Special to The Hays Daily News

GRAINFIELD -- On a glorious fall afternoon, bouquets of wheat from a bountiful harvest adorned the doorways, pews and sanctuary of St. Agnes Church in Grainfield, welcoming parishioners, friends and family to celebrate their faith heritage -- a faith cherished, lived and honored since the first Mass was celebrated in the George Birrer home in Grainfield more than 125 years ago. In the formative years, Mass was held infrequently at best. Oct. 3 marked 100 years to the day of the dedication of the church for the newly formed St. Agnes Parish.

A choir of parishioners and former parishioners opened the 4 p.m. Mass, appropriately with the hymn "Gather Your People." Leading the entrance procession was thurifer David Manhart, followed by cross bearer Megan Heier, candle bearers Kristen Heier and Kirsten Zerr, and Larry Manhart carrying the Lectionary. Angel Mong and Wyatt Mong were acolytes assisting Bishop Paul S. Coakley.

Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard from John F. Kennedy Assembly No. 0304 of Grinnell, Angelus and Oakley made their grand entrance, giving honor to Coakley, Father James M. Thomas, CMI, pastor and the concelebrants of the Mass.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk was read byLarry Manhart. Bev Zimmerman read from the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy. Thomas proclaimed the Holy Gospel according to Luke.

Coakley reiterated in his homily: "Today we hear in the Gospel that was just proclaimed, 'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted." ' Today we are celebrating the subject of faith -- the faith that allows this parish community, the presence of the Catholic Church, here in Grainfield, to be planted and to put down deep roots and to bear good fruit. It is that faith of those who went before us that we celebrate today. It is that faith for which we give thanks today. Today we look back over 125 years of Catholic history here in Grainfield."

Coakley spoke of the dedication and faith the founding families had to start a parish. Additionally, he spoke of the struggles and sacrifice that the original parishioners went through, not only to build, but after fire destroyed the first church and rectory in 1928, they immediately rebuilt with a basement church. When facing hard times during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, they held onto their faith.

"These were hard times, among the hardest of times that our nation had ever been through," he said. "And yet, it did not crush the faith of the parishioners of St. Agnes Parish. They hunkered down, literally, in their basement church. And that's where St. Agnes parish lived and celebrated her faith along with those to be baptized and married and confirmed, a whole generation of Catholics."

Then years later, after the end of the Second World War, the parishioners made plans to build the current structure.

"This is the heritage that we celebrate today," Coakley said, "the heritage that those of you who are St. Agnes parishioners today and those of you who have returned for this celebration to be with us here, are rightly proud of. So we gather today to celebrate this particular heritage of our faith. But, our history is not only behind us. As we celebrate that faith and that heritage today, even as we go forward to the future with a sense of hope and confidence that God who has pulled us together has plans for this community, plans for a future full of hope.

"Because it is to us that these words are addressed and not to our ancestors, St. Paul says, 'I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.' We have received the gift of God with faith that we celebrate today because of the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. The sacrifices that they were willing to make which ensured that we, who come after them, would have this faith, would have this beautiful church, would have these fine facilities, would have the strength of our families, because faith is cherished, lived and celebrated and honored, which we do here today. But it is to us that these words go forth today reminding each of us to 'stir the flame' the gift that we have received so that those who come after us have something fine in order which to celebrate one and two and three generations hence."

Coakley continued his homily, encouraging the congregation to increase their faith through the Eucharist and be witnesses to the community through the gifts received in baptism and confirmation.

"Rediscover this rich heritage and treasure, which is the gift or our Catholic faith, handed on to us from generation to generation, which reaches back all the way to the apostles .... Let not that chain be broken in this generation. If we put our faith into action as we go forth from here today, at the end of this Mass and accept that mandate and that position that comes at the end of each and every Eucharist, after our faith has been nourished by the Word of God, nourished by the bread of life in the Eucharist. To go forth now in peace to love and serve the Lord, our faith is increased, our faith will grow, our faith will put down deeper and stronger roots and bear even greater fruit to the extent that we humble ourselves as the Lord's servants. Put that faith to practice and find that connection between the faith we celebrate here and the life that we live beyond the walls of this beautiful church. That we may be witnesses to the world, that our faith may increase, that we celebrate those who have gone before us, that we'll be prepared to pass on the deep tradition to those who will come after us."

Symbolic gifts were presented to Coakley at the offertory. Children of the parish added their gifts to a bountiful basket of fruits and vegetables presented by Roger and Stephanie Heier, with Morgan Zimmerman adding an apple and grapes, Regan Lewis contributing oranges and grapes, Kyler Haffner adding tomatoes, and Jessica Heier placing pumpkins in the basket.

Rosella Heier brought forth the 100th anniversary history book. Norma Weber presented the papal blessing honoring the occasion. Symbolizing the agricultural heritage and God's blessings, Harvey Heier carried stalks of milo, and Cammie Heier presented stalks of wheat. Mary Zerr, Marilyn Mong and her son Wendell Mong brought forth flowers in memory of deceased parishioners of St. Agnes Parish. Doreen Wildeman carried the water and wine. Diane Wetter presented the hosts. Francis Wildeman carried the offertory collection.

Mass was concelebrated by Thomas, pastor of St. Agnes parish, and former pastors of St. Agnes parish, Father Mark Berland, Oberlin; Father Roger Hough, Leawood, retired; Father Alvin Werth, Hays, retired; Father Bill Kraus, O.F.M. Cap., Denver, vocation from the parish. Diocesan priests Father Alexander Pyone Cho, Osborne; Father Richard Daise, Ellis; Father Michael Elanjimattahil, CMI, Oakley; Father James Grennan, Russell, retired; Father Merlin Kieffer, Manhattan, retired; Father Thomas Mangat, Hoxie; Father Roger Meitl, St. Francis; Father August Moeder, Quinter, retired; Father Don Pfannenstiel, WaKeeney; Father Henry Saw Lone, Hill City; Father Dan Scheetz, Ellsworth, retired; Father Charles Steier, Russell; Father Vincent Thu Laing, Norton; Father Kevin Weber, Hays.

Thomas expressed his thanks to Coakley and the concelebrants for their participation in the celebration of the liturgy and offered words of hope for our parish.

"We turn to faith of God when something breaks. But there is an amazing group of people, especially in our parish, who realized the meaning of faith and that faith is living in their world, our homes, in their own work place, in their own parish, that is St. Agnes. The faith of our community here has become a sign of life, a part of our life and that's how we live with God, we live with one another. Our service and honor that is due to God is expressed. Today as we are about to conclude this celebration, the most important part of our celebration is the Eucharistic Liturgy, which is the expression of our faith, fulfilled in the work of Jesus and we all take part in that. That's how we live our faith and is the fulfillment of our dreams."

The celebration continued at the American Legion Hall, Grainfield. Coakley gave the meal blessing. The catered meal, provided by the parish, was enjoyed by over 250 people.

Following the meal, Mark Heier as master of ceremonies, made introductions of the dignitaries in attendance including Sister Roserita Weber, O.P., Garden City; Sister Christina Meyer, C.S.J., Sutherland, Neb. Also in attendance were Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller, C.S.J., Salina; Sister Mary Ann Schippers and Sister Mary Louise Pfannenstiel, Sisters of St. Agnes, Hays. Joann Reuber, great granddaughter of George Birrer, a founding father of St. Agnes Parish, was an honored guest.

Father Kevin Weber and the Kraus Family Singers entertained for the remainder of the evening. Weber sang "There Will be Peace in the Valley" and a beautiful "St. Agnes Hymn" that he acquired from Pfannenstiel of the Sisters of St. Agnes.

The Kraus Family Singers, consisting of the children and in-laws of parishioner Kathryn Kraus, gave a musical rendition of songs from each decade, recalling favorites of the last 100 years.

Memorabilia including photographs, awards, scrapbooks, a model of the church and a St. Agnes wood plaque made by Art Heili were on display. A quilted wall hanging, sponsored by St. Agnes Ladies' Organization, featuring pictures of former pastors of St. Agnes parish, was made by Bernice Heier and Louise Wildeman. A certificate from the Kansas State Senate was issued as a tribute to St. Agnes Church on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary. A papal blessing was bestowed upon St. Agnes Parish by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio in Washington.