There is nothing Millie Vinduska of Pilsen enjoys more than showing her beloved St. John Nepomucene Church to visitors.
The 87-year-old woman is a veritable encyclopedia of the church’s history. She has collected many church artifacts. She lives across the street from the church in a building that once housed the original Pilsen State Bank. The artifacts are collected in a room that was the bank vault.
Monsignor Arthur Tonne, a longtime Pilsen priest, was a close friend. She said she cried when he left the area in the late 1990s to spend his remaining days near family in Colorado.
Still vibrant and active, Vinduska enjoys taking care of the church. She spends an hour or two several times a week keeping bathrooms clean, straightening out hymnals, dusting the pews, and vacuuming the sanctuary.
The notoriety of Pilsen native and Korean War hero Chaplain Emil Kapaun has resulted in frequent visits to the church by people from outside the area. Vinduska said most people make appointments for formal tours led by leaders of the Father Emil Kapaun Museum, but some just show up.
Sometimes in the course of her work, she discovers people sitting in their cars in the parking lot or walking around outside. She offers to show them the church.
She once noticed a man in a red pickup who for three consecutive days spent time sitting in the parking lot. On the third day, she approached him. She found he was from South Dakota and was working on the oil pipeline that was being laid through the county. She arranged to show him the church.
His wife joined him for the informal tour, and they shared a meal with her in her home.
“They were so appreciative, and we became friends,” she said.
She has a stack of letters from people from all over the country, thanking her for her hospitality.
When she shows the church, she starts at the statue of St. John Nepomucene directly above the altar, the saint in whose honor the church is named.
She said Nepomucene was a beloved Bohemian preacher in Prague. He ministered in the court of King Wenceslas IV, where he became the queen’s confessor. When the king asked the priest to disclose the queen’s confessions, Nepomucene refused, Vinduska said. He was tortured and thrown into the river to drown, after which a “strange brightness” appeared over his floating body, she said.
Vinduska explains each of the other statues and points out the stained-glass windows and pictures and paintings of Father Kapaun that hang on the sanctuary walls.
“I love showing people our church and telling them about Father Kapaun and the other priests who have served here,” she said.
Her latest impromptu tour was Thursday when two women arrived at the church, one from Abilene and one from St. Francis.
“I’ll do it as long as I can,” she said.
The current church building is the third since the congregation’s founding in 1888. It was completed 100 years ago.