St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Pawnee, OK

History of The Parish of
St. John The Evangelist, Pawnee, Oklahoma
Continued from Page 1


Written in 2007 by Jerome Hill, PhD

Before the move and for quite a while after, the organ was an antique foot-powered 'pump' reed organ. I remodeled another reed pump organ eventually to include an electric vacuum pump, so I didn't have to pump with my feet. (Jerome, then 16 who remodeled the reed organ for a high school shop project shortly after the move to the new church and he was spotlighted in a Sunday, October 20, 1957 Tulsa Daily World article titled, "Ambitious Teen-Ager [sic] Rebuilds, Powers Church Organ, Learns to Play It, Too". I had to do this to another one so the original organ could still be used during the remodeling.

The ceiling was curved, like one half of a cylinder or barrel. The visible part was tongue and groove oak, similar to wainscoting. By the time of the move, the varnish had darkened so you could hardly see the grain any more. It must have been beautiful when it was new. Making a curved ceiling inside a normally pitched roof must have taken a lot of time and effort! Notice there are no inside support columns.

If you hadn't noticed there is no bathroom, in fact no plumbing at all. That was originally provided by an outhouse lo- cated behind the church. When the central sewer system was put in Pawnee, all these outhouses were condemned and nailed shut. At the time of the move, what was left of it was still there but much rotted. All the time I grew up it was unusable. You had to plan accordingly!

I don't remember the appearance of the pulpit or where it was located. I'm not even sure there was one.

The Christmas manger with figures we now use were also used in the old church. My sister-in-law, Rita Hill, repainted some of the more beat-up figures soon after the move. I re-glued at least one that had become broken and fixed an- other one that had become chipped.

The bell-set used by the altar-person during mass (one having three bells about 2" diameter connected together, with a handle to ring them) was moved to the new church. I don't know if it is still being used.

To help cool the altar area in summer (remember no AC!) there were three Vornado brand pedestal fans, one posi- tioned to blow on the altar area and two on the congregation. These were moved to the new building, I don't know if they are still there.

Catechism was provided by mother volunteers in their home, for a short time it was held by the Sisters at the Indian agency. One summer only a gentleman who was becoming a priest (Shaffer?) provided it in the old church. There were never very many children.

New church history notes and comments by Jerome Hill:

The altar used to be a single stone slab sticking out of the wall with support pedestals under the front. At the time of the church's construction, the priest still said mass with his back to the congregation. There used to be a communion rail.

As a result of Vatican II, the communion rail was ripped out and the altar slab was sawn down the length of it leaving the present foot-wide shelf sticking out of the wall. The sawn edges were polished up, and it was moved out to make the present table-like altar.

The room now used as a dressing room for the priest, was the choir room; the organ was there. Interesting, although it was designed to be a choir room, there was never any outlet wired in for an organ to plug into! Dad and I installed one, connecting it to the power line going to the heater.

There used to be a requirement that any cloths used on the altar had to be hand-washed and the wash water dumped onto or into the ground, not pored down the sewer. A special sink was installed next to the heater in the old sacristy (the room behind the confessional) for this purpose. What appears to be a normal sewer connection for it actually runs to a dry-well outside, to satisfy the requirement. For some reason that sink has been ripped out, I don't know why.

As originally built the heater/AC in the old sacristy had a valve handle in the ceiling that could be turned to direct the air either to the church part or the other way to the hall area. There was only one air outlet either way, not enough to adequately heat or cool the hall. At some point, this unit was reworked so it blows only to the hall, and multiple air out- lets were installed along the hall wall. The church's air outlet above the confessional was disconnected, I think, but left in place.

The shower was installed in the bathroom because Father Wilkiemeyer occasionally came up to Pawnee and stayed overnight. He did not want to be a burden to anyone or show favoritism by staying with someone. He had the shower installed so he could sleep in one end of the hall. There was a roll-away bed kept there for him to use. There was sup- posed to be a vertical-folding curtain installed hanging from the wooden cross beam to close off that end of the hall and give more privacy, but that was never done.

At one time the gas lines for the heaters were run under the slab, but they rusted out and begin leaking. New ones were run in the present configuration where they are now visible in the entryway. I think that was done in the *80's when my mom was still alive. I feel other design errors were:

  1. Only one bathroom was provided and a member sitting in pews had to either cross the altar area, or go around the walk outside in the elements to get to it, if someone remembered to unlock the hall door. I suppose this was some bet- ter than the outhouse at the old church!

  2. You could not go through the old sacristy area to get to the hall while the priest was hearing confessions. You ei- ther had to wait, or work your way through the storeroom on the other side. This always caused scheduling problems when the altar-people had to set up the altar, get out the incense burner or light the altar candles before mass, as that was also when he heard confessions.

  3. There were only two electrical outlets provided in the whole meeting hall, and they were both on the same breaker with those located on each side of the altar. If you had Christmas lights or fans plugged into the altar outlets, you could not run a coffee maker etc. in the hall without blowing the breaker. Several years later I added the two outlets under the breaker-box. Each of those outlets is on a separate breaker by themselves.

  4. The original flat roofs over part of the hall and the front porch leaked every time you turned around. I don't know how much money was spent trying to fix them over the years. The joint between the brickwork and the sloping roof, above the entry door, also would leak into the entryway during a heavy rain. I am glad these problems were finally fixed the way they should have been to start with. There was a concrete shelf above the porch area where a statue of St. John was to be put whenever it could be afforded. It was never done, and now that shelf is under the new porch roof.
Our gratitude goes out to Jerome Hill for this fascinating history of St. John's and for the items you've brought back to the church from Kearny, Rita's and your folks while cleaning out their houses and sheds. This issue of our newsletter will also be sent to the Pawnee County Historical Society for their records and added to the online history on St. John's web pages. THANK YOU!!!
Key to the diagram of the Old Church with remembrances:
Church thumbnail Click to see larger graphic
Diagram of Old Church
click to see larger graphic

M, J: Mary and Joseph statues sitting on wall brackets/shelves. Two large support bolts for the brackets went clear though the wall, through a wood brace spanning the studs, with the nuts on the back side of the wall (in the storeroom and the sacristy.) I do not know what happened to these statues, the diocese must have moved them to another church, but why I do not know. I still have the brackets.

P: St. Anthony (?) statue on a stand-alone pedestal. This statue and its pedestal are in the entry way of the new church. The pedestal used to be all white; I added the silver glitter to it at the time it was moved.

MC: Metal cabinet. This cabinet is now in the new sacristy, which used to be the choir room. When it was at the old church it held the incense burner and supplies, extra candles for the altar, and extra wicks for the candle lighter.

V. C.: vestment cabinet, a chest of drawers with each drawer only about 5" high, to hold the priest's vestments. As I recall, the altar boy's garb was hung on a hook on the passage-way door.

F: Fuses, there was only one 15 amp circuit for the whole building, and no wall switches to turn off individual lights. The lights in the sacristy and storeroom had pull-chains. It was all old knob and nail wiring. Only a few lights could be put on the Christmas tree or the fuse would blow. The lights (whole circuit) were turned on and off by a potentially dangerous knife switch mounted high on the wall with the electrical connections exposed! As far as I know, no one ever got shocked, though.

Altar: was made of wood painted all white, with, as I recall, three spires topped by crosses. The tabernacle was in the middle and was part of the altar. This was designed in the era when the priest's back was to the congregation during mass. When I disassembled the altar, I discovered that some of the thin boards used for panels were made from the sides of wooden crates and several had part of the product name or delivery address still visible on the backside sur- faces. I think I have at least one of the crosses yet. I gave one of them to Mary Spelman.

K: The key to the tabernacle was hidden behind a board fastened to the back of the altar.

L: Vigil light. Same one as we have now. It was moved, as is, to new church, except it actually had a candle burning in it all the many years it was in the wooden church. The protestant members of the insurance company for the new church insisted they would cancel the insurance if we left the vigil light candle burning when no one was there, so it was changed to an electric light. They did not understand!

VC: Votive candle holder with stand. This was about 2 feet around, made of brass with a pan containing sand under the candles to catch drips and dead matches. As I recall it had two or three levels of candles, tiered. No one seemed to want this in the new church, so my father and I eventually tore it up and he sold the metal for scrap. I wish we still had it! I don't know of any photos showing it.

HWF: holy water font. This was very ornate but limed-up and dirty from years of use. It was not moved to the new church. I think I still have it. On the other side of the entry way was a poor box, which I also still have, I think.

F.: Floor furnaces. These two were the only heat for the building. Although they had a pilot light, there was no ther- mostat, just knobs inside an access door to turn the heat up and down. They did not depend on electricity to operate. It took a long time to heat up the church most winter days because of the high ceiling. The choir loft was usually stifling hot to make the pew area tolerable.

Pews: These are the same pews we have now, just placed closer together. Father Philip Wilkiemeyer had them stripped and re-varnished for the move. The old church was wider than the new one, so there was adequate room to walk down the outside aisles of the pews. The kneelers were on cast-iron brackets to tilt up and down like you see in other churches. Why the brackets were removed, discarded, and changed to the present configuration, I do not know. As far as I know the boards you kneel on are the same, but then they were not padded as well as they are now. I installed the door hooks on the end of the kneelers shortly after moving in; there was no way provided to hold them up for cleaning.

C, P, C: Confessional. The openings were covered by dark heavy drapes that you pulled back to go in. The priest sat in the middle facing the pews, and there was a sliding window for each side. The penitent kneeled facing the sliding window. The priest then alternated from one side to the other. Much faster than the present arrangement with only one side. One complaint the priest always had in the winter: notice there is a window on the front side of the church but in the back of his compartment. With the furnaces so far away his back got very cold.

B. R.: Three bell ropes came down though the choir loft from the bell, which itself was mounted way up high, above a false ceiling in the choir loft, behind louvers in the front of the church. (There was no bell tower). Two of the ropes were used together to rock the bell back and forth for continuous pealing. The other rope pulled the striker for a single gong. A gentleman's agreement between Father Wilkiemeyer and my father was that the bell be taken down and moved to the new church. We did that, placing it in the north end of the meeting hall to the right of the entry door. After Wilkiemeyer was transferred to another parish, the ladies rejected it saying "get that old dirty thing out of there". So I moved it first outside in back of the church, and then after one day finding it rolled down into the ditch way behind the church, back to our house where it had been sitting ever since.

SA: stairs to the attic. The attic was very small, about 6' by 6' with a sloping ceiling, because of the shape of the inside of the church's framing did not allow much. When we bought the building, the only things up there were a couple of old saint's pictures and some Christmas decorations, all quite dirty; hadn't been touched in years!

SCL: stairs to the choir loft. The organ was located there and there were some wooden benches for the choir to sit on. There was a wooden glass-front cabinet on the side away from the stairs where the song books were stored. I do not remember what happened to it or the benches.

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