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Back at his alma mater, St. Isidore's priest thanks God for chance to lead students

Inside the lobby area adjoining the sanctuary at St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center, the K-State students were singing the “everybody let’s go” snippet from the Dora the Explorer song.

The Rev. Gale Hammerschmidt, 48, was about to lead them over to All Faiths Chapel, which is at the heart of the college campus, for a noon Mass. But first, he came out to greet the few dozen students who make the Catholic student center a refuge from the stress of college life.

Between meetings and Masses and meditative praying, it’s these small encounters that give Hammerschmidt life, he said. For the students, Hammerschmidt’s easygoing, fun-loving personality makes the center “a home away from home.”

“It sounds cliché but having a place like this has been really important,” Grace Leonard, a sophomore from Wichita, said. “I know I can come here for a safe place, a loving environment and a supportive community. This place that Father Gale creates here is a stable constant for all of us students going through so many transitions.”

Hammerschmidt said he recognizes the influential role he plays as a college student minister.

“I work with a population of students who are making some of the most important decisions of their life,” Hammerschmidt said. “Who will they be? What do they believe? How will they live their lives?”

They’re decisions Hammerschmidt made himself when he was an undergraduate at K-State. A Hays native, his family had always been big K-State fans, and he graduated in 1995 with an education degree. It wasn’t until he started teaching seventh- and eighth-grade history at Manhattan Catholic Schools that he started to find a deep connection with his faith.

“I wouldn’t say I was super faithful in my college years,” Hammerschmidt said. “A lot of it came when I started teaching at the Catholic school and I had good people around me to call me out of my waywardness. Even in the early years of my teaching, I was still a little wayward in the decisions I was making. Yet, through the people that were surrounding me in the schools, I realized that my life lived for Jesus. He’s brought me far more happiness than living for myself.”

Hammerschmidt also served as an adult sponsor for high school mission trips, and that also played a major role in helping him “see the light.” In 2005, he set off for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, where he spent seven years earning a master’s degree in divinity with a heavy load of philosophy classes, he said.

In comparing his experiences, Hammerschmidt said his time in the seminary was like his time at K-State. The Denver seminary focused on men who already had college degrees, he said, so most of the seminarians ranged from 22 to 33, which is the age Hammerschmidt started.

The seminarians followed a college-like class schedule, he said, but there also were communal times for the 120 or so seminarians to eat, pray and attend mass together. Beyond that, they studied, worked out and watched movies like other college students.

“Not as many girls at the seminary,” he said with a laugh. “Otherwise, it was a lot the same. It was a lot of fun, a lot of laughter. We were surrounded by incredible men who were striving for holiness and looking as to whether or not God was calling them to be priests.

“College can be a selfish time for people,” he continued. “Seminary was a training in how to be selfless.”

Hammerschmidt was ordained a day before he turned 40.

“Some guys buy fancy sports cars as a mid-life crisis,” Hammerschmidt said. “I became a priest.”

His first assignment was at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, and he was put in charge of Hispanic ministry. He also was chaplain of the parish’s high school for three years, before he was reassigned to St. Francis Xavier in Junction City. He spent two years there before returning to the Little Apple in 2016, this time as a priest.

Working with college students is different than what he did in his previous posts, Hammerschmidt said.

“A lot of people imagine the priesthood to be a lonely life, because we can’t have children or we can’t get married, but it’s the furthest thing from it,” Hammerschmidt said. “We often talk about our desire to have more alone time because we’re always surrounded by people.”

Every morning, between 20 and 30 students will crowd his office just to check in and talk about the previous day, and dozens more will stop by and say hello while they visit the student center to pray. The afternoons are filled with meetings, with a short break Hammerschmidt uses to work out, and evening classes usually fill out his schedule until 8 p.m., when he hears confessions for an hour.

At 9 p.m., he offers Mass, and he hangs out with the several students who linger afterward until 11 p.m. or so, he said. They occasionally go to IHOP or Old Chicago.

“It’s beautiful getting 150 college students to come to a Mass,” he said. “There’s no obligation to be there for them, but they come because they desire to pray in that way. The Mass is the highest form of prayer, and so students desire to be a part of it.”

On Sundays, so many people come to church that lately, St. Isidore’s has had trouble fitting them in. That’s why the church is finalizing a $17 million campaign to expand the center and rebuild the chapel. Hammerschmidt said the center still needs about $3.5 million, but workers will break ground in spring 2021 and hopefully complete construction by fall 2022.

With a highly transient student congregation, Hammerschmidt will tour parishes across the state over the next two months to raise funds for the project.

With a 24/7 schedule, the priesthood requires a lot more involvement than when he was a history teacher, Hammerschmidt said, but he’s loved the challenge.

“When I was a teacher, I realized that I could be happy as a priest,” he said. “I was investing in lives of children who were not my own. I was coaching and teaching them, and when they experienced success, I experienced great joy. There’s a lot of that in the priesthood. When I see someone come to a deeper encounter with Christ, I experience a similar, greater joy.”

But being able to that at his alma mater, it’s something special he thanks God for, Hammerschmidt said.

“I love it,” Hammerschmidt said. “I am unworthy of this blessings I have received. This assignment in this city in this place I love more than anywhere else in the world, I’m so unworthy. I know I’m not perfect, but the Lord continues to look after me and bless me, and I’m so grateful to God.”

Shots fired at house party near Aggieville Sunday

Police reported no injuries after someone fired shots at a house party early Sunday morning.

The Riley County Police Department responded to a report of a large fight in progress in the parking lot of a house party at 1334 Fremont St. at 3:06 a.m. Shortly after, it received multiple reports of shots fired with people running away from the area.

The house where the fight took place sustained damage from bullets.

Officers filed a report for aggravated assault, listing several men ages 21 to 31 as victims.

Witnesses described the person who allegedly fired the shots as a black man wearing a white T-shirt and acid-washed jeans.

Police ask that people who took videos of the incident upload them at https://rileycountypdks.evidence.com/axon/citizen/public/aggravated_assault.

Police have not arrested anybody in connection with the incident.

Associated Press  

Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson (10) yells to the fans during the first half of Saturday’s game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. Thompson connected with senior receiver Dalton Schoen in the fourth quarter to lift K-State to a 31-24 victory and improve to 3-0 this season.

Eric Seals 

(Middle) Tamara Sullivan, 49 of Flint yells with others as cars drive by honking for support as she and other UAW members from Locals 598 and 659 strike prior to the union leadership authorizing the autoworker strike in front of the General Motors Flint Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan on Sunday, September 15, 2019. (Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Lewison named 21st judicial district judge

Assistant Riley County Attorney Kendra Lewison is the 21st Judicial District’s next district judge, Gov. Laura Kelly’s office confirmed Monday.

She is the first woman to be a district court judge in the 21st District. Lewison will fill the vacancy created by the June retirement of then-Chief Judge Meryl Wilson.

She was one of four finalists whose names were sent to Kelly for confirmation for the judicial district, which includes Clay and Riley counties, in late July.

Lewison is an assistant Riley County attorney. She prosecutes primarily felony drug and sexual assault offenses. She has also worked with Kansas Legal Services in Wyandotte County, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office and Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, in Kansas City, Missouri.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from K-State in 1992 and a juris doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1995.

“Throughout my career I have sought every opportunity to serve my state and my community,” Lewison said in a statement, “and I will do everything I can to ensure a fair process and achieve just results in every case before me.

“I thank the nominating commission and Governor Kelly for the special honor of serving my home community as a district judge, and I look forward to carrying on the tradition of the excellent judges who have come before me.”

After serving one year in office, Lewison will stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, she will serve a four-year term.

Two injured in hit-and-run crash near Ogden Sunday

Two people were injured in a three-vehicle, head-on crash on Kansas Highway 18 and 12th Street near Ogden Sunday.

According to a Kansas Highway Patrol report, a 2006 Nissan Maxima, driven by Denilson Acosta Rodriguez, 20, Manhattan, was driving the opposite direction in the westbound lane of K-18 shortly after 9 p.m. Acosta Rodriguez then hit two vehicles heading west straight-on.

Emergency responders took a passenger in Acosta Rodriguez’s car, David, whose last name was not provided, and a passenger in the second vehicle, Hannah Burkhart, 17, Fort Riley, to the University of Kansas Medical Center for treatment of suspected serious injuries.

Acosta Rodriguez and his other passenger, Odalis Castaneda Carranza, 19, La Puente, California, were uninjured. The other drivers, Christina Tanguay, 17, Junction City, and Tori Lamb, 19, Ellsworth, also did not have any apparent injuries.

The report says Acosta Rodriguez fled the scene, and his whereabouts are under investigation.

All people on scene at the crash had been wearing seatbelts.

The highway was closed for about four hours as crews worked in the area.

Courtesy photo  

This rendering shows the proposed Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Wichita.

Director says Wichita's new planned osteopathic medical school will help doctor shortage

A planned osteopathic medical school in Wichita is looking to address the need for more doctors in Kansas, Dr. Robert Hasty said during a visit to The Mercury last week.

“We certainly hope it addresses the underserved and the rural needs for the state, including Manhattan and the region,” said Hasty, who is the chief academic officer and founding dean of the Kansas Health Science Center’s planned Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Hasty said the proposed school is going through an accreditation process and is in the early stages.

“It’s going to improve healthcare for generations to come,” Hasty said. “And it’s going to improve the lives of Kansans and folks in the whole region.”

Hasty said the Sunflower State ranks 40th out of the 50 states when it comes to doctors per capita.

The school hopes to grow to a staff of 85 over the next 10 years, Hasty said.

The school is planning to open for its first year in 2022 with an enrollment of 85 students. He said he hopes to grow up to 170 students.

It is a project costing $125 million, Hasty said.

The school, which is nonprofit and private, is the first in over 100 years in Kansas, Hasty said. Its proposed location is in downtown Wichita at the old Macy’s store. Hasty said the building will maintain state-of-the-art facilities while keeping in line with the architecture of the area.

The proposed institution also has a 15-member board with physicians and other community and business leaders serving.

The school is looking at applications for filling faculty roles from a pool of out 185, Hasty said.

The Mercury reported in 2017 that Manhattan was considered as the site for the osteopathic medical school after Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a task force to study the idea. A consultant tabbed Manhattan, Topeka and Wichita as possible locations.

Before arriving in Kansas, Hasty was the dean at the first medical school in Idaho, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in Meridian.

Osteopathic medicine is different from allopathic (traditional) medicine in that it takes a “whole body” approach to health care.

However, osteopathic physicians are board-certified and fully licensed to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications and perform surgery.

Graduates of osteopathic schools are more likely to go into primary care, which is the area of greatest need in rural Kansas. Ninety-two of Kansas’ 105 counties are considered medically underserved.