Because west Wichita offers an environment rich in Catholic tradition and educational excellence, many young families, firmly rooted in their religious heritage, moved westward, starting in 1969. Grateful for an experience that had made a crucial difference in their lives, they treasured being near a Catholic Church and school where they could worship and educate their children in the faith.
Our sister to the east, St Francis of Assisi Parish, was established in 1959 and had grown to 1,400 families with 7,000 members by 1982. For this reason, the Most Reverend David M. Maloney, then Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, issued a decree on March 30, 1982, that a new parish be established: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, honoring the only North American-born saint.
Following is the history of our parish, by year. We hope you find this information interesting. We pray it brings a great appreciation of our past, as this is the foundation on which we continue to foster and grow on today.
The effective date of the beginning of our parish was June 24, 1982, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Our first home was the Holy Family Center, located at 619 S. Maize Road. Father Gilmore, now Bishop Gilmore, asked the 400 parishioners, who gathered in the cafeteria for the first Mass, to be “Makers of Miracles” to build a parish community, including a physical structure. The first Mass was put together with borrowed linens for the altar and borrowed chairs. Parishioners worked together and grew together to build a community of faith and fellowship. The first day of school classes for three grades (K-2) began on August 25th, with 59 children enrolled. The Religious Education program started with seven classes and 90 students.
January 4, 1983, marked the first celebration as a parish on the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. On August 31st, Father Gilmore was named Chancellor of the Diocese of Wichita, and Father Kocour began his work as our second pastor. The school year opened with a third grade added and an enrollment of 103 students.
A parish decision was made that the location of the Jaax farm south of Central on 119th Street West was the most appropriate location for the long-term future of the parish. On June 24, 1984, a groundbreaking Mass was celebrated in a wheat field on this site. Plans were being made for a $2.5 million Church, school, and rectory under one roof. Life and growth at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish continued at a phenomenal rate. School began with 115 in grades K-4.
In Spring of 1984, the initial planning for our new parish facility was completed. Several alternatives had been reviewed and a community decision was made that a location near Central on 119th Street was the most appropriate for the long-term future of the parish. It was apparent that this special need would require a special giving from the parish family. In order to secure the initial support and the promise of a long-term commitment, a special fund drive was planned.
The belief that the parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton needed, wanted and would rally to the support of this large, long-term undertaking resulted in the fund drive name of the “Faith in the Future Appeal”.
Under the careful guidance of Father Kocour and our consultant, Jim Donahoo, a Leadership Team, and six area co-captains volunteered and we were underway. The first phase was the initial contact in which every registered member of the parish was called upon. The parishioners responded in an overwhelming manner and by the end of the initial contacts, nearly $1,300,000.00 in commitments and $190,000.00 in cash were received. These gifts were enough to allow firm planning and construction to begin.
The second phase of the Faith in the Future Appeal is the very important Follow-up Committee. Since the initial campaign could not be expected to pledge the complete cost of construction and there is a natural turnover of parishioners moving in and out of the parish, we needed a group with an on-going charter to keep the “Faith in the Future” alive. The committee is comprised of five subcommittees to administer all the functions and activities related to the on-going campaign. It has been gratifying to see our new parishioners so willing to join our appeal with as much generosity as our initial groups of pledges.
It is a real feather in the cap of our young parish that we could come so far and do so well in so little time in our commitment to our God, our faith and our parish family.
In the spring of 1985, Bishop Gerber appointed Father Hemberger as Associate Pastor. During the summer, nearly one hundred members formed a “chain of human beings” to pass bricks, one by one, from the patio, down the hall, up the steps, and reaching across the entire length of the upstairs corridor. Summer also brought guided tours of our new parish facility under construction, and with fall came the last Mass in the Holy Family gymnasium. September 3rd was the first day of classes in the newly built St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Eight classrooms on the lower floor were ready to be occupied with 149 students in grades K-5. The Religious Education program grew to over 150 students. The Church portion of the building was completed and ready for the first weekday Mass on October 6th, followed by the first Sunday Mass on October 12th. The rectory was completed on October 28th.
On January 4, 1986, the entire parish, along with Bishop Gerber, gathered for the formal dedication and blessing of the new facility. In October, Bishop Gerber appointed Father Hemberger to Holy Cross Parish in Hutchinson and named Father Smithhisler as our new Associate Pastor. Our parish grew by 93 families in 1986 as the residential areas erected close by. We totaled 514 families in our parish family. Our school had an enrollment of 195 students in grades K-6.
The year began with special festivities as we celebrated the Centennial of our Diocese. The Lenten season was very special as we installed the Stations of the Cross in the Church. Spring brought the return of Father Hemberger as Father Smithhisler was assigned Associate Pastor at Christ the King Parish. Growth continued with 547 families and 240 students in grades K-7. As an aside: 119th Street was paved in 1987.
In the summer of 1988, Father Jim Jackson and Father Paul Oborney were assigned to serve as Associate Pastors as Father Hemberger was appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of Wichita. We added an eighth grade this year and also a second first grade classroom. Four classrooms were finished on the second floor and a stage was completed in Seton Hall (now Father Kocour Hall). Six classrooms were left unfinished as sufficient funds were lacking to complete. As a sign of the times, fifteen AT&T computers were placed in the library. Approximately 275 students attended the Religious Education Program, which was taught by 33 volunteer teachers and aids.
Additions to the Church this year included nine stained glass windows. Two depicted life and death and the other seven represented the sacraments. We also added statues of Our Blessed Mother, Mother Seton and the Sacred Heart. In May of 1989, we graduated our first class of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School.
Newly ordained Father Lonnie Scheck took over the Associate Pastor duties in June as Father Jackson and Father Oborney took on other appointments. Our parish family continued to grow in numbers. We were now at 777 families with 300 children enrolled in school. 300 children also attended Religious Education. Another 85 students attended Sunday School taught by eight volunteers. On September 4, 1990, Father Kocour left for a three-month sabbatical and Father Dwight Birket was assigned as our interim Pastor.
Father James Billinger began his pastoral ministry on September 17, 1992, when Father Kocour became the moderator of the Wichita Diocesan Mission Team and moved to Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Father Billinger, a gentle shepherd who cares deeply for his flock, calling each by name, came with energetic administrative skills and a gift of vision. His holiness was contagious as he strove to love and serve as Jesus did through teaching, sanctifying and shepherding. Our parish had grown to approximately 900 families and the need for larger facilities was becoming evident.
In the spring, the first Pastoral Council was formed to assist in an advisory capacity with the pastoral needs of the parish. It consisted of eleven members and a youth representative. Father Billinger worked closely with the Pastoral Council and the Finance Committee to evaluate the needs of our growing parish. They spent one year working through a series of listening sessions with parish organizations and focus groups. A parish survey was taken. Newly ordained, Father Michael Schemm, became our Associate Pastor.
As a response to improve communication, June was the rollout of the first parish newsletter, then known as the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Newsletter. In July, the first Stewardship Commission was established to more effectively draw people into the inner life of the parish. The final draft of our three-year Pastoral Plan was shared with all parishioners in September of this year. The plan included 54 goals. The parish had grown to 1,018 families, totaling nearly 4,000 parishioners. The school began cooler this year as central air was in operation for the 452 children enrolled in SEAS school and 400 children in Religious Education. Deacon Bernard Gorges was with us for the summer.
The Compassion Ministry was introduced to the parish on April 29-30 “to recognize and address the special needs of all parishioners.” On Saturday, May 27th, Deacon Tom Hoisington became the first seminarian from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton ordained to the priesthood. In the fall brought the newly formed Social Committee, another offspring of the 1994 Pastoral Plan. Faced with the challenge of deepening the spirituality and vibrancy of our parish in the midst of tremendous growth, the parish entered a facility evaluation process during the summer months.
On March 17, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of Mother Seton, our parish began a constant vigil of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament – Perpetual Adoration. Someone will be present in the Adoration Chapel, with our Lord, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. July brought the departure of Father Schemm as he was assigned to St. Patrick’s parish in Parsons, Kansas and the blessing of newly ordained Father Stuart Smeltzer. On September 14, 1996, Bishop Gerber authorized St. Elizabeth to “proceed with parish expansion plans.” With much work to be done, a Building Commission was established to serve the parish for three years. In October, Father Billinger invited all parishioners to sign up for one of fourteen committees that would assist with the SPIRIT Building Project. Approximately 400 parishioners volunteered. In November, Bill Brown was hired as the architect for the master plan and Howard & Helmer was hired to be the architect for the design development and construction documents. Classrooms doubled in all grades. In December, the schematic layout was presented to the parish, which had grown to 1,250 families or 4,300 individuals.
In January, Simpson and Associates was hired to be the general contractor of the project. In February, the Capital Campaign Committee began visiting homes to ask for pledges. In March, several parishioners, who were builders by profession, began to build a rectory that would reside our current and future priests. April brought the decision to proceed with a third classroom per grade and in June the decision was made for a permanent new wing to accommodate the additional classrooms needed. In October, Father Billinger and Father Smeltzer, with the help of many, moved into their new home. Shortly thereafter, the old rectory was converted into much needed office space. In November, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a new kitchen and new wing of classrooms, which was known as Phase I of the SPIRIT Building Project.
January presented itself with another milestone in our parish history as we retired our original debt. Phase II began on March 29, 1998, when Bishop Gerber joined us for a special Mass, the groundbreaking ceremony for our new Church and the annual parish dinner. Deacon Thomas Leland spent the summer with us. The school year began two weeks late for the 625 SEAS students and 350 Religious Education students, as extra time was needed to finish the new kitchen, new Main Street entrance, and new wing classrooms.
Over 200 parishioners gathered early on March 26th to cheer on the raising of our new sanctuary steeple, which marked a milestone in the building process. With a full Church, seating 1,340, and a full Gathering Space, Bishop Gerber, along with Coadjutor Bishop Olmsted and Bishop Gilmore dedicated the new church on Saturday, October 2nd. A reception followed in the old church, now called Mother Seton Hall.
In April, parishioners were greeted with the large stained glass windows. The windows depict “Christ the Teacher” and “Christ the Shepherd”. July brought farewells to Father Smeltzer as Bishop Gerber assigned him to undertake a degree in Canon Law, a special ministry that will benefit the entire Diocese of Wichita. We were once again blessed with a newly ordained priest to be our Associate Pastor, Father Joseph Eckberg.
The year began with another chapter of history: the beginning of another pastoral planning process which included listening sessions, a parish survey and much discernment on determining the needs of the future. The spring brought the arrival of the small stained glass windows. The windows are images of four North American saints: Blessed Katherine Drexel, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Isaac Jocques, and St. John Neumann. Today, nineteen years after our inception, SEAS has 1,636 families, with a total of 5,722 parishioners. We are still a young parish with a median age of 29. There are 725 students in the Catholic school and 325 in the Religious Education program.
A highlight of the year occurred when Father Billinger celebrated his 10-year anniversary at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. A reception was held after all Masses, giving parishioners a chance to express their thanks, and four banners hung in Mother Seton Hall, expressing love and gratitude for Father’s service. The parish said goodbye to Father Jeff Fasching, who was reassigned to the position of administrator of St. Anthony’s in Strong City and St. Rose of Lima in Council Grove. The FAMILIA (Family Life in America ) was initiated at SEAS. Several improvements were made at the school, including software to automate the library and a new intercom system. In addition, the school focused on six basic behaviors in an effort to teach students to be better examples of Christians. Students were taught and expected to use appropriate greetings; use kind words; use basic manners; be respectful and quiet in the halls; be accepting of the differences in others; refrain from using inappropriate language. The Crafts Fair brought in $22,500. About 2,400 of the always-popular bierocks were sold.
Father Jason Borkenhagen began duties as a part-time associate pastor in June. The church’s beautiful crucifix returned after a five-month absence for alterations by sculptor Jerzy Kenar. A new cross was made, and changes were made to Jesus’ torso, hair, beard, legs, and garment. The altar also underwent reconstruction - rounding off the steps and making them less steep. Net proceeds for the Crafts Fair were $22,062. The theme for Catholic Schools Week was “Making a World of Difference.” A sell-out crowd of 275 enjoyed the first “Stars for a Night” dinner theater presented by CYO. The church welcomed 37 new members into the Catholic Church through the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Vigil. Town hall meetings were held as a way to gauge opinions on a facility master plan. A feasibility study was started.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton hosted a retreat entitled “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Father Jerome Kish from Naperville, Ill. , led the spiritual opportunity, which included five conferences. Stained glass windows, depicting the symbols and stories of the Eucharist, were installed in the Adoration Chapel. Father Edmond Kline was welcomed to SEAS as associate pastor. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Spirit Building II expansion plan was held on June 13. Father Borkenhagen planned the event, and Father Billinger performed the ceremony.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was honored and moved when Bishop Michael Jackels dedicated the new facility after the 12:30 p.m. Mass. Many parishioners were on hand as the Bishop blessed John Paul II Activity Center. Compassion Ministry, a SEAS group that has since helped countless parishioners, celebrated its 10th anniversary. One parishioner, helped by Compassion Ministry’s mother’s program, said, “We felt that Jesus was giving us a hug.” A reception was held for Father Edmond Kline, who was reassigned to St. Francis. “Be Not Afraid” was the Diocesan Stewardship theme. Parishioners welcomed Father Walter C. Karrer to the church. Forty new members joined the Church at the Easter Vigil. Father Jason Borkenhagen left SEAS after he was reassigned to St. Patrick Church in Parsons. A farewell reception was held in Mother Seton Hall. More than 40 youth in CYO gathered in Seton Hall to watch “The Passion of the Christ.” SEAS held its first Casino Night, and the evening was a big success. More than 400 people attended, and $7,800 was raised through the silent auction.
The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton community extended a warm welcome to Father Ben Nguyen. After six years of dedicated service, Mark and Lucy Capps retired as directors of CYO. The SEAS volunteer Navy had attracted 30 volunteers with hopes of reaching 200. Construction came to a close on the Spirit Building II capital campaign. The new John Paul II Activity Center was being heavily used for various activities, as was the St. Maria Goretti Youth Room. The first Western Spirit Night Auction and Dance were well received, with the silent auction raising $15,600.
In May of 2007, the First Mass of Thanksgiving with newly ordained Fr. Matthew Marney was celebrated. The weekend of September 21-23, marked the 25th anniversary of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. The weekend began with a Friday evening outdoor Eucharistic Procession followed by a reception. Saturday began with a pancake breakfast and then a carnival in the evening. Sunday, Bishop Jackels joined us for the celebration of Mass and the dedication and blessing of our new bell tower. Later that afternoon, our parishioners enjoyed a picnic packed with fun, food and fellowship. The parish had grown to 1,987 families, totaling well over 6,000 parishioners. The school enrolled 700 plus students, K-8, and the Religious Education classes had over 370 participants.
Fr. Billinger announced his new assignment at Holy Savior Catholic Church in May of 2008. The parish hosted a farewell gathering for him on June 1st, and on June 9th, we welcomed a new pastor, Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke. As Fr. Ken settled in, meeting, greeting and shepherding his people, he dubbed the parish "Our Lady of Perpetual Motion": extraordinarily busy, but incredibly blessed.
A new pastoral plan was formed which called for much needed and necessary updates to our parish hall. Carpeting, lighting and acoustics were reviewed. A new website was launched which featured Webcast capabilities.
Despite economic hardships, in May of 2010, our building debt was paid in full. We also celebrated another one of our parish son's ordinations. Fr. Patrick Reiley offered his First Mass of Thanksgiving, Sunday, May 25th. In the Sanctuary, the Stations of the Cross were newly mounted, the votive candles upgraded and devotional corners with statues were created. Mother Seton Hall was upgraded with new lighting.
In February of 2011, a parish dinner was hosted with capacity attendance. Plaques with names of living and our beloved deceased were blessed by Fr. Ken, and were hung in the bell tower. In March, the Lenten journey began with a Parish Mission and remarkable attendance. New carpet was installed in Mother Seton Hall. Through various parishioner donations, a St. Peregrine statue, the patron saint for cancer, was placed in the Sanctuary. A farewell reception was hosted on June 18/19, for Fr. Ken and Fr. Yancey. We welcomed our new Pastor, Fr. Sherman Orr, and Associate Pastor, Fr. Marco De Loera.
From our humble beginnings in a former wheat field to the beautiful steeple gracing the skyline, it is evident that the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish family continues to be a community that prays and worships together. We will continue to be the "Makers of Miracles" that Bishop Gilmore asked us to be so many years ago.