BELOIT, Kan. (KSNW) – More than a century ago, a small Kansas congregation spent years building a church so ornate, it still surprises visitors.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine life without this parish community,” said Justin Gengler, Beloit native.
For the families who grew up here, and those who later moved to Beloit, the wonder of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church never fades.
“I thought it was wonderful!” said Mary Ann Roberts.
“I had no idea of the magnificence of this building,” said Linda O’Hara, parishioner
From the architecture, to the artwork, the stained glass windows provide a colorful story. At the time the church was built in 1904, it was the largest church west of the Mississippi.
“The old church sat right in between where these pillars are,” said Kyle Peterson, Mitchell Co. Historical Society. “They built this church up around the old church. Then, when they got to a certain point, they used the old stone in the nave, which is the front part. All of the stone from the old church was put into this church.”
“It took 5,400 wagon loads of limestone to build this, and that just blows my mind when you think of the manual labor all of these people put in for free,” said Andrew Niewald, St. John Catholic School teacher.
Including the Monsigneur Michael Heitz, who learned to cut stone. He hired two Italian brothers to paint the many frescos.
“They spent from 1907 all the way up to 1923 working on the art in this church,” said Peterson.
The most interesting feature of the church is what those of us on the ground would never see or truly appreciate, especially in an age before airplanes.
Only from a bird’s-eye view can you see the shape of the church, a cross looking to heaven, like its flock.
“It wasn’t built for them. It was built for God, and that’s why it’s so ornate,” said Niewald.
Now, the challenge is maintaining such a beautiful, but old church. The expertise needed can be costly. Parishioners can only pray the next generations will cherish its history, as much as they do.
“There is no way in your heart and mind that you could let something like this go by the wayside. We have to keep this going,” said O’Hara.
If you’d like to check out the church in person, it’s always open to visitors. Click here to visit their website.