For Tim Wenzl, the Diocese of Dodge City’s archivist emeritus, discovering how settlements and communities throughout the state came by their names not only revealed a treasury of historical tidbits, but also demonstrated how pervasive the Catholic Church’s influence was and what led to the significant German, Irish and Czech-populated townships that are still active today.
In his newly released book, "Angelus to Xavier, Catholic Place Names in Kansas, Obvious & Obscure," Wenzl scoured books, parish sacramental registries, 19th century Catholic directories, parish histories, newspapers, and magazines, inventories of current and extinct geographical locations, maps and plat books. Now all of that research and information is documented in this one volume of work.
"This book came about as I have always been interested in the ‘why’ behind a community’s name," said Wenzl. "The answer to that question can only be discovered through extensive and, at times, tedious research. But it was so rewarding when I discovered a link with the Catholic Church as the reason for a community’s name. The first Catholic ‘naming’ in Kansas occurred during the 1541 Coronado Expedition. Today we know El Rio de Santos Pedro y Pablo (The River of Saints Peter and Paul) as theArkansas River."
Wenzl said it seemed everyone got in on the namings as many places were dubbed after saints, popes, a cardinal, bishops, priests, monks and friars, religious sisters, explorers, frontiersmen and ordinary Catholics. Readers will also notice that towns were named by Catholics and Catholic settlements were often christened for the emigrant’s former towns and villages.
Over time, over 300 communities and sites were named—from Angelus in Sheridan County to Xavier in Leavenworth County. The communities and geographical locations in the book are listed in alphabetical order together with their county.
"An interesting discovery that emerged from the extensive research was the ongoing role of the Church in organizing and establishing Catholic colonies and settlements in the state by nationality and language," Wenzl said. "It wasn’t an accident that large groups of Irish, Germans and Czechs settled in the same areas. And in the late 1800s, Bishop Louis Mary Fink, OSB, the first bishop of the Diocese of Leavenworth, encouraged this approach and priests in different regions of the state served as well, de facto immigration agents."
Wenzl started a list of these names just to document them, but once this inventory grew to over 300 communities, he knew it was time to write the book.
For Wenzl, the value of this project, which is book number 21 for him, is having all of the names from so many different sources documented in one publication. "As far as I know, this book is a first of its kind, said Wenzl. "Other archivists and historians in each of the other 49 states could write a book on the same topic for their own state."
The book is available through amazon.com and by mail order by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.