EDITOR'S NOTE: A look back at some of the top stories for 2014.
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
VICTORIA -- The Basilica of St. Fidelis will close out an eventful year this week with the celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses.
Excitement for St. Fidelis, which annually draws thousands of visitors, began in March with an announcement from Bishop Edward Weisenburger.
The sprawling 24,000-square-foot structure that seats more than 1,000 people -- known as the Cathedral of the Plains for more than 100 years -- had been named a minor basilica. While there are hundreds of minor basilicas worldwide, there are less than 100 in the United States, with St. Fidelis being No. 78.
It was the third big event for the parish in the past six years. St. Fidelis celebrated its centennial in 2011, three years after being named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas.
The parish had a dedication for the basilica in June at a Mass that Weisenburger celebrated.
"This is a great honor for the community of Victoria," Weisenburger said in the weeks leading up to the dedication, "for the good Catholic people of Ellis County and for the Diocese of Salina."
"For the community of Victoria, I think it speaks to the profound faith of their ancestors who undertook the task of building it with great fervor," he added. "But I think it also speaks to the faith of those who have lovingly maintained the church to this day."
Each year, between 20,000 and 25,000 visitors tour the majestic church with 141-foot twin steeples and Romanesque architecture.
The only physical difference in St. Fidelis is an umbrella and a small bell on a pole -- symbols of minor basilicas from ancient times -- that are on display in the church sanctuary.
But there is a new reverence as visitors walk in the church, and even more of an urgency for some to visit the basilica, said Jan Brungardt, secretary for St. Fidelis Parish.
"I think (attendance) definitely has picked up," Brungardt said.
December also is a busy month at St. Fidelis as Christmas time approaches, and this year was to be no different.
The annual Cathedral Christmas Concert by the Fort Hays State University music department was earlier this month, and Christmas promises more celebrations.
There will be the annual 5 p.m. children's Mass on Christmas Eve that will include music by the church's children's group, Jubilee Choir, as well as a pageant. There also will be Masses at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve and at 10 a.m. Christmas Day.