Sacred Heart Church in Ness City, Kansas, was built in 1911 with Catholic Extension funding.
Its pastor, Father Henry Hildebrandt, is the only Catholic priest in the county. With the next Catholic Church about 30 miles away, the 320 families who belong to the parish are close-knit. They are also devoted to the church school, which has 80 students.
“The school is a ministry of the Church,” said Father Hildebrandt, whose salary Catholic Extension funds. “We have an important dynamic.”
The parish office is also the school office; the parish and school secretary is the same person. Father Hildebrandt eats lunch everyday with the students and also teaches a religion class. The school creates a strong sense of family, structuring activities for older and younger students to do together. Parents get drawn in too. This year alone, the parish had nine baptisms for children connected to the school—mainly children whose parents had been inactive Catholics.
“Children who haven’t been baptized start desiring baptism when they are at school, especially in the second grade, when all their classmates are receiving first holy Communion,” said Father Hildebrandt.
He explained that Sacred Heart School has a special tradition for baptisms: They take place during the Easter season, at school, during the weekly all-school Mass on Wednesday. The Mass is followed by a big celebration and lunch to which the whole community comes.
“This has a powerful evangelizing effect,” he said. Sacred Heart School supports family life. “More and more, as children come from fractured homes, the school is a stabilizing and nurturing influence,” he said.
The school emphasizes values such as empathy, acceptance and concern for others.
“Everything that takes place in this building— every interaction, every exchange—we are forming the kingdom of God,” said Father Hildebrandt.