by Roxanne King | When it was announced in 2012 that the Capuchin Franciscan friars would be leaving St. Joseph Parish in Hays, Kan., which they had staffed since 1878, church organist Kevin Rupp sent an email to then-provincial Fr. Charles Polifka that said, "Say it isn't so." Sadly, it was so, and within a year, a 135-year tenure came to an end.
Happily though, as with many of the St. Joseph parishioners, the friendships Kevin Rupp and his wife Joyce had built with the Capuchins go on.
"When they greet you, you feel like you're part of the brothers, that is what is so special to me," Kevin Rupp said, testifying to the lived reality of the order's charism to be "little brothers" not only to each other, but to all.
Kevin Rupp, 58, has played the organ at St. Joseph's for 42 years. Starting out as a choir member and substitute organist at age 18, over the years he became the fulltime organist and church liturgist. Eventually, he also became the parish office manager. He wears those many hats today. While his relationship with the friars grew after joining St. Joseph's in 1978, growing up in Hays, his life was never without their presence as they ran the parish school, the local Catholic high school, campus ministry at Fort Hays State University, and a seminary in nearby Victoria, Kan.
"The people here grew up with the Capuchins all our lives. They were just part of our lives," Kevin Rupp said.
Although Kevin Rupp grew up attending a neighboring parish, both he and Joyce were baptized by friars at St. Joseph's. Five friars concelebrated their wedding at the parish. "That was very special," Kevin Rupp said.
Joyce Rupp, 54, grew up attending St. Joseph Church, its parish school and Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. Her parents and a grandfather had volunteered or worked with the Capuchins in the parish, the schools and at the local Catholic hospital. While many of the friars were friends of the family, Joyce Rupp said Fr. Mike Scully is perhaps the closest.
"I've known him since I was 3 years old. He's one of the finest men I've ever known," she said, adding that he was the main celebrant at her and Kevin's wedding.
Although the Capuchins turned over the running of St. Joseph Parish to the Diocese of Salina, Kan., in 2013, they continue with other ministry in Ellis County.
"Their presence is less frequent at St. Joseph's now but their spirit is still there," Joyce Rupp said. "The people are always happy to see them when they return.”