St. Matthew’s Parish became a reality in 1955. Long before that time the need for a parish in southeast Topeka was presented to Bishop Donnelly by Monsignor Eugene Vallely. Approval was given and the name was established in the 1940’s. The name “Matthew” has roots which go back to the Hebrew words “Mattath” meaning “gift," and “Yah,” an abbreviation of “Jehovah,” thus giving the name the meaning “Jehovah’s Gift.”
Land for the new parish was located by Msgr. George Christ and Fr. John O’Connor. A tract of land on the south side of 29th Street between Indiana and Kentucky Avenues was purchased August 15, 1949. This was a two block deep - eight acre area.
On November 27, 1955, the First Sunday of Advent, St. Matthew’s was officially organized. The first Mass was celebrated at the Assumption Church. Our first pastor, Fr. Arthur J. Trompeter, had arrived from Baileyville, Ks., two days earlier, on November 25, 1955. A duplex located at 2936 Indiana was purchased as the rectory and temporary office. It was also used for religious instruction and as a workshop during that first year.
Arrangements were made to use the Army Reserve Armory at 21st and Washington Streets for Sunday Masses. There were two Masses each Sunday, and a nursery was provided for babies. Assumption Church loaned their facilities for other religious celebrations.
During the first year of St. Matthew’s parish history, a fund drive was held, the Altar Society was formed and we began the labor of love, that of building a parish community.
For Mass to be held in the Armory, it was necessary each Sunday to set up the chairs, kneelers and altar, and to take everything down after the last Mass. A schedule of workers was printed in the monthly bulletin. The early bulletins reflect the hard work associated with the growing parish. They also reflect the building of a spirit of Community. Each member of the parish had an opportunity to contribute. Many volunteers were needed to establish an active, progressive parish. Everything that could be done by the parishioners was done and at a great savings to the parish.
In October of 1956, the 10-acre tract of land and home of Mrs. Mary Burrows, which is now the location of St. Matthew’s, was purchased for the new parish at a cost of less than $90,000. Mrs. Burrow was a kind and generous lady who, although not of the Catholic faith, desired to have her property used as a location for our church, knowing that the Catholic Church would care for the property the way she would have wanted it cared for. Fr. Trompeter moved in the “new” residence on Thanksgiving Day, 1956.
The Highland Park area was established through the effort of Major Joseph K. Hudson. Major Hudson, for whom Hudson Street is named, was the founder of the Topeka DAILY CAPITAL in 1879. He had a dream of establishing a fine residential district overlooking Topeka. He purchased a tract of land from George Veale and reserved one area for himself. That area is today St. Matthew’s property.
During the first year of its existence, the parish reported the baptism of 83 infants, 10 children, and 11 adults. There were two deaths of adults and one child reported. There were six marriages and six other marriages were validated. As a result of that first pledge drive, $150,000 was pledged. The first discussion group within the parish was formed, meeting in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Weekes. During that first summer, St. Matthew’s held a “Country Fair” on the property at 29th and Indiana.
St. Matthew’s served approximately 300 families during that first year, although an accurate count was not really available since the congregation was not able to all worship together. At that time, Forbes Air Force Base was an active Strategic Air Command facility, and the contributions made by the Catholic families from the base were many and are gratefully remembered.
After the move to the present rectory, there was room for meetings of all kinds. Plans developed rapidly for the Church-School building, which was designed by Brinkman and Hagan of Emporia, KS, with an estimated price tag of $300,000. Contracts were let and excavation started in June, 1957. The cornerstone was laid on May 11, 1958, with Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler officiating at the happy occasion.
The original building consisted of the gymnasium area with basement, and the school area with room for eight classrooms. The present gymnasium, two classrooms and lavatories on the second floor were left unfinished. The basement was arranged so that Mass could be celebrated there temporarily. It was a joyous occasion when the building was dedicated on August 24, 1958, with Archbishop Hunkeler offering a Solemn Pontifical Mass. The altar, kneelers and all other belongings were moved from the Armory, again showing the dedication and vast amount of work done by the members of our parish. The ladies of the parish prepared a dinner for the clergy which was served in the rectory following the dedication. At last, we were finally able to be all together in our own building!
School opened that year, in September 1958, with an enrollment of 245. There were five classrooms, with seventh and eighth grades, fifth and sixth grades, third and fourth grades sharing classrooms, and first and second grades with their own rooms. Our first principal was Sr. Alice Ann Keefe O.S.B. Through the years that followed, we were very fortunate to have been served by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica from that opening day throughout the next thirty-nine years. There are not enough words to describe their contributions to St. Matthew’s. We are and always will be grateful that they chose to be a part of our history and heritage.
The rectory was divided into two sections to provide living quarters for the sisters and for the pastor. Essentially the south half of the house and the third floor were used by the sisters. The former pantry was converted into a kitchen for the rectory section, which also included the north half of the first and second floors of the house. This arrangement held until the home at 2405 Maryland was purchased in 1973 to be used as the convent.
Along with the opening of school came the formation of the parent-teacher organization. The group was begun with a meeting on October 5, 1958. This became a very active and work-oriented organization. Along with the usual fund raising for school equipment, parents helped with noon hour playground supervision, coaching of athletic teams, erecting playground equipment, and many other helpful activities. Boy and Girl Scout organizations were formed and school activities blossomed.
A thrift shop was opened by the Altar Society in the “summer cottage”, which was located between the rectory and the church, and has since been torn down. In 1958 a fall bazaar and turkey dinner was held for the first time. This custom is still going strong, although the summer fair ended in 1971.
The silver jubilee of Fr. Trompeter’s Ordination to the Priesthood was celebrated here on December 28, 1958. The students presented entertainment with a program entitled “The Bells Chime”, and the clergy in attendance was served dinner in the front hallway of the school.
The move from the basement to the now “old” Church (Trompeter Gym) was accomplished mostly through the efforts of volunteers working evenings and Saturdays. Easter was celebrated there for the first time on April 17, 1960. At that time, there were used pews, no rug, very little padding on the kneelers, but the congregation was grateful to be up out of the basement and to have more room in a permanent location.
During the next few years, the summer and fall fund raisers and social gatherings continued, a fireworks stand was operated by the parish each July, rummage sales, bake sales, card parties and other activities helped with the finances.
On June 2, 1963, we were able to help Fr. William G. O’Shea celebrate his silver jubilee. Fr. O’Shea was one of the many priests who had helped at St. Matthew’s. Some of the others included Fr. Thomas, Fr. Piacitelli, Fr. Wm. Vincent, Fr. Al Pecinovsky, Fr. Bednodzik, Fr. Jacob Mossburger and, as assistants, Fr. Robert Myers and Fr. Thomas Punzo. We were also blessed to have Fr. Francis, Fr. Linus McManus, and Fr. Aaron Peters, O.S.B. assisting through the years as well. Undoubtedly there are others who are not named but for whom we are eternally grateful. We are sorry for the lack of information to name them individually.
The addition of six rooms to the school wing was begun by the letting of bids in July of 1964. The school had grown so large that temporary classrooms had been erected in the church basement (the present day Early Learning Center). The new building was to cost approximately $145,000. Final completion of the first building was done before the new building was started. The new addition was put to use for the school year 1965-66.
In June, 1971, Fr. Trompeter was transferred to St. Patrick’s Church in Kansas City, Kansas, and Fr. Thomas Clune was assigned as our second pastor.
During 1973, the convent for the sisters was purchased and the church remodeling was begun. We were again “sent to the basement” for Mass, but this time we knew it would not be for long. On March 17, 1974, the re-dedication of the church was held, with Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker officiating at a special Mass of Thanksgiving. The newly renovated church featured the luxury of new pews, carpeted floors, and stained glass windows. The windows were designed by Fr. Clune in conjunction with Alexander Boyle, an architect from Lawrence, Kansas. The windows were built by Hopcroft Art and Stained Glass Works of Kansas City, Missouri. The windows on the east side of the church depicted events from the Old Testament, while those on the west depicted scenes from the New Testament. At this time, the parish served approximately 680 families.
Fr. Clune was transferred to St. Leo’s Parish in Holton in August, 1977 and our third pastor, Fr. Raymond Burger, was welcomed to St. Matthew’s.
During 1978, we added a kindergarten class to our school, and the building was made more accessible to those with physical handicaps, including the addition of the chair lift to the church basement.
We were blessed to receive approval from the Archbishop to have several young men appointed as Lay Assistants to Fr. Burger, who assisted with many of the ministries that took place within our parish, including visitation of the sick, teaching religious education classes and establishing a youth ministry program for our high school age members. The Lay Assistant program lasted several years.
As compared to our first year statistics, as of April 1, 1980, our 25th anniversary year, the parish served 1,000 families. During those first twenty-five years, the parish had celebrated 2,373 Baptisms; 2,205 First Communions; 1,594 Confirmations; 364 Marriages; and 119 Funerals.
All during the years, the parishioners had a growing desire for a “proper” church building, and Fr. Burger became the “driving force” behind the effort to make this desire a reality. A planning committee headed by Fr. Burger began the process of obtaining information needed to give to the Archbishop. Serving on the committee were Frank Sabatini, Pat Herrman, Frank Boos, Bill Knoebber, Bill Dinkel and Lavina Haefele. Permission was given by Archbishop Strecker to proceed with the building in 1985.
Ground was broken on May 4, 1986, and construction began the following day. The architect in charge was Dave DeBusman of H.T. Paul Co., Inc. of Topeka, and the General Contractor was B.A. Green Construction Co., of Lawrence, Kansas. The building cost totaled $1,437,463.00. Some of the stained glass panels from the “old” church were used in the weekday chapel and in the main entryway. During the building process, the supervision of construction and chairman of the building committee was Pat Herrman. As with the original building, many volunteer hours were given by many parishioners. Evidence of all the work done is with us each time we enter our church. After much work and planning, the new St. Matthew’s Church was officially dedicated on August 10, 1987 by Archbishop Strecker.
On May 14, 1988, the first ordination was celebrated at St. Matthew’s Church. Fr. Patrick Clarence Wedeking was ordained by Bishop Jermone Hastrich from the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico. Fr. Wedeking is the son of the late Adeline and William Wedeking.
Our fourth pastor, Fr. Thomas Melchior, came to us in August of 1988, and brought with him a very sincere love for the liturgy and a strong belief in the ministry of the laity. In May of 1990, the parish joined Fr. Melchior in celebrating his 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood.
St. Matthew’s Parish celebrated its second ordination on June 12, 1993 when Fr. Ray May, son of Ray and Freida May, was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Strecker. Fr. May celebrated his First Mass at St. Matthew’s on June 13, 1993.
In July of 1993, Fr. Melchior took a Personal Leave of Absence from active ministry for health reasons. For the next five months, as the parish awaited the assignment of a new pastor, Fr. Mick Mulvaney, who had been serving as the Associate Pastor at Christ the King Parish in Topeka, was moved to St. Matthew’s to serve as Parish Administrator.
Just prior to Thanksgiving Day 1993, Fr. Thomas Hesse took over the reigns as Pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish. Nine months later, for personal reasons, Fr. Hesse left St. Matthew’s, and once again the parish was without a full-time pastor.
Fr. Norbert Lickteig, Pastor of Christ the King Parish, was a tremendous help to our parish as we once again waited for the assignment of a new pastor. He not only continued his ministry as Pastor of Christ the King Parish, but also filled in as Administrator of St. Matthew’s Parish. From September-October of 1994, Fr. Donald DeSousa, a visiting priest from India, lived at St. Matthew’s and assisted with weekend and weekday liturgies. His friendship and support were a real blessing during a difficult time in the life of our parish. Following Fr. Donald’s departure to return to India, Fr. Lickteig and Abbot Barnabas Senecal, O.S.B., joined us every weekend to Celebrate the Eucharist, while the weekday liturgies were covered by Fr. Lickteig and the other priests from Topeka. With the support and encouragement of the Topeka clergy, our parishioners pulled together as a community of faith, and St. Matthew ’s continued to grow and move forward, even during this time of uncertainty and loss.
On Ash Wednesday, March 1, 1995 our prayers for a new pastor were answered, and Fr. Patric Riley officially was assigned Pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish. His energy and enthusiasm, along with his strong sense of leadership and dedication to the spiritual well-being of all members of our parish, proved to be a real blessing for St. Matthew’s.
On December 3, 1995 we celebrated our 40th Anniversary as a parish with a Mass of Thanksgiving, at which the principal celebrant was Archbishop James Keleher, joined by Msgr. Trompeter, Fr. Ray Burger and Fr. Pat Riley as concelebrants. It was a truly wonderful celebration, with beautiful music and singing, and a deep sense of community felt by young and old alike. A reception followed in the “old” church, which is now known as Trompeter Gym. Charter members of the parish were honored with a special reception on the evening of November 28th, and with a special place in the procession at the anniversary Mass. The children of the parish celebrated by having “birthday parties”, hosted by St. Matthew’s Grade School and Religious Education parents and teachers. While we celebrated with joy and thanksgiving the first 40 years in the life of our parish, we also look with hope and anticipation towards all that the Lord has in store for St. Matthew Parish in the years to come.
During the first 40 years of its existence, St. Matthew’s Parish had grown to 1,312 households, and had celebrated 3,717 Baptisms; 3,420 First Communions; 2,517 Confirmations; 683 Marriages; and 340 Funerals.
May of 1997 marked the end of an era at St. Matthew’s Grade School. We said goodbye to the Principal of our grade school, Sister Mary Margaret Kean, O.S.B. as she departed St. Matthew’s to take a new position at Benedictine College in Atchison. We also bid a fond farewell to Sister Martha Schweiger, O.S.B., who taught for many years in our grade school. As there were no other sisters to take their place, their departure brought to a close a long standing relationship with the Benedictine sisters whose presence had been so much a part of our Grade School for so many years.
With the approach of the new millennium and in celebration of the Jubilee 2000, St. Matthew’s joined other parishes in our Archdiocese by participating in “RENEW 2000”, a program designed to help people connect with other parishioners by establishing and participating in small faith sharing communities. Many members of our parish joined these faith sharing communities, and by sharing their faith with one another, they not only helped the members of their small community grow closer to God, but strengthened and built up our parish community as well.
At the mid-way point of the year 2000, there were 1,368 households registered in our parish, which translated into 3,999 members. Since it was established, St. Matthew had celebrated 4,072 Baptisms, 3741 First Communions, 2848 Confirmations, 786 Marriages, and 448 Funerals.
In 2001, the parish once again had reason to celebrate when parishioner Fr. Darren Henson, son of Duane and Rosemary Henson of our parish, was ordained on June 2nd by Archbishop James Keleher.
In July, 2004 Fr. Pat Riley’s time at St. Matthew’s came to a close with his assignment as pastor at Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park, and our new pastor, Fr. Jerry Volz, moved back home to Topeka from Emporia, where he had been the Director of the Didde Campus Ministry Center at Emporia State University.
In the Fall of 2005, St. Matthew’s Parish celebrated it’s 50th anniversary as a parish. In September, around the Feast of St. Matthew, the parish hosted a “Homecoming Weekend,” which included a golf tournament, a 50’s dance, an old-fashioned parish picnic, and a talent show. The anniversary celebration culminated with a special Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated on November 20th. Archbishop Joseph Naumann was the principle celebrant, and he was joined by our pastor, Fr. Jerry Volz, our previous pastors Fr. Pat Riley and Monsignor Raymond Burger. Among the other concelebrants at the Mass were Abbot Barnabas Senecal, O.S.B. and Fr. Aaron Peters, O.S.B., Fr. Bruce Ansems and Fr. Gary Pennings (both of whom had been assigned to St. Matthew’s during their seminary internship), and the other priests from the Topeka region. Among the other special guests were some of the past principals and teachers from our school, including the Benedictine Sisters who worked so hard over the years to help build up our parish. Following Mass, a scrumptious dinner was served in the Parish Activities Center. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, seeing familiar faces and sharing heartfelt memories.
As we celebrated 50 wonderful years, there were 1,059 households registered in our parish, which translated into 3,142 members. During its first 50 years, St. Matthew’s celebrated 4,452 Baptisms; 4,041 First Communions; 3,169 Confirmations; 884 Marriages; and 583 Funerals.
Shortly after Fr. Volz arrived at St. Matthew’s, an evaluation process was started to see where we were at as a parish and to do some 3,5, and 10 year planning, looking ahead to what the future might hold in store for our parish. One of the findings that surfaced was the need to expand our parish facilities, especially in terms of a new parish hall that would be accessible to all of our parishioners so that everyone could participate in the various events and functions that are so much a part of parish life. As a result, the parish began looking at the possibility of building such a facility. Following a series of “town hall” meetings, the consensus was that the parish needed to move forward with developing building plans and starting a capital campaign to fund the project. A plan was developed for the construction of a new parish hall that would be connected to the church building by a new grand entry that would serve as a gathering space where people could congregate and socialize before and after Mass and other events at the church. In addition, the new structure would also be connected to the grade school building, thus making it accessible to our school.
Two other needs that surfaced were the need to relocate our parish run Early Learning Center, which had been located across the street from the church, and to provide a private residence/rectory for our pastor, both present and future. It was decided that the location of the former parish hall, which was in the basement below the school gym, would be remodeled to accommodate the Early Learning Center, and where the Early Learning Center once stood, that house would be torn down and a new rectory built in its place.
With an estimated price tag of $2.25 million dollars, the parish began laying the groundwork for a capital campaign, and on December 8th, 2007, the parish unveiled the “Building God’s Kingdom Together” Capital Campaign, a three year campaign that would go from January 1, 2008-December 31, 2010. As they had done so many times in the past, when there was a need, the people of St. Matthew’s responded. Pledges were made totaling almost $2.5 million dollars.
On September 28, 2008 Archbishop Joseph Naumann joined us as we broke ground for the new construction, and on September 13, 2009 the Archbishop returned to St. Matthew’s to bless and dedicate our new facility. The new hall can accommodate nearly twice as many people as the old hall did, and being on the ground level, it is easily accessible to everyone.
Construction on the new rectory began in the late summer of 2009, and in March 2010, Fr. Jerry moved in to the new rectory. The former rectory, which not only served as the pastor’s residence for many years but also housed the parish offices, was renamed the Parish Conference Center, and is now not only the home for all the various parish offices, but also provides much needed meeting space for all of the parish groups and organizations.
On May 24, 2014, Fr. Adam Wliczak, son of parishioners Ronald and Debbie Wilczak, was ordained by Archbishop Joseph Naumann.
In July, 2014 Fr. Volz was reassigned as pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, KS, and Fr. John Torrez, formerly the pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in Olathe, KS, became our new pastor. Like was the case with Fr. Volz, Fr. John's move to Topeka was a "home coming" as well, since he grew up in Topeka as a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
Since its founding, St. Matthew Parish has grown and flourished. Many people have passed through the doors of St. Matthew’s, and many people have come to call St. Matthew “home.” There have been tears and there has been laughter. We have shared each other’s joys and felt each other’s pain. We have worked together, prayed together, enjoyed one another’s company and companionship. We’ve been blessed in many, many ways, and as a parish, we have much for which to be grateful, but as has been the case throughout our parish history, the spirit of our parishioners and their willingness to get involved and actively participate in the life of the parish has been and continues to be one of our greatest blessings.