Our Lady of Guadalupe parish was started and organized because of the enthusiastic interest of twenty families who migrated from Mexico to escape poverty or the Revolution of 1910. The movement was influenced by the growth of railroads and the need for labor during and after World War I. On a hot July day in 1914, Pedro Lopez was at the railroad station to send off a package. While there he recognized a Mexican priest named Father Epifanio Ocampo. They began to talk and in the course of the conversation, Pedro Lopez expressed his and the Mexican community’s desire for their own Catholic parish. Father Ocampo agreed to help Mr. Lopez and then the pair began to talk to other priests in Topeka in an effort to gain support in the forming of a parish.
Father Ocampo and Mr. Lopez were successful in their efforts as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was established on November 4, 1914. The first church, a small rented store on the corner of Crane and Branner, was blessed by Rev. John Ward, Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Leavenworth at 2 p.m. The first services were attended by 350 Mexican-American Catholics. The people attended mass weekly in this church until 1921 when a second church was built on Branner Street. The second church was truly a church of the people. The parishioners donated their time, money, skills toward the eventual completion of their church.
In 1923, an Augustinian Recollect priest was brought from Spain by Bishop Ward to be pastor for the Guadalupe parish. From that time until June 3, 1984 the Augustinian Recollects ministered to the parishioners of Guadalupe. The priest selected was Father Stephen Zabala, who served until his death on November 16, 1924. His successor was Father Louis Buldain from the province of Navarre in Spain. The parish established a Catholic School in 1924 and continues to support that mission through Holy Family School today. Within five years of his arrival, Father Buldain was able to reduce the parish’s debit considerably and increased the school population from 80 students to 208. No tuition was charged due to the economic challenges many parishioners faced. The means to run the school were obtained through socials and entertainments presented by the people of the community and such help that was given by people of the city. Some money was provided by the rebuilding of the Branner Street Viaduct. Using that money, Father Buldain began to build Guadalupe Hall. The hall was completed in 1929, most of the work was done by Father himself and with the help he received from the people of the parish.
August 17, 1933 marked the beginning of a tradition – the tradition of the Fiesta Mexicana. It was as if a bit of Old Mexico had somehow materialized itself in Topeka. The Fiesta consisted of a program of Mexican music and dances performed by the Mexican youth and community. The event was very well received and the following year a repeat performance was demanded – the Fiesta became an annual event.
A new church became necessary due to the growing size of the parish. On September 14, 1947 the present church was blessed by Bishop George Donnelly. Once again the community had rallied together and donated the $75,000 needed to build the new church, thus showing their faith not only in God, but in themselves. In 1950 the need for a newer and larger school was recognized and in January of 1954 the school was completed and dedicated. On July 13, 1951, the church suffered damage from the Topeka flood. Two and a half feet of standing water was in the church, as the water receded, the earth below the church began to settle thus causing the walls, floor and foundation to become severely cracked. Yet another disaster struck on June 8, 1966 when a tornado struck Topeka leaving many parishioners homeless. Not only were the homes of parishioners destroyed, but Guadalupe Hall also was destroyed. Fortunately, the rectory, church and school received only slight damage.
On December 12, 1972 Father Ramon Gaitan O.A.R. wrote in his Message from the Pastor, ““As I was reading a book by Octavio Paz, I came upon the following passage: “History has the cruel reality of a nightmare, and the grandeur of man consists in his making beautiful and lasting works out of the real substance of that nightmare…by means of creation.”
The founding of this parish was a dream shared by a few people. The difficulty in mobilizing resources might have made it seem like a nightmare at times. Out of their struggles for building a church, the original founders transformed that nightmare into a vision and finally into a new reality. Their emphasis might have been on building buildings, but their vision was in creating Community. The fact that they succeeded attests to their greatness. Buildings, like people, have come and gone, but the spirit that motivated these people to build buildings is still with us.”
On November 4, 2014, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Fathers, Jerry Arano-Ponce, Daniel Gardner, John Cordes, Oswaldo Sandavol, Ramon Gaitan, and Deacon Ray Delgado celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s 100 Years of Faith. On November 1, 2015, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Fathers Jerry Arano-Ponce, Peter Jaramillo, Ray May, John Cordes, Jesus Rene Perez and Seminarian Cruz Gallegos celebrated the mass concluding our centennial celebration. Please click here to see the centennial celebration video.
As we celebrated the Centennial Anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the 68th Anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the present Church, we were reminded of the many blessings we have received and how important it is to express our gratitude and admiration for all who have made this parish community a reality.
It is because of the influences of our ancestors that we continue to inspire others as the parish community evolves to discover its greatness and continues to grow in its awareness to God and of each other.
Throughout the history of the parish, no matter the challenges that were faced, the parishioners maintained their faith and strengthened their resolve to keep our parish open. Our parishioners have contributed generously to its growth and progress. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church has been and continues to be a center, a home, a haven, a refuge in time of trouble to thousands of immigrants and Mexican Americans in the community. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the only parish in the Topeka community which offers masses in Spanish. Our parishioners continue to share their faith and rich cultural heritage with the Topeka and surrounding communities through their actions and through the celebration of our annual Fiesta Mexicana.