A Brief History of St. Paul, Kansas

“The Little Town with the Big Church”

In most parts of the world, churches and schools are established only after the localities are established. In new countries they follow colonization. A group of people are no sooner settled in a community than they look to the establishment of churches and schools. This has been mostly true of Neosho county, but not so of Osage Mission (now the City of St. Paul). The church and school were there first, and they formed the magnet that drew large numbers of the early settlers to locate near them. That is why Osage Mission was, in the early days, the largest town not only in Neosho County, but in the surrounding area. The descendants of many of these early settlers still live on or near their old homesteads.
Father John Schoemakers, S.J. founded Osage Mission on April 28, 1847. Called the “Apostle to the Osage” and the “Father of civilization in Southeast Kansas,” he served for 36 years as spiritual director, doctor, steward, lawyer, judge, catechist and preacher to the Osage. He served as an officially appointed U.S. postmaster of Osage Mission from 1851 to 1864. With the relocation of the Osage he ministered to the needs of the newly arrived settlers. He built the present St. Francis Church stone structure. Father Schoemakers is buried in St. Francis Cemetery one quarter mile east of the Church.
As early as 1883 there was agitation to change the name of Osage Mission because it suggested it was still an Indian Mission. Neona was suggested to honor the daughter of Chief Little Bear, but local protests favored the name of St. Paul. The reigning judge decided to allow the citizens to vote on the new name and St. Paul was chosen in an election held on April 11, 1895. Some claim the new name was selected to honor Father Paul, the great missionary, but it was most probably selected in honor of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionist Order which had just then established a home in Osage Mission.
The historic St. Francis Hieronymo Church dedicated in 1884 has undergone its latest renovation in 2000. She stands majestically on Kansas Highway 47 at the east city limits; greeting visitors headed west and bidding farewell to those headed east. The Osage Mission-Neosho County Museum is directly south of the church. The Lone Elm School, a one-room school house that operated from 1867 through 1951 stands on the museum grounds. A visit to the St. Francis Parish Cemetery reflects much of the history of the Osage Mission, as does the only remaining structure of the girls’ school established by Mother Bridget Hayden when she arrived at the Mission in 1847. The Osage Mission Infirmary & Guest House is listed on the national register of historic places and is managed under the name,  St. Ann’s Bed and Breakfast. The owners strive to maintain its history and authentic design.
St. Paul’s homecoming is called Mission Days. It is held annually on Memorial Day Weekend with activities that begin on Thursday and conclude on Monday, including: races, music shows, dances, pony & draft horse pulls, parade, horseshoe tournament, carnival, kids games, golf tournament, calf penning & Calcutta, and Memorial Day services at the local cemeteries. On June 30, 2005, straight-line winds blew the steeple off of St. Francis Church. The picture above captures the mood the next day. This “Beacon on the Plains” will be replaced in fall 2006.