Jay Price, a professor of local and community history at Wichita State University, tells a story of religious history in Wichita.
When the Catholic Diocese of Wichita finished building its cathedral in the 1910s, it needed a loan — and ended up getting a loan from the Masons. According to the historical documents, the man signing off on the loan was Jewish, Henry Wallenstein.
“Only in Wichita is a Jewish Mason going to sign off on a loan to finish a Catholic cathedral,” Price said.
With different cultures come different religions, and Wichita today is no exception.
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According to 2010 data from the Association of Religion Data Archives, the latest data available, 243,942 people in Sedgwick County listed their religion as “unclaimed,” while 104,418 people were evangelical Protestants. The largest evangelical denominations were the Southern Baptist Convention and Churches of Christ.
In the same year, 74,600 people were Catholic, 49,200 were mainline Protestant, 11,312 people were black Protestant, 13,532 were other and 1,361 were Orthodox.
The Rev. Roosevelt DeShazer, president of the Greater Wichita Ministerial League, said that in the northeast portion of Wichita alone there are around 120 churches covering a variety of denominations. The Ministerial League is a coalition of ministers in the city with an emphasis on the African-American community.
The city has a strong presence of historically black churches, DeShazer said, including two with histories dating back over 130 years.
“Wichita is so unique that it is big enough to have the city feel but is also small enough to have a home feel to it,” DeShazer said. “Because of the many different cultures and faiths and religions, you get an opportunity here — along with the weather — to experience everything.”
The “other” category for religious identification included Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mahayana Buddhism, Islam, Theravada Buddhism and Baha’i.
Sandy Diel, director of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, said there are about 700 Jewish people in the region covered by the federation, which includes Wichita and extends west to the Colorado border and north to Hays.
In Wichita, there are three Jewish congregations, representing different branches of Judaism.
“Having others aware that there is a Jewish community here and it’s vibrant and it’s fluid and it’s warm and welcoming is important for people to know,” Diel said.
Niem Le, former president of the Vietnamese Wichita Buddhist Association, said many of the Buddhists in Wichita came as refugees in the 1970s and ’80s from Southeast Asia. Later, others joined their family members who were already established in the United States.
Now, there are three Vietnamese temples in Wichita, Le said, along with others for Laotians, Cambodians and Thais.
Hussam Madi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, estimates there are 5,000 to 7,000 Muslims in Wichita, with around 2,300 celebrating at the society after Ramadan.
Diversity in a society brings greatness, Madi said, and Muslims in Wichita contribute by being cardiologists, airplane mechanics, professors and more.
“Different cultures interact with each other and find a home in the American culture,” Madi said. “… Muslims do participate a lot here in the city of Wichita, being woven, if you wish, into the shirt Wichita has on.”