Historically Speaking: Catholicism in Dodge City

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
The history of the Catholic Church in our area such as the Windhorst Church.

Christianity started in this area on June 29, 1541, when Coronado’s Spanish expedition crossed the Arkansas River six miles east of Dodge City near present day Fort Dodge.

On that day, Catholic Father Juan De Padilla, held the first Christian service in what is now the State of Kansas. June 29 is the Holy Day of Saints Peter and Paul, so they named the turbulent river El Rio de San Pedro y San Pablo. The large cross on U.S. Highway 400 east of Fort Dodge marks the approximate location where this Mass took place.

Later that year, Father Padilla became the first martyr in North America when Native Americans killed him in northeastern Kansas.

Though this was a turbulent beginning for them, the Roman Catholic Church is a major religion in this area today.

Catholic missionaries begin serving around here in the late 1860's, after the founding of Fort Dodge.

But it wasn't until 1878 that Father Ferdinand Wold established the first permanent Catholic church in this area in Windthorst. Catholics in Dodge City and Fort Dodge fell under the auspices of this church, known as the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Church that presently stands in Windthorst was built in 1912. It closed in 1997 but is on the National Register of Historic Sites.

In the late 1870's and early 1880's, Father Wold also held Masses at Fort Dodge and at Dodge City's first church building, the Union Church.

In 1882, Fort Dodge closed, and Masses could no longer be held there. By this time, the Catholics were building a new Catholic Church in Dodge City. On November 14, 1882, Father Anthony Kuhls, dedicated the church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The church was a mission of the Windthorst church until 1885 when Father John Begley became the first resident pastor. He served 22 counties in Kansas, Fort Supply, Indian Territory and Fort Elliot, Texas.

In 1914 Bishop John J. Hennessy, disappointed in Dodge City’s Catholic attendance, had Father John Handly give a mission here.

Parishioners, inspired by Handly's oration, urged Hennessy to appoint him pastor.

One of Handly’s accomplishments was building Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel and School in the Mexican Village south of the railroad tracks to serve Mexican nationals.

Handly also built a new Sacred Heart Church on Central Avenue for the rest of the Catholic community. Bishop Hennessy dedicated this Church on August 4, 1916. The Church set up a school at the site and made major additions in 1929, 1949 and 1954. The Sacred Heart sanctuary has a mural of the crucifixion of Jesus surrounded by plants and animals native to southwest Kansas.

In 1951, this church became the Cathedral for the newly erected Diocese of Dodge City.

A Cathedral is where a Bishop is located and has nothing to do with a Church's size.

The name "Hennessy" is familiar, because he founded St. Mary of the Plains Academy, which was initially a grade and high school. A tornado destroyed the buildings in 1942. In 1952, it reopened as a high school and two-year college operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

By 1954 the school was a four-year college. St. Mary of the Plains College closed in 1992. Many of its buildings were demolished or sold, but Hennessy Hall, which is named for Bishop Hennessy, still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Sites.

On April 19, 1950, shortly before Sacred Heart became a Cathedral, Bishop Mark K. Carroll dedicated a new Lady of Guadalupe Church which was relocated to Avenue J to serve the Mexicans who had all moved out of the Mexican Village.

Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes merged in 2001 when the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral was erected at 3231 North 14th Ave.