St. Joseph Church, Olpe Kansas

On our travels recently we came across this lovely old church in Olpe, Kansas, population of about 500. We’re always on the lookout for church steeples rising above the prairie, and that’s how we found this one. The parish community was founded in 1885 by a group of German Catholic immigrants. I was not able to find out much about the church other than it was built in 1910.

Church entryway

There was at least one other church for this parish, and that one was built in 1885. Typically, new churches were built either because the community had outgrown their old church or because the older building had been destroyed by fire, a common end to early church buildings.

View of the Main Altar

When built, these early churches were typically modeled after the ones the immigrants had left behind in Europe.

View from the choir loft

The buildings themselves were built by the community from local materials, but when it came to the stained glass windows, statues, church bells, and altars, these were imported from Europe.

Statue with light fixture

Side altar

Main altar

I marvel at the fact that this delicate stained glass made its way across the Atlantic, and then overland to the Kansas prairie reaching its destination intact.

Stained glass windows

Close-up of stained glass window

And I love this hand-carved woodwork.

Today, this parish retains its early German heritage, in part, by the singing of German Christmas carols every year at midnight Mass.


——->  Wednesday:  Come along and watch as Harland mows hay, which will later be baled and then fed to our cattle this winter.


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Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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24 Responses

  1. Kathy says:

    What a beautiful church! That stained glass must have been treated well to make it so far without breaking.

  2. Tina says:

    Beautiful church. I always wondered how they did the shading on the stained glass, like the brown on the blue in the one photo. The angel with the lamp is so pretty perhaps my fav.

    • Suzanne says:

      Some of the effect is that they mixed different colors of glass together, but they they also did painting on the glass too, for detail, like in the faces. Really beautiful when you get close to it.

  3. Glenda says:

    Nice church. How wonderful it is still there and active as a church. Beautiful interior.
    By the way, I’m enjoying my conference in Nashville. Grand Ole Opry tonight!

  4. Peggy says:

    Oh wow! How beautiful! I can’t believe that window made such a long journey. They don’t build building with that detail any more. Thanks for sharing.

    • Suzanne says:

      Actually, I’ve heard that stained glass like this kind is becoming a lost art, that those who made it then passed on their craft to apprentices, but over the generations some of the techniques have been lost to time.

  5. Bev J. says:

    Beautiful-inside and out. Love the stained glass. tfs

    • Suzanne says:

      Wealthy people in this time period had stained glass in their houses too. Wouldn’t that be something?

  6. Oh my Suzanne! How beautiful! I cannot convey how much I love religious statues/art/stained glass windows…all of it. There is something that is so peaceful and beautiful about it. You mentioned German immigrants…I am a direct descendant of German immigrants. You know the story of my Dad, so you know I never met my grandfather or my great grandparents on my Dad’s side. Anyhow there were many German immigrants that settled in Pennsylvania. My great grandparents on my Dad’s side were from Germany. My Dad said he remembers standing in his grandparents living room (on one of his rare visits with his father before he left) and they spoke very little English and had a heavy accents. That’s all he remembers. My maiden name is Bergener…very German.

    • Suzanne says:

      I have German ancestry as well that immigrated after the Franco Prussian war in the 1870s, which is when I think most of them came over. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kalterman.

  7. Ruth says:

    This church is beautiful! Carroll County, IA, where I live, was settled by German Catholics, including my great-grandparents. There are a number of these beautiful churches here – in Mount Carmel, Breda, Willey, Roselle, Dedham and Templeton.

    • Suzanne says:

      I pulled up images on google of all the churches you mentioned. The interior of the one in Roselle is exquisite. What a gem.

      • Ruth says:

        Roselle is about 8 miles from where we live. Holy Angels church there shares a priest with our parish, so I’ve attended mass there often. It’s a beautiful church, especially when decorated for Christmas. Unfortunately it’s scheduled to be closed within the next few years, as is the one at Mount Carmel, where I grew up.

  8. Dale Steffes says:

    I was reared in Olpe Kansas in that Church. I was there 1933 to 1953, but my family is still represented there. The closing reply’s connected with Carrol, Iowa, which is where my Father was born. Thanks for the photo’s. I will have my Friends see my childhood church. Dale Steffes

    • Michael Young says:

      I was raised in Olpe as well, and went to the Catholic School across the street as well. We moved away in 1981, and I’ve only made it back a very few times since. As beautiful as it is now in those photos, I remember the original marble tile floor that was there when I was a child. I was disappointed to see the carpet go in during the mid 80’s. I also remember the railing/fence going all the way cross the front of the alter area. It is still one of the most gorgeous churches I have ever seen, and I’m proud to have been a member and that my grandmother still goes there every Sunday.

  9. Lori Halfhide says:

    Just curious where the stained glass came from. St. Joseph Catholic Church at St. Joseph, Kansas has stained glass that looks very much like this and we were told that the glass came from the same place as the Catholic Church in Olpe, but no one ever said where that was! I have photos of many of the windows from St. Joseph, Kansas if you are interested in seeing. I’d love to see more of Olpe’s, see if any are an identical (or close) match.

    • Suzanne says:

      We’ve been in churches and noticed that the stained glass looked like or was the exact stain glass as we had seen in other old churches. We figure there must have only been a few manufacturers of stain glass at that time in Europe. We’ve seen a lot of the same statues too. Thanks Lori!

    • John Gaska says:

      Don’t know if anyone ever replied to you. I was on the finance council until about 3 years ago and at the time we moved they were in the process of getting estimates and selecting a vendor to repair the windows, which are now done. I was there this morning and they look very nice. Suggest you contact the church rectory and speak with Lauri Schmidt or Fr. John for info. FYI, they have a Facebook page with contact info:

  10. Carol Palacio says:

    My mother was raised in Olpe. She was Anne Moellman. I heard her speak of several local family names, including Steffes. There are few Moellmans left, with the exception of my adopted cousin Robert Moellman, who currently resides in Emporia. Our uncle, Father Joseph Moellman, said his first mass in a private home in Olpe. However, I would be inclined to believe the Moellman family must have attended St. Joseph’s Church at some point, and was so happy to see the photos on the internet.
    Carol Palacio

  11. We are having the Bender family reunion in Olpe on September 3 and 4 2016. The benders were Catholics there in 1915.

  12. Jack Major says:

    We lived in Olpe for one school year( 1955?) .My Stepfather was working on the Kansas Turnpike. My brother and I went to the 4 room school house across from this church. I had Sister Noretta in the 2nd grade. John was in the 3rd grade. We were among a hand full of Protestant kids that were welcomed. My mom and Dad were friends with the Post Mistress “Mary Lou” something her father at that time was the oldest resident in the state of Kansas. He was over 100. Mary Lou drove a Model “A” ford coupe. I remember hand crank telephones, Poo’s locker plant, a lumberyard and a Barber shop that was open 2 days a week. Downtown was about 2 whole blocks.
    Great childhood fishing in farm ponds with friends.

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