BOHEMIAN SETTLEMENT

SS. CYRIL AND METHODIUS

The families of Edward Harvanek, Florian Skalka, Joseph Dozbaba, Charles Bartosovsky, John Micek, and Frank Havlik were the first Catholic families to settle in the area of Rawlins County to later be called Bohemian Settlement. They came in 1884, to be followed the next year by Ignatius (Ignac) Prochazka and Antonin Horinek. These families came from Tisnof County in Moravia. They were poor farmers in the old country, and they intended to continue farming in this new country where they expected to find better living conditions. Relatives and friends had preceded them and had settled in north-east Nebraska; these advised the new-comers to go to Western Kansas, where they could find a homestead and acquire 160 acres of land for the sum of $14. Within ten years, sixteen families had come from Moravia and settled within this territory. Very few families came over after the first decade.

The first Mass in the territory of this parish was probably celebrated on June 4, 1887. Rev. Charles Dragoun, then stationed at Wilson, came to pay a visit to this territory and to hear confessions in the Bohemian language. The building in which this Mass was celebrated was a sod house built on the property of Anton Horinek. This building no longer is in existence, having gradually been destroyed by the elements. The sod house stood on the SW 1/4 of Section 19-1S-33W originally homesteaded by Antonin Horinek Jr. Mass was celebrated in this sod house at Easter time every year from 1887 to 1892.

Before there was a church building, people gathered together frequently for prayer, such as the Rosary and Stations of the Cross which were usually led by Ignatius Prochazka, as he did in Moravia. He continued his interest in spiritual affairs in this area with the help of Thomas Horinek, and later, Anton Horinek. These prayer meetings were held in different peoples homes or school houses.

The so-called "East School", District 96, also called "Queen of Driftwood", which is located in the SE 1/4 of 19-1S-33W in Rawlins County was used for the celebration of Mass about once a year during the Easter time from 1892 to 1895 and atended to by the priests in Herndon. This building still stands and is used for voting in the Driftwood township. From 1896 to 1899, the so-called "West School House", District 59, a sod school, was used for Mass about once every other month. This building was located in the NE 1/4 of 28-1S-34W, but no longer exists. In these early years, and continuing until the parish was closed, the parish included Driftwood township and a small part of Beaver township, an area of approximately seventy square miles.

The name SS. Cyril and Methodius was given to the church by the first parishioners in 1897, because these saints are the patron saints of their fatherland in Moravia. SS. Cyril and Methodius were blood brothers of the ninth century, who were elevated to sainthood for their dedication to God as missionairies, teachers and patrons of the Bohemian people.

In 1897, James and Mary Heble donated five acres of land for the first real estate for a church site for a consideration of $10. The land was located in the NW 1/4 of 26-1S-34W, which is today the SS. Cyril and Methodius cemetery. The East part of this land was used as a site for errecting a church, while the remainder was used for a cemetery. Fr. W. Wenzel, of Herndon was in charge of the parish at this time. The original church site was chosen because the piece of property was donated and because it was situated more or less in the center of the settlement.

Also in 1897, the parishioners purchased a one story frame building that measured forty feet long and twenty-four feet wide from John Pesek of Blakeman for $40. The facant building had been used as a store, but it was moved from Blakeman to the church site, a distance of fourteen by cutting into four pieces and hauled on four common wagons, then remodeled to look like a church. Severy parishioners helped in the labor of moving and remodeling of the building. The principle carpenter was John Ruda, who was a wagon maker and carpenter, along with his son John, Jr. The people all contributed with money and labor, but the outstanding donar was Ignatius Prochazka. The building was completed early in 1898, but due to some disagreement (the people had neither asked their Bishop nor Pastor for permission to build a church), between Father Wenzel, and the parishioners, the first Mass was not celebrated in the building until January 16, 1899. In the interim, however, the people gathered regularly in this building for common prayer.

It seems that there was no solemn dedication; as Father Wenzel was the only priest present on the day of the first Mass, and the church was blessed on this same day. During its existence, no major changes or improvements were made on the building after this original remodeling. On July 1, 1905, a tornado completely wrecked the building and the people managed to salvage only little of the contents.

Since it became necessary to replace the tornado destroyed church with a new building, it was decided to move directly across the road, North, because in that new position the church could face towards the South instead of the North; a decided advantage out on the wind-swept prairies. The Rev. Vaclav Stepan, the pastor then in charge, began the building of the new and present church.

The land was donated by Florian and Rose M. Skalka on October 28, 1905. The three acres of land lie in the SW corner of the S 1/4 of 23-1S-34W. Rev. Stepan's successor, the Rev. Joseph Macha, finished the new building in 1906. This typically country-style, white frame church with a steeple and Gothic-styled windows was fifty-two feet long and thirty-two feet wide, and together with its contents cost approximately $6,000. Mr. Jud Post, of Stratton, Nebraska, was foreman of the job and parishioners hauled material and labored gratis. Ignatius Prochazka was again the most generous financial contributor. On August 26, 1906, the Most Rev. Bishop CUnningham dedicated the church, Father Macha preached the sermon and Father Wenzel assisted at the ceremonies. A bell was purchased for the new church in 1908 for $271. In 1913 the parish had grown to include twenty families.

In 1916, three adjoining acres were acquired. Florian and Rose M. Skalka donated this piece of property for a consideration of $40 not to be used as a site for a new building, but merely to enlarge the property already at hand. The land was part of the SW 1/4 of 23-1S-34W. That same year, a 185 ft. deep well was drilled, and topped by a windmill for $227. At some time in these early days, there was a fence errected around the entire property of the church.

In 1917, under the pastorship of Father Placide; Mont J. Green, contractor of Manhattan, Kansas, started the work of adding an addition to this building. Owing to some disagreement, Mont Green gave up the job and the parishioners finished it. This addition added to the rear of the church an area nineteen feet deep and forty-nine feet wide. It comprised two sacristies, the sanctuary, part of the nave, and basement.

A new furnace in 1918 cost $844, which was then replaced by an oil-burning furnace for $1,301. In 1920, a new iron fence was placed around the church and also around the cemetery for $2,880. In 1936, the parish numbered 39 families. Then in the years of 1937 to 1939, the interior of the church was variously remodeled and improved with new wood and the altars were painted at a cost of $1,250. Light fixtures were obtained from St. Fidelis parish in Victoria, Kansas when they bought new fixtures. They were installed in SS. Cyril and Methodius when REA came out and the church was wired for electricity. In 1951, a new electric organ was installed for $2,012 and a new garage was added in 1952 for $305. On December 6, 1964, the new altar, made by Joe Prochazka and Clarence Heble was put into use.

The first priest who attended to SS. Cyril and Methodius parish were the Fathers of the Precious Blood from New Almelo, Fr. Charles Dragoun, having said the first Mass in the Horinek sod house. This 200 mile trip by horseback was first made by Fr. Reichert from 1882 to 1886 when he served the Studer Settlement of which some people from this area attended before having their own Masses. In 1886, Father Fleisch became the first resident priest of the so-called western church near Herndon. Fathers Fleisch, Kunkler, Pickler and Schalk tended to the parish until 1891. In 1887 the railroad was laid out to Bearldley, which made it possible for the priests to take the train to Beardsley. If they were not met by one of the parishioners with a horse and buggy, it meant a walk of five miles to the church of Immaculate Conception, and SS. Cyril and Methodius was about eight miles northwest yet of there.

From 1891 to 1909, the church was served by Fathers Henderson, Bitter, Heiman, Wenzel and Spoorenberg from Herndon. Because of the distance from Herndon, 21 miles, and because of conditions of travel, Mass was celebrated only occasionally. Father Joseph Glynn resided in Atwood as of 1901 and helped to serve the parish from there. Father Glynn was followed by Fathers Stepan, Macha and Gryz.

In 1909, the Capuchin chapter took charge of the Catholic missions in Ralins and Cheyenne counties. On October 25, 1909, the first Capuchins arrived in Herndon, the headquarters for their new mission labor in this area. Newly ordained Capuchin priest, Father Placid Wolker, arrived in August, 1910, to become the first Capuchin paster of SS. Cyril and Methodius and Immaculate Conception. Father Placid had studied the Bohemian language in Chicago with the Bohemian Benedictines, in order to meet the spiritual needs of his new flock. Subsequent Capuchin priests that have served this parish until its closing were: Fathers Debef, Leiker, Horning, Meis, Kuhn, Yoest, Engel, Warner, Crowley, Hammel, Meis, Brookman, Schmitt, Bower, Fischer and Dunn. Father Didacus Dunn was the last priest to serve SS. Cyril and Methodius, a community which had been almost exclusively of Bohemian extraction.

Never was there a resident pastor, a convent or school. The first regular Vacation Religion School was conducted in 1934 in conjunction with the neighboring St. John's parish. These Vacation Schools lasted for two, and sometimes three, weeks. Prior to this date the pastors used to gather the children together for a week or two weeks of instruction during the summer months.

SS. Cyril and Methodius had a Holy Name Society that was organized in the parish in 1934, and an Altar Society that was organized in 1902. A Catholic Workman chapter was formed in 1903.

Prior to September 1910, the records of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths were enetered into the parish registers of Herndon or Atwood. Since September 1910, the parish had its own parish register into which these records were entered. The earliest Day-book record on hand begins January 1, 1923. The earliest Annual Financial Record on hand begins in 1910.

Transcript of the First Baptism in this territory reads that Johannum B. Rummel was baptised on September 7, 1886, and is signed by Rev. Geo. Fleisch. The first baptism in the church was that of Mary Ann Kopriva on August 26, 1906. The first confirmation is thought to have taken place in the old church by Bishop Cunningham on May 15, 1902. The first marriage performed in the first church was that of Johannem Ruda and Clementine Chvatal on January 16, 1899, this record is found in the Herndon Matrimonial Register and signed by Rev. Charles Dragoun. Mrs. Charles (Anna) Bartosovsky was the first death recorded in the territory in January 1886. She was buried in Immaculate Conception cemetery, then later removed to SS. Cyril and Methodius. The first burial in the cemetery was that of Elijah Vap, born May 29, 1899 and died September 29, 1899.

The last baptism in the SS. Cyril and Methodius church was that of Matthew Micek on January 21, 1979 (two weeks before the church was closed). Matthew is the son of Kenny and Pauline Micek, current members of St. John's parish. The last confirmation class was that of Dawna Heble, Rena Vap, Karen J. Horinek, Anthony Heble and Janet Hrnchir on March 27, 1976. The last marriage was performed on September 10, 1977 and was that of Jerry Lee Schnee and Zanetta Sue Hrnchir.

The site of the cemetery belonging to this parish has never been changed, but when the new church was built across the road to the north in 1905, the old church site was automatically included in the cemetery. It has been impossible to find out whether the cemetery was ever blessed.

The parish was officially and canonically closed as a parish on Sunday, February 18, 1979. Monsignor Armand Girard, Vicar General of the Diocese of Salina, represented Bishop Cyril J. Vogel at the service. Fr. Didacus was concelebrant at this closing Mass with the Rev. Rene Bower. Lack of sufficient and able-bodied priests now and in the foreseeable future, both in the Capuchin order and in the Diocese of Salina, was the reason for the closure. The parishioners were asked to avail themselves of the option of attending the St. John's church, also built in the country, or the Sacred Heart Church in Atwood. At the time of the church's closing in 1979, there were thirty-one families and a total of ninety-seven parishioners attending SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish.

References:

  • Rawlins County History Book
  • Parish records in Atwood
  • Chronicle of the Herndon Hospice
  • Some Early History of the Pioneer Catholic Settlers and Parishes of Northwestern Kansas - Souvenir Booklet C 1913
  • Parochial History of SS. Cyril and Methodius Church as remembered by Joseph Dozbaba, and Mrs. Mary (Skalka) Heble and written in 1936
  • The Last Mass Souvenir Booklet

Pictures available:

  • The Dove emblem that used to hand in the pulpit

(to be continued)