Farmers put in Their two Cents Worth to Build This Country Cathedral

Bland, Karen Ann. "Farmers put in Their two Cents Worth to Build This Country Cathedral." Country Extra, July 2000.

I grew up in the shadow of Holy Cross Catholic Church...and with a steeple that reaches 165 feet into the sky, what a shadow it casts.

The church is located in the tiny town of Pfeifer, Kansas on the south bank of the Smoky Hill River. You can see the massive cross atop the steeple from all around, which is how the imposing building earned the nickname Cross in the Valley.

Many of Pfeifer's residents are descendants of the Volga Germans who emigrated from Russia between 1876 and 1878. The native limestone structure stands as a lasting monument to these strong and lively people, whose generosity and self-denial made its construction possible.

Holy Cross is also known as the Two Cent Church. That's because in 1911, when plans for building and financing the structure were outlined, farmers in the parish were assessed two cents on every bushel of wheat they produced.

Back in those days, wheat sold for about 45 cents per bushel, which made the assessment almost as steep as the church's steeple. But 2.8 million bushels later, the $56,000 structure was funded.

Built Around Old Church
The parish decided to build on the same land where their old house of worship sat. In fact, the new building's 6-foot-deep by 10-foot-wide foundation was laid around the old church. When it was roofed in, the old church on the inside was dismantled--hence, another nickname, Church Around the Church.

Holy Cross was dedicated on May 3, 1918. About 6 weeks later, my Great-Aunt Elizabeth and her husband were the first couple to be married there.

The Two Cent Church is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and was built under the able direction of Father Peter Burkard. It was patterned after a church in Father Burkard's homeland of Germany and was laid out in the form of a cross.

The Church is 165 feet long, matching the height of its steeple. The limestone used for the outer walls was excavated from the chalk bluffs north of town. The main entrance features an inlaid tile greeting: MEIN HAUS IST EINET HAUS, which is German for "My House Is Your House". The cavernous interior seats 250.

Due to World War I, stained glass and paint were nearly impossible to obtain. So the windows were frosted glass and the walls were unpainted. The church remained in this incomplete condition until 1962, when under the guidance of Fred Emil Sinner, the interior was elaborately decorated.

Tenacious Parishioners
The population of Pfeifer gradually declined to 35 people and the congregation dwindled to 65 members. So the parish was dissolved in 1993.

But the story doesn't end there. In order to maintain their church and cemetery, the few remaining parishioners formed Holy Cross Charities Inc., a nonprofit organization that depends solely on donations.

Through their efforts, the church building is open to the public on a daily basis and is available for weddings, funerals and family-reunion Masses. It's also a point of interest for busloads of tourists visiting the area.

Thanks to the tenacity of these church members, Holy Cross continues to cast a big shadow on the Kansas plains.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller