The Catholic Church in Lincoln County Kansas

The Catholic Church in Lincoln County. Besides the general survey of the Catholic Church in Lincoln County and its institutions in Kansas found on other pages, a number of individual churches and institutions are given place and the following sketch of the Catholic Church in Lincoln County is furnished through the courtesy of Rev. John Fitz-Gerald, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish. This article was originally prepared by Father FitzGerald for publication in the Lincoln Sentinel.

Father FitzGerald calls attention to the fact that probably the first priest to set foot in Lincoln County was one of those accompanying the DeCoronado expedition through Kansas, about 1541. The recorded history of the church in the county begins with the year 1867, when Rev. Father Lemarte, a Frenchman, who afterwards died of cholera at Ellsworth, celebrated the first holy mass at Rocky Hill. Father Lemarte’s body was later disinterred and buried at St. Mary’s, Kansas, and today there are several persons living who were devout adorers at that mass and whose account of it is as vivid as though it happened yesterday.

“The structure was a log cabin; the priest had come from Ellsworth, and was not seen again for months, but the offer of free homes had been heralded far and near and the fertile valley of the Saline was soon the home of a large number of Irish Catholics. In the early days holy mass was celebrated once or twice a year and the coming of the priest was looked forward to with the greatest of pleasure by the Catholics who then dwelt in Lincoln County. The log cabin, with dirt roof, was the only shelter that could be found and catechetical instructions was given to the little ones and confessions were heard on the banks of the Saline beneath a friendly cottonwood tree. The priest slept at nightfall wherever he could find sufficient space to stretch his weary limbs and often the saddle was his pillow and the earth his bed. He had long and weary rides on horseback, through a country infested with Indians, wild animals, blizzards in the winter and dashing rains and torrid days in summer. Instead of well defined roads there were only the great game trails made by the freighting trains that comprised the only means of transportation in that early day.

“The names of the priests who attended to the spiritual interests of the Catholics of Lincoln County were as follows: Fathers Fogerty, Temphouse, Nutman, Logher, O’Connor, Kelly, Brockett, Carius, Mangan, Caravan, Regan, McNamara, Donovan, Mc-Guiness and the present pastor, Father FitzGerald.

“It was not until the year 1878 that the first Catholic Church was erected in Lincoln County, by Father Temphouse, and the founders of the town site of Lincoln Center were considerate enough to deed to the church a block of ground.

“During Father McNamara’s pastorate a new parsonage was built and later the old church was replaced by the present magnificent new St. Patrick’s, valued at $10,000. Including St. John’s Church of Vesper, which is a mission attached to Lincoln, the Catholic membership numbers about 325 souls.

“Towards the erection of the above said building the citizens of Lincoln and residents throughout the county, irrespective of creed and nationality, contributed generously.”

Something should now be said of the beloved pastor of St. Patrick’s, a zealous and cultured priest who soon after his ordination left his native Ireland and had since been actively identified with the interests of his church in Kansas.

Father FitzGerald was born at Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, Ireland, November 14, 1880. His grandfather was also John FitzGerald, and was born and spent his entire life in Abbeyfeale as a farmer. He died there in 1880. His wife was Bridget Roche, and she is still living with her son Edward, father of John. The children of the grandparents were: Kate, who is married and living in County Kerry, Ireland; Nellie, married and also a resident of County Kerry; Johannah, married and living in County Kerry; Edward; and Michael, deceased.

Edward FitzGerald was born at Abbeyfeale in County Limerick in 1852 and had spent his career as a substantial Irish agriculturist. He married Helen Collins, who was born at Abbeyfeale in 1853. Of their children Reverend John is the oldest. Thomas is a farmer at Abbeyfeale. Eileen is the wife of Daniel Sheehan, merchant and postmaster in County Limerick, and Edward lives at Abbeyfeale and assists his brother Thomas.

Father FitzGerald, the only member of his family in America, was destined for the priesthood at an early age. He attended schools in Abbeyfeale, and acquired his classical education at St. Michael’s College in Listowel, County Kerry, and at St. Munchin’s Catholic College in the City of Limerick. His philosophical and theological studies were pursued in St. John’s Seminary at Waterford, Ireland. He was ordained June 19, 1904, at the age of twenty-four, and said his first mass in the Pro-Cathedral, St. John’s Church at Waterford.

After a few months’ vacation he came to the field of work assigned him in the United States and on September 17, 1904, arrived at Concordia, Kansas. He was appointed by Bishop Cunningham as assistant pastor of the Sacred Heart Church at Salina, and after ten weeks Bishop Cunningham assigned him as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul’s Church at Cawker City, Kansas. He remained there until February, 1906, when he went to Northwestern Kansas and was pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Goodland and also served the Sacred Heart Church at Colby. He continued his efforts in the somewhat sparsely settled districts of Kansas until June, 1911, when he was sent to Lincoln as pastor of St. Patrick’s, and had been unsparing in his efforts toward the upbuilding and maintenance of that splendid Catholic community.

Father FitzGerald is a member of Lincoln Council No. 1815, Knights of Columbus.

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