Our Osage Mission - St. Paul Story is approaching 175 years. However, simply being old doesn't necessarily make us "historic." The big flat stones that line Flatrock Creek are very old, but not necessarily historic. They are just rocks.
There are many definitions of "historic" but a simple one relates to "Significance" or having the potential to yield information important to our understanding of the past. In looking at a plot of land near the east edge of St. Paul, Kansas, the word significance takes on substantial meaning. Let's define that plot as the land that currently contains our schools, St. Francis Catholic Church and the parish gardens. In other words, the area from highway K-47, north to Carroll Street; and from 1st street east to Udall Road. During the past 175 years that piece of real estate has seen four distinct configurations. Three of those configurations have Kansas State and national significance. There is some overlap among these configurations, but each is unique. See the timeline at the bottom of this page.
1. The Catholic Osage Mission (1847 - 1870). The mission was managed by the Jesuits, with the Lorettos assistance, for the government. During its twenty-three years the Osages and missionaries experienced famine, epidemics and the Civil War. Yet, the mission was successful in educating young Osage children and converting adults who accepted conversion. Several of the Osage students, and their offspring, went on to become successful, even prominent, in life. In gratitude for the Jesuit's service, the Osages gifted land to Mission Director Father Schoenmakers. Part of that land is St. Paul, Kansas.
Also, while running the Osage Schools, the Jesuits established more than 150 mission stations, across a five-state area. Many of these stations became churches or the seeds of new communities.
2. Jesuit Monastery, Boarding School (1870 - 1892). As the Osages left Kansas, Father Schoenmakers formed a town company and started developing the very unique community of Osage Mission. He also set out to build several large stone buildings - a new church, a 3-1/2 story Jesuit monastery and a men's frontier boarding college, St. Francis Institute. Across the street, south, he and the Lorettos built St. Ann's Academy. St. Francis specialized in business education, St. Ann's in arts and music. These boarding schools attracted bright students from across the eastern states as well as local's and a few Osages. A few of the boarding school students progressed to prestigious eastern colleges.
3. The Passionist Influence (1893-1975). The early 1890's was a period of painful transition. In 1892 the Jesuits left Osage Mission and relocated to St. Mary's. In 1895 St. Ann's was destroyed by fire. Without resources to rebuild, the Lorettos left shortly after. Also, in 1895, the town of Osage Mission changed its name to St. Paul. Within a few short years we lost two educational institutions and the pioneering religious influences that founded our town and schools. We also lost part of our identity.
But in the midst of that turbulent period there was a silver lining. In April of 1893 a Passionist priest from St. Louis traveled to St. Paul to give a retreat. At the time the Passionists were considering establishing a location farther west, and the priest, Rev. O'Keefe, was impressed with the location and the obvious devotion of the local congregation. In April of 1894, the Passionists took possession of the Jesuit property in Osage Mission, and began a long relationship that involved upgrades, repairs and the eventual construction of a new monastery and retreat house, and eventually a Passionist Novitiate. During its time, the Novitiate and retreat house hosted priests and novices from across the nation. Shortly after its construction, in 1914, the monastery sheltered fourteen Passionist exiles from Mexico. These men had driven from their monastery in Toluca, Mexico and arrived in St. Paul penniless and exhausted, but thankful for their lives.
For years, we had our own slice of Rome, right here in St. Paul, and didn't realize it until the Passionists closed the monastery in 1983.
4. Present Church, Rectory and Schools (1023-Present).
From a configuration standpoint, Phase IV solidified when the present St. Francis Rectory replaced the Passionist Monastery in about 1986. But in a practical sense, the Phase IV configuration occurred over the span of about eighty-six years. During this period: the “new” St. Francis school (current Middle School) was built in 1923; the existing grade school was completed in 1953; and our new high school was completed in 2009. Completion of the high school marked 162 years of educational evolution on that two-block piece of land - and we are still going!
Some Reference Information.
1. Kansas State or national relevance means, in my opinion, that we are a lot more important than we think we are. During the past 25 years or so, our historical self-awareness has faded. There have been many books, thesis, journals and papers written about the Osage Catholic Mission, the town of Osage Mission and early St. Paul. There was also quite a bit of information published about the national Anti-Horse Thief Association which prospered while being managed locally.
Twenty-five years ago, we had an active historical society, had just built a museum, published a 330-page hardback book about our history; and had reprinted several other books about our local history. Prior to that, historical awareness was just part of living in St. Paul.
Also consider the Pruitt family's efforts to establish the Oak Grove Schoolhouse, south of St. Paul, on the National Register of Historical Places. Much of their justification for its historical relevance is based on its relationship with the Osage, the Osage Trail and with Osage Mission. Here is a link to the Historic Oak Grove Schoolhouse website: Historic Oak Grove Schoolhouse (1877)
Why shouldn't St. Paul be a State or even National Historic site? It could have a pretty substantial effect on our local economy and lifestyles.
Thoughts 'n Things
Some 'Thoughts' and short articles about past and present-day St. Paul and the Southern Kansas - 4 State Region.