Historic St. Bernard Parish celebrates centennial

The Most Rev. Paul Coakley, bishop of the Diocese of Salina, celebrates a special Mass Oct. 18 at St. Bernard Parish in Ellsworth. With him are priests of the diocese. Bishop Coakley is a former priest of the Diocese of Wichita. (photo by Jeff Cooper)

Parish of the Diocese of Salina sparked the formation of the church’s Extension Society
ELLSWORTH – The small Kansas parish whose impoverished state 100 years ago sparked the formation of a major charity, the Catholic Church Extension Society, celebrated the centennial of its church building on Sunday, Oct. 18.
In 1909, with the help of $2,000 from the society it inspired, St. Bernard’s Parish finished construction on the church building it still occupies.
St. Bernard Parish was desperately poor in 1905, when Father Francis Clement Kelley, a priest from Michigan, visited Ellsworth as he toured Catholic churches on the Midwestern frontier. Fr. Kelley was shocked by the rundown church building and the poverty of the parish pastor, and on the train ride home to Michigan wrote an article, “I know little ‘shanty’ in the West,” that caused a sensation when it was published that year in the Ecclesiastical Review.
The response from urban Catholics who wanted to help prompted the formation of the Catholic Church Extension Society, which gained formal Vatican recognition in 1907.
To date, Catholic Extension has raised and granted nearly $500 million for 12,000 churches. Catholic Extension provides funds that empower communities founded in faith to establish themselves, become self sustaining, create outreach ministries, and build and renovate churches.
A donation of $2,000 a century ago helped St. Bernard parishioners finish their church.