LIEBENTHAL, Kan. (KSNW) – High above the plains of central Kansas, the steeple of St. Joseph’s stands as a testament to perseverance.
“This church has survived two fires where it gutted it completely, but the steeple was still there so this is the second time the steeple has been replaced,” said project manager, Josh Hunter of Roofmasters in Hays.
It’s another test of faith for this tiny church. The cost of fixing the copper– $100,000 is only the first challenge.
“And weather delays, wind. You can’t be up in that bucket with the high winds of Kansas,” said longtime parishioner, Judy Hoffman.
150-feet in the air, the steeple is also a lightning rod. Even when the weather is calm for the roofing crew, then they face the heat.
“The summer months make it difficult,” said Hunter. “When that sun is shining down, the copper heats up. The guys wear gloves.”
Yet the church congregation never doubts its decision to hold true to history and how the steeple originally looked.
“This church was built and dedicated in 1905,” said Hoffman. “It is a landmark. It is the center of attention for the town.”
Like St. Joseph’s, Liebenthal has survived adversity.
Settled by German immigrants from Russia in 1876, the town became divided over where to build this church.
“And when the strong-willed people built it here, those who were unhappy moved away,” explained Hoffman.
But not far away, just five miles down the road, they built St. Anthony Church and the town of Schoenchen, again named for their homeland.
More immigrants came, making Ellis County the “German Capital of Kansas.”
There are no hard feelings now between the dueling churches, but Liebenthal did come first, and town pride fuels this project.
“This is 20 gauge. What they had before was 16, like this green,” said Randy Urban, president of the church council, comparing the copper sheets used on the steeple. “So it’s going to be a lot more durable. It’s going to be a lot more difficult for the wind to get under.”
The roofing crew also removes a cross off each gable, hand-making new ones.
Now, nearly a year after the church’s fundraising began, the new steeple shines like a beacon.
“The final picture,” said Hoffman. “It’s just really heart-warming.”
St. Joseph’s is still collecting donations to pay for the work on its steeple.
The church has raised about half the money needed, mostly from people who grew up in Liebenthal and tourists who pass through.