Kansas Churches built by German Immigrants

(Frank) And here we are again. So you know, Kansas has a lot of immigrants here that came from, well a lot of them came from Germany, a lot of them from Russia, and they brought wheat… (Deb) Ireland… (Frank) Ireland, especially Ireland. (Deb) Scotland. I mean we were talking about the Aberdeen Angus, you know the Scots brought that. You know we’ve talked about some of those. The Irish, the Celtic Fox Pub, you know thank God they came. [laughs] (Frank) Well, and because of that we have kind of a diverse architecture. (Deb) We do. (Frank) Eclectic I guess you would say as well, because you might get Irish, you might get German, you might get Scandinavian. I mean, Lindsborg of course. (Deb) Czechs, Wilson with the Czechs. Yes. (Frank) Bingo. So it really kind of makes it interesting. That’s another reason why Kansas is so interesting a place to visit, because you’re not going to see the same thing, same thing, same thing. It’s going to be an interesting trip. (Deb) It will be. You know the flavor of the community is literally. You know the food, the entertainment, and the architecture. You know, it’s what they brought over, and because most of that happened in the last half of the 19th Century, not that far back, especially as it relates to architecture. Now one of the things I found interesting that we’re going to be talking about, the Volga Germans coming to Kansas. One of my friends who were Volga German talked about growing up in the different communities, and how we were talking about accents. Different communities of course had different dialects of German, and you could tell who was from what community because of the dialect of German that they spoke. And there was a lot of prejudice between the German communities themselves; you know just the way people are you know. Oh you’re not as good as these people because this it the way you talk. You now which is the way they generally think about me when they hear my accent. You know, just poor cracker from the south. (Frank) Well, and a lot of the immigrants too, it’s reflected in the churches. (Deb) Absolutely. (Frank) And so that’s kind of what this story is going to be about. (Deb) And that may be the prettiest reflection of those immigrants and it’s certainly one of the most enduring, and you are going to be shocked by this segment. Few events have shaped Kansas like the immigration of the Volga Germans, those war-weary Germans who had been lured to the land along the Volga River by Russia’s Catherine the Great generations earlier. For a hundred years, the Volga Germans farmed and prospered, exempt from military service because Catherine had so valued their agricultural skills. When this exemption was revoked by Czar Alexander II, they looked to America. The first group of settlers left for Topeka in 1875. Upon arrival they were encouraged by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to settle on land owned by the railroad in Ellis and northern Rush counties. Large settlements also emerged in Russell County and North Topeka. The movement of German-Russians into Kansas continued until the First World War. Besides the wheat that the farmers brought with them, the Volga Germans left another indelible mark on the landscape of Kansas, and on the skyline of many small towns — the churches. St. Fidelis in Victoria is the largest and most famous of the German Catholic churches, and one of the eight wonders of Kansas. In 2014, the pope declared the church a minor basilica. It was William Jennings Bryan, visiting in 1912, who dubbed St. Fidelis the Cathedral of the Plains. But the church was the center of other German communities as well, and while not so large, they are just as beautiful as the Cathedral in Victoria. The communities of Catherine, Liebenthal, Leoville, Munjor, and Schoenchen–many towns around Hays are marked by the steeples of these beautiful churches. As a descendant of one those Volga Germans remarked; these were very religious people. The church was the center of the community. Each family was required to provide so many wagonfuls of stone, which was all cut by hand. Master craftsmen were responsible for the woodwork. Stained glass windows were often imported. They resembled the churches that had been left behind, something of the homeland, something representing the hope that these new communities would truly be home, for them and generations to come. They farmed, raised kids, and went to church, and in the process, transformed the plains into the breadbasket of the world. As a descendant said; they trusted in God and hard work, and the evidence of that faith remains to anchor the communities.

(Frank) And we have to go again. So, I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere… (Together) Around Kansas.

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