St. Mary’s Church – A Wonder On The Prairie

St.Mary’s church in the tiny town of St. Benedict, KS  is one of our favorite churches to visit. Harland (hubby) and I consider it to be the most beautiful we have seen, and we aren’t alone either, as it has been voted as one of the  8 Wonders of Kansas. But we personally have another reason why this church is so special, and it has to do with this bench,

in front of this organ,

and…… I’ll tell you the rest of that story in a minute. But first, let me tell you about this lovely church. St. Mary’s parish was established in 1859. The Oregon Trail passed  by only 2 miles to the north.  The growing parish outgrew the 1st three churches they constructed, and so in 1891, work began on the 4th church to occupy the site. Constructed of native limestone, each family was assigned a specific number of wagonloads of limestone that they were responsible for hauling from a local quarry to the building site. Two hundred stone masons worked the rock.  Eight cast iron columns were made in a local town. A local carpenter did the carpentry work including making the pews. The church was was completed in 1894.

It measured 162 feet long by 60 feet wide, and the ceiling 52 feet high. The church cost $40,000, and was paid for upon competion. On November 14 of that year, the church was formally dedicated by the bishop. After the dedication, the celebration continued until midnight with a brass band, a meal provided by the ladies of the parish, a dance, and fireworks.  In the next few years, another $40, 000 would be spent to complete the interior of the church. In 1895 a used pipe organ was purchased in Atchison, and 4 new church bells were purchased from St. Louis. In 1899 the main altar, 40 feet in height, was built by a carpenter in Leavenworth, and installed. In 1900, the 2 side altars and communion rail were purchased from a company in Wisconsin.

In 1901, G.F Satory did the lovely decorative stencil work all over the interior of the church.

In an interview many years later, he expressed regret that his work was a lost art, and indeed, of the 150 churches he decorated, it is believed that St. Mary’s is the only church where his work survives.

Also in 1901, the church was decorated with 14 large oil paintings. Statues were also purchased from Munich, and installed throughout the church.

In 1916, the used pipe organ was replaced by a new one.

The 3000 square feet of window space was filled with 25 windows: some stained glass,

and the rest art glass.

The furnishing of the church was finally completed in 1916, and has changed little to this day. In the late 1970s, because of damage to the plaster walls, and a build-up of dirt and grime, it was necessary competely redo the stenciling. Careful tracings were made, the plaster was then repaired and painted, and the stenciling reapplied. The work was started in 1979, and completed in 1983.  In 1980, St. Mary’s was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

I love everything about this church. From the adorable angel statues by the door,

to the intricate detailed woodcarving,

and the stenciling.

I love this working light fixture, a 3 foot high angel holding a lamp. There are 2 of these in the balcony.

And these little cherubs look so stern.

Ok, so I’ve left you hanging long enough about the bench in front of the organ. On February 11, 2007, Harland and I spent part of our first date sitting on the bench talking and getting to know each other. And here we are today, 2 fools in love, and married for nearly 2 years now.

For more information and pictures of the church, you can visit their website here.

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26 comments to St. Mary’s Church – A Wonder On The Prairie

  • Glenda

    Ah, how sweet! I didn’t remember that story. Your pictures are wonderful and your descriptions of historical context so interesting! Thank you!

  • Jen

    My family and I visited this church last summer. It is beautiful and amazing! We’ve seen a lot of churches in Kansas while we geocache (wwww.diecast64.blogspot.com or http://www.geocaching.com)but this church is one of the best ones we’ve seen!

    I stumbled upon your blog via Pioneer Woman and I believe we live in the same general area that you do. The Flint Hills are BEAUTIFUL this time of year! 🙂

    • Suzanne

      Hi Jen,
      I just can’t think of a more beautiful church. Every time we visit, we take a look at the guest book, and always find people have visited from around the country, sometimes around the world. I’m glad you stopped by. We live in NE Kansas, and I believe you live not too far away either judging by your email address.
      Thanks again,
      Suzanne

  • What a sweet, wonderfully romantic story! The church has beautiful artwork, and I can see why you would love it so much even if it weren’t for the personal connection.

  • Julie

    Wow thanks for the history lesson. What an amazing church. Absolutely breathtaking. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. Lovely to have such an amazing place associated with a love story. Very cool. Thanks for the picture of you guys its fun to see faces.

  • That church is absolutely beautiful…well, it’s more than beautiful, but how can you put a worthy adjective to the work that went into it. I have never been there, i am just going by the photos you posted. i love religious art…statues, stained glass, paintings, it’s just so peaceful to look at. i would love to see this in person some day.

    • Suzanne

      Hi Bonnie,
      This church is one of those places that when you enter the door, it takes your breath away. And it’s happened every time I’ve been there. Every single time. Please do visit some day if you can.
      Suzanne

  • Stunning church. The attention to the details is something lost today. So glad it is preserved and they you are sharing it.
    Also, what a sweet story of you and Harland. Newlyweds you are! The happiness together is so clear in your photo.

    • Suzanne

      Hi Gardener,
      The details are amazing – I see something I haven’t noticed before with every visit.
      And thank you, we are very blest!
      Suzanne

  • Shailaja

    A beautiful church, maintained so well by those who really care. Wish you and your hubby many, many more years of happy togetherness! And, I’m curious to know if both of you ever sat on the bench again since your first date! :))

    • Suzanne

      Shailaja,
      Thank you very much, and yes, we have sat on the bench since then. On the anniversary of our first date, we made a trip to the church and sat on the bench. And we have sat there again most every visit. It’s “our” spot.
      Suzanne

  • What a fabulous historical story! I wonder what the $80,000 it took to build it back then would translate to today, although I am sure that church is priceless today!

    • Suzanne

      Hi Kimberly,
      I often think about what it would cost to replace that church if a wayward tornado gets it. But regardless of the cost, I don’t think the skills exist to build it back the way it is. I just don’t think it could be done. So let’s hope it’s there forever.
      Suzanne

  • Libbi

    Suzy Q, this is a close replica of the Old Cathedral in St. Louis, Mo. which was built in the 1600 period. This is quite impressive and so glad you took the time to share it with us. Love your photos, think you have found a new calling, other than trying to hum!

  • Oh my gosh you made me feel like I was there looking at the beauty. I love the bench and it has so special meaning to both of you that is so lovely. Thanks for sharing your beauty in your pictures and words.

  • Have you ever been to the one in Victoria, KS? It is amazing. I live in NW KS so I’ve stopped there a few times. It takes my breathe away when I walk in there very single time. Actually St. Ben isn’t one of the 8 wonders of KS. I think it had been nominated, but the Victoria Cathedral was actually chosen. Nevertheless it is a beautiful chuch!

    • Suzanne

      I’m sorry, you’re right, it was a finalist and not the winner. I have been to the one in Victoria, the Cathedral of the Plains. I’m so impressed by the love the immigrants had for their faith and their churches that they were so determined to build churches reminiscent of the ones they had known in Europe. The sacrifices they made in building them is inspiring.

  • Dominique

    I’m making my genealogy tree and I’ve found with the help of a cousin of the 6th grade (!!) that two of my cousins of the 19th century lives in St Mary, Kansas. Their name was Ronsse. One of them teached in the St Marys’s College and was then landbouwer, and went to California, the other was landbouwer in St Mary. And is buried with his family in St Mary’s Calvaty Cemetery This church was also built at the time when they were alive! I wonder that they seen it. I’ve always lived in Europa (France, but my most ancestry is from Belgium) and I wonder how a century ago they could build so beautiful churches and make a so beauticul decoration!
    Perharps I have some cousins alive in St Mary!

    • Suzanne

      Hi Dominique,
      Thanks for visiting. There are many families in that area around St. Mary’s that are descended from the immigrants who built that church, so there could very well be some of your relatives there.

  • Thanks for the beautiful tour of the church. It is a treat to find lovely buildings taken care of. I find it sad when things are forgotten and not repaired over the years. There is a history to save for the future generations.

  • That pipe organ also has an interesting history. Many years ago. . .it had seemingly fallen silent. An electronic counterfeit instrument was purchased, and that console/keydesk had been nailed shut and the speakers placed on a plank atop the keydesk. My business partner – Michael Way – who is a native of Kansas, traveled around the Kansas countryside trying to find old pipe organs. He found St. Mary’s and investigated the organ. The rector went to the rear gallery with him and they puled the nails to reveal the intact keydesk – to the total surprise of the rector. This lead ultimately to the full restoration of this Hinner pipe organ! You can read more about it here: http://database.organsociety.org/SingleOrganDetails.php?OrganID=1263

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