Leavenworth Kansas Carmelites Join Parishioners in Ongoing Jubilee
By: Joseph Kerzich

A 150 year celebration of the roots of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary in the United States is one anniversary that deserves lengthy festivities. Saint Joseph in Leavenworth, Kansas, the first Carmelite parish in the United States, was founded on September 5, 1858. Next year marks the sesquicentennial of the parish and two major efforts are combined to celebrate the legacy of faith: renovation of the church and a year long jubilee celebration.

Just three years after the foundation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the pioneer French Jesuit missionary, John Baptist Miege, S.J., Bishop of Leavenworth, founded this parish for German immigrants. In fact, German was spoken in the parish from the 1850s until the 1930s.

Cyril Knoll and Xavier Huber, two Carmelite priests from the Bavarian monastery of Straubing, Germany, departed in May, 1864, for the United States. They had received permission from the Prior General of the Carmelites to make an American foundation for the Order.

The Carmelites influence on the Leavenworth area was soon evident. Diocesan priests, Father Kilian (Louis) Guenther, and Father Theodore (Albert) Heiman both joined the Carmelite Order within months of Knoll and Huber’s arrival. They took first vows as Carmelites on March 19, 1866, in Leavenworth.

Father Albert Heiman would make great strides in expanding the ministry of this fledgling Carmelite Commissariat. He would build the present Saint Joseph Church, make the Carmelite foundation in Scipio, Kansas, and establish the brothers in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Louis Guenther was to serve as pastor at Saint Joseph for two different periods of time and construct the original 1896 school building, which now serves as the Development Office. Since those early decades of growth, the physical presence of this parish remains as a spiritual, historical and visual landmark in Leavenworth.

Beginning this past May and lasting over seventeen weeks, under the direction of Father David McEvoy, O.Carm., pastor, renovation work occurred from ceiling to basement; the last major work occurring twenty years ago. The sanctuary renovation was contracted to Ecclesiastical Studios of Greenwood, Missouri, under the direction of Don Wendt. The ceiling plaster was repaired before a new paint scheme, designed to highlight the interior architecture, was applied.

The main central altar saw its woodwork professionally restored and its statues repainted. Centered within is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel flanked by the Prophet Elijah and Brother B., the first Carmelite. This altar was installed in 1946 and patterned after the altar in the monastery in Niagara Falls.

Additional highlights will rein- force the parish’s heritage, particu- larly two murals, designed and painted by the distinguished Kansas artist, Ernst Ulmer.

The images which overlook the sanctuary include one of Saint Albert of Jerusalem near the Font of Elijah. The patriarch is issuing the rule of community to early Carmelites in their striped habits. The Mediterra- nean Sea is visible with a cloud mov- ing in from the west, symbolizing the Blessed Virgin Mary. 2007 marks the 800th year anniversary of the founda- tion of the order pictured there.

The adjacent mural features Fathers Knoll and Huber, who arrived in Leavenworth on October 7, 1864, receiving administration of the parish from Bishop Miege two days later. Also pictured is Father Heiman, who over- saw the church’s construction and the pioneer community of Leavenworth, situated along side the Mississippi River. The monastery in Straubing, Germany, alongside the Danube River appears in the upper portion. It serves as a reminder of the parish’s ethnic heritage as well as the origin of its Carmelite legacy.

Kinzler Hall, located beneath the sanctuary, saw much needed improve- ments in the renovation. The hall was originally dug out by the hands of parishioners of Saint Joseph in the late 1940’s, led by Father Leonard Kinzler, then pastor. Father Kinzler is related to Brother Herman Kinzler, who first professed his vows within the province in 2003.

This past September 5th, the restored church was reopened for the Opening Jubilee Mass, beginning the year long celebration. Parishioners donated a statue of Saint Joseph to be placed in the front of the church in a niche which has remained empty since the church’s construction in 1871.

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