Today, May 11, 2023, marks the 139th anniversary of our "new" St. Francis Catholic Church. Seems like we should start planning for its 140th celebration!
The majestic stone building has evolved constantly since its dedication on May 11, 1884. Its steeple has grown, and the entire building now sits four feet higher than it did when construction started in the 1870's. The stained-glass windows we take for granted were added about 16 years after our ancestors started using the Church.
Another thing we have taken for granted is its nickname "Beacon on the Plains." We suspect the brightly lighted steeple, visible for miles around the region, has something to do with that. But the nickname is not quite right! The term Beacon on the Plains was coined by Sister Mary Paul Fitzgerald in her book Beacon on the Plains, when she wrote: “In the fifties, the mission was something of a beacon light to the few scouts, weary teamsters or perplexed travelers who stopped for rest, refreshment and supplies for which they customarily paid nothing. Not infrequently the missionaries rescued individuals lost on the plains …” She was speaking of the 1850's, and the original Osage Mission log church, and the mission that surrounded it.
The old log church also carried another important designation that seems to be forgotten — The Cradle of Catholicism in Southeast Kansas. That designation refers to the wide-spread missionary work that extended well beyond southeast Kansas. Our Osage Mission Jesuit priests actually covered a five-state area including Kansas, southwest Missouri, Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas and at least one location in Colorado. This designation can probably be expanded to include a very large number of Catholic vocations that occurred here — but that's another story.
Some related links from our website:
The following article appeared in the October 30, 1911, issue of the Chanute Daily Tribune. The Passionists had shown interest in establishing a new, western location in St. Paul 18 years earlier. Less than a year later, in September of 1894, they formally took possession of the Jesuit property, including the original Jesuit Monastery. For several years the Passionists made significant improvements to St. Francis Catholic Church, including restabilizing it's foundation. However, this article announced a major commitment to erect a large and elaborate monastery and retreat house in our community. The new 3-story brick and stone building, with a full basement, would cost "something near $50,000."
The Jesuit Monastery, completed in 1872, was razed to make room for the larger Passionist Monastery. That 3-1/2 story building sat about 60' west of the existing church and in about the same position as the existing St. Francis Rectory.
Our Passionist era lasted more than 90 years. Those who remember the Passionist Monastery and Novitiate period remember many priests, students and brothers, and an all-male choir. On Church feast days we often had three Masses being said, at the same time, as older priests watched from the lower panels of the stained-glass windows on each side of the main altar. We had our own small slice of Rome right here at home.
We Didn't Realize What We Had Until We Lost It!
Some Reference Information:
For some more information about our Passionist era, follow these links to Our Story Chapters:
Here is another look at the Passionist Novitiate years through the eyes and website work of a former student — Steve George. Steve's YouTube Channel includes some of the Gregorian Chants we grew accustomed to hearing.
Here is a later article, from the Chanute Weekly Tribune that discusses some of the building's details including a steam lighting system:
Thoughts 'n Things
Some 'Thoughts' and short articles about past and present-day St. Paul and the Southern Kansas - 4 State Region.