For Tim Wenzl, the Diocese of Dodge City’s archivist emeritus, discovering how settlements and communities throughout the state came by their names not only revealed a treasury of historical tidbits, but also demonstrated how pervasive the Catholic Church influence was and what led to the significant German, Irish and Czech-populated townships that are still active today.
In his newly released book, “Angelus to Xavier, Catholic Place Names in Kansas, Obvious & Obscure,” Wenzl scoured books, parish sacramental registries, 19th century Catholic directories, parish histories, newspapers, magazines, inventories of current and extinct geographical locations, maps and plat books. Now, all of that research and information is documented in this one volume of work.
“This book came about as I have always been interested in the ‘why’ behind a community’s name,” Wenzl said. “The answer to that question can only be discerned through extensive, methodical and at times, tedious research. But it was so rewarding when I discovered a link with the Catholic Church as the reason for a community’s name. It may sound hokey, but I really think this project was a gift of the Holy Spirit that became a passion to document and share the findings.”
Wenzl said it seemed everyone got in on the namings as many places were dubbed after saints, popes, a cardinal, bishops, priests, monks and friars, religious sisters, explorers, frontiersmen and ordinary Catholics. Readers will also notice that towns were named by Catholics, and Catholic settlements were often christened for the emigrant’s former towns and villages.
“The Church had a part in assisting settlements of Catholic immigrants by national origin and language,” Wenzl said. “The first Catholic naming in Kansas occurred during the 1541 Coronado Expedition. Today, we know El Rio de Santos Pedro y Pablo as the Arkansas River.”
Over time, nearly 300 communities and sites were named — from Angelus in Sheridan County to Xavier in Leavenworth County.
The communities and geographical locations in the book are listed in alphabetical order together with their county. There are some specific places, namely buildings, that because of their status with the National Register of Historic Places or the Register of Historic Kansas Places, were included and illustrated with photographs.
“An interesting discovery that emerged from the extensive research was the ongoing role of the Church in organizing and establishing Catholic colonies and settlements in the state by nationality and language,” Wenzl said. “It wasn’t an accident that large groups of Irish, Germans and Czechs settled in the same areas. And in the late 1800s, Bishop Louis Mary Fink, OSB, the first bishop of the Diocese of Leavenworth, encouraged this approach and priests in different regions of the state served as, well, de facto immigration agents.”
Wenzl started a list of these names just to document them, but once this inventory grew to over 300 communities, he knew it was time to write the book. For Wenzl, the value of this project, which is book number 21 for him, is having all of the names from so many different sources documented in one publication.
“As far as I know, this book is a first of its kind," Wenzl said. “Other archivists and historians in each of the other 49 states could write a book on the same topic for their own state.”
The book is available through Amazon.com and by mail order by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.