Denver and Colorado Springs.

"In every era of Capuchin history, attempts were made and implemented to ensure that friars would be able to live out their religious vows in fraternities that had adequate numbers," Polifka said.

Many friars have expressed concern over the shrinking sizes of fraternities and the ability to maintain the numerous ministry commitments in the Midwest and beyond. With this in mind, the current Capuchin leadership convoked an extraordinary planning assembly of all the friars during Christmas week of 2011. The plan that emerged focused on ensuring that each friary has enough members to maintain a prayerful and supportive community.

The Capuchins intend to maintain a commitment to Ellis County, site of their first ministry in the Midwest.

"We have roots in Victoria and the small farming communities of Ellis County," Polifka said. "This is where we began in 1878. The headquarters of the province was moved to Denver in 1983. That was also a beginning and has become a new part of our roots."