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Founding of the Parish

Wednesday, April 22, 2020/Categories: History

St. Mary’s Parish was established in 1859, some eighteen months before the Kansas Territory entered statehood on January 29, 1861.

The Oregon Trail passed only two miles north of what is now St. Benedict, on the ridge between Wildcat Creek and Turkey Creek. The Trail carried heavy traffic especially in the spring when the prairie grass turned green. In 1852 travelers reported an unending stream of emigrant wagon trains as far as the eye could see. All were heading west with their sights set beyond Kansas. A pioneer woman, Ledreine Berntsen, wrote in her journal (written after 1883 because she calls the town "St. Benedict" which was the name given to the Wildcat settlement on Oct. 11, 1883 when a post office was established here): "Kansas was open for settlers and many people arrived form the north and south to homestead."

The first documented residents of the area were John and Anna Koch and their eight children who arrived from Wisconsin in 1857. They had emigrated from Germany in 1854. No doubt they took the Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, MO, to the Wildcat Creek area, a name given by the wagon drivers because of the many wildcats here at that time. Mr. Koch met a settler named Schumacker who lived in a dugout one half mile west of the present church. The two families shared the dugout that winter. Schumacker later moved to Vermillion Creek; he died in a prairie fire. According to the Koch-Broxterman family history, John Koch took up government land and established a fine farm, having purchased 160 acres of land for $150.

The Koch-Broxterman family history also has this information: "By 1857 the Indians had left the countryside but form time to time they came around on their hunting trips. Their village was approximately a quarter mile northwest of where the church now stands, at a bend in the creek. The many yearly prairie fires have obliterated all traces of the Indian village."

When looking for seed wheat, John Koch met Thomas Carlin at Turkey Creek, four miles north of Wildcat Creek. To quote from the Koch-Broxterman history: "At this time when people were so scarce one was always happy to meet a stranger which resulted in friendships and the same applied to John Koch and the Irishman, Tom Carlin. A little difficult of course was the conversation since there was a German and an Irishman who did not understand German. This much Koch believed to have understood that there was a church somewhere in the northwest and he brought the happy tidings home. The next Sunday John Koelzer and C. Blenker started the search for the supposed church, with bread and meat in a sack and armed with a heavy staff. Such a staff was a very necessary possession for a travel outfit. Because of the many snakes man wouldn't even go to a neighbor without having one along." The journal ends without giving the outcome of the trip.

In 1859, Mr. Koezler led a delegation to St. Benedict's Priory, in Atchison, KS, asking for a priest to say Mass here occasionally. The Benedictines had come to Kansas in 1856 to serve the German settlers. In June 1859, Fr. Edmund Langenfelder, O.S.B., offered the first Mass in Nemaha County. Mass was offered twice in 1859, and again twice in 1860. At that time, the Leavenworth Diocese extended from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Settlers were fortunate to have Mass once or twice a year as circuit riding priests made their rounds.

A rectory was built in 1861; the parish had the first resident priest in Nemaha County. From St. Mary’s, the priest attended these missions: St. Bridget's to the west, on the second Sunday of the month; St. Augustine's Settlement at Capioma, now called Fidelity, on the third Sunday; St. Joseph Settlement in Marshall County at Irish Creek, now called Lillis, on the first Sunday; and occasionally Elwood, Belmont, Guittard's and Marysville. However, conditions were in flux and the resident pastor was here only a year or so. Records indicate that both diocesan and Benedictine priests came to St. Mary's the next few years. In 1867 a diocesan priest from St. Bridget's took care of St. Mary's and St. Augustine's. From 1868 to 1883, St. Mary's was a mission of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Seneca. It was only in 1883 that St. Mary's had a permanent resident pastor, and then he in turn had missions to tend. One hundred years later, in 1985, the priest at St. Mary’s also served Sacred Heart Parish in Baileyville. In September 1990, the resident priest at St. Mary's also began serving St. Bede's at Kelly and St. Patrick's at Corning.

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