A Brief History of St. Joseph Church Building
St. Joseph German Catholic Parish was organized in 1887 to minister to the needs of the Germans and German-Russians who had flocked to Topeka in search of a better way of life. In the early years, the parish was the core of the lives of its immigrant members as they struggled to assimilate to their new country.
On December 11, 1887 a two story brick building, church on the second floor, two schoolrooms and pastor’s quarters of six rooms on the first floor, was presented to Bishop Fink for dedication by the parish pastor Father Francis Henry. This first church was situated on three lots at 213 W. Third Street. From the beginning, the people knew that this building was to be but a temporary home for Our Lord until such time as they could erect a proper, permanent house for Him.
Lots were purchased at the northwest corner of Third and Van Buren and construction of the current St. Joseph Catholic Church began in the summer of 1898. The building, designed by architect George Stauduhar, is styled after the great basilicas of Europe, with the nave and transept forming a cross pattern, and the sanctuary area in a semicircular shape. Carolingian influence is very apparent in the narrow, yet exaggerated height of the front façade with its ever narrowing spires like arrows pointing upward, meant to draw the eye heavenward. Gothic features also abound, including the pointed arches of the gables, the steep pitch of the roof, high walls accented by large windows with rounded arches, clusters of columns, and elaborate decorative detailing in the brick and stone.
The new church was dedicated in 1900, and furnishings including the altars, pews, confessionals, statuary, organ and clocks, were added over the next nine years as funds became available. The very elaborate decorative painting was completed by Jacques Mueller in 1909, and included twelve beautiful fresco paintings, one in each arch of the nave and transept, as well as six frescoes on the sanctuary walls and beautiful scenes of angels and cherubs above each of the altars. This original décor graced the church for the next thirty-three years.
In 1932, upon the death of the founding pastor, Fr. Anthony Blaufuss was appointed pastor of the parish. After completing many repairs to the school and convent, and building a new pastor’s residence, he was ready to embark on a complete interior restoration of the church. The restoration, completed in 1942, included addition of marble wainscoting throughout the church, replastering and repainting of the walls and ceilings except for the murals in the arches, and new decorative artwork in the sanctuary area. Also included was the painting of the four circular depictions of the life of St. Joseph in the center of the transept. This second décor, designed and executed by the Liskowiak Studios, remained in place until 1956.
Fr. George Kuglmeier, who had come as pastor in 1949, recognized the need to again mend the plaster work of the church. He engaged Joseph Kadich to refurbish the interior of the church and to refresh the paint on all the statuary. The trend of the time was to “marbleize” and apply gold leaf to everything, which Mr. Kadich accomplished with the use of various stencils, brushes and feathers. He also painted new designs above the arches and a depiction of the Holy Trinity above the main altar. In retrospect, it is a blessing that he did not marbleize the altars also, but rather cleaned and revarnished the beautiful wood.
Lastly, in 1980, due to severe plaster damage, yet another repair and repainting project was necessary. The pastor, Fr. Arthur Trompeter, was faced with a most unpleasant task. This time, many of the frescoes were lost because large areas had to be taken all the way down to the lath substructure. The resulting décor which is now seen is the result of these repair efforts.
Today, the parish is embarking on a tremendous project to repair and preserve the church. Under the leadership of Fr. Tim Haberkorn, both the exterior and interior of the church will undergo a thorough restoration. Outside, the brick, stone, glass, and decorative trim work will all be made sound again. Inside, the walls, ceilings, and furnishings will all be redone. Although portions of each artist’s work remains, there is no cohesive design to blend them all together. The new artistic rendering by Conrad Schmitt Studios demonstrates how elements of all eras as well as new techniques will be utilized to bring the interior back to the beautiful worship space that it should be, not only for our edification, but for the benefit of generations to come.