A Good Read - Beacon on the Plains
“The flimsy frame structures grouped on a slight eminence northeast of the Neosho River and west of Flat Rock Creek were known as Catholic Osage Mission. Much was connoted in the name, although the indifferent exterior of the buildings gave no indication of the potential power within. That power was the dynamic energy which Jesuit missionaries and the Sisters of Loretto expended first on full-blood and half-breed children, then on Indian adults, and later, on the pioneer white settlers of southeastern Kansas.” -- Fitzgerald, Introduction to Beacon on the Plains.
Published in 1939, Beacon on the Plains was one of the early books to tell the most interesting and beautiful story of southern Kansas. The author, Sister Mary Paul Fitzgerald of St. Mary’s College , did a masterful job of pulling together a large body of information into a compact, well-documented book about Osage Mission and the effect it had on the settlement of a large part of Kansas .
I tell people that Beacon on the Plains is “Osage Mission 101.” Reading through the 297-page book is like a self-directed course in the earliest history of Kansas and our hometown of St. Paul. In addition to a well-organized body, the book includes a wealth of reference information. Besides being an interesting read, it is one of the best starting points for individuals or groups who want to learn more about their Kansas origins. The Osage Mission story has the making of a national historical story.
Description, Contents & Sources.
The book is hardbound in 5-1/2" x 7-1/2" format with 297 pages plus a 7-page unnumbered index. Illustrations include historical drawings and photos, and a fold out map of the Kansas missions. The last 68 pages include appendices and a very detailed bibliography section. The book is available from several on-line and local retail or library sources (See Note 1, below).
Acknowledgments and short author bio.
Foreword by former Bishop of Leavenworth, Paul C. Schulte.
Introduction that expands the headline at the top of this page.
Part I – The Osage in Kansas. A three-chapter discussion of the story of the Osage in Kansas and the beginnings of the Osage relationship with the Jesuits.
Part V – Osage Mission in Retrospect. Further expansion on “successful failure” with a discussion of the mission’s alternative role as the missionary headquarters for the area south of the Santa Fe Trail. Also the work of re-tooling the Osage schools into public and boarding schools for Father Schoenmakers' new “mission town” — the town of Osage Mission, now St. Paul.
Appendices. Eight appendices lay out the first part of the 68 page reference information that backs the author’s story. This section includes: a discussion of the Osage in Missouri before moving into Kansas; a copy of the Osage Mission contract; lists of names including missionaries, Indian commissioners, etc.. This section concludes with Appendix H — a list of 110 Kansas missions arranged by county, date, settlement (town) and the name of the credited Jesuit missionary [4)
Bibliography including Bibliographical Note – This sections does two things: 1) substantiates the extensive depth of the author’s research; 2) provides a treasure chest of information and research sources for the reader of researcher. It includes dozens of libraries, historical societies, and books. But, peeled down another layer, it references more than 170 individual documents, reports, research papers, organizations, etc. The book also includes an index.
* " ... the Osage Mission rendered a signal service. White men and their families residing at trading posts were visited regularly by the Fathers from the Mission during their circuits of the Osage villages or those of neighboring tribes. 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." -- Excerpt from Chapter XI
Some Reference Information:
1. Sources for Beacon on The Plains. I have seen used copies, from several internet sources, in the $10 to $40 price range. But, the easiest way to purchase an unused copy of the book is through the museum in St. Paul. At last check the price was $16 plus a small book-mail fee (about $4). Locals can stop and buy one from a museum volunteer. The museum website, including hours and email address, is at: www.osagemission.org. It is also available, for loan, from the Graves Memorial Public Library in St. Paul. The book is available in some other southeast Kansas libraries.
2. About the Author. Beacon on the Plains was Sister Mary Paul Fitzgerald’s doctoral thesis, when she completed studies at St. Louis University. Sister Fitzgerald was a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth and was associated with St. Mary’s College, Leavenworth, for thirty years as Professor and Chairperson of the Department of History. She was also Vice-President of the College from 1949 to 1957. The depth of her research, evident in Beacon on the Plains, likely led to her advancement in the St. Mary’s Department of History. Sister Fitzgerald died of cancer on April 16, 1952, only weeks after completing her manuscript on the life of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Miege, S.J., Vicar-Apostolic of the Indian Territory. That voluminous work remains unpublished but is on file in the Kansas Catholic Historical Society archives at Benedictine College, Atchison. Kansas.
3. “Beacon” deals, primarily, with the Osage Mission influence in southern Kansas. But that influence covered a much larger area. The Jesuit missionary work, headquartered in Osage Mission, covered parts of southern Kansas, northern Oklahoma, southwest Missouri, the northeastern corner of Arkansas and as far west as Pueblo. Follow THIS LINK for more information about the wide-spread Jesuit missionary activity.
4. Again, Beacon is focused on Kansas. While the author does mention some of the out-of-state work of the Jesuits, the list of Appendix H only includes the Kansas missions.
Thoughts 'n Things
Some 'Thoughts' and short articles about past and present-day St. Paul and the Southern Kansas - 4 State Region.