|City/Town: • Greenbush
|Location Class: • Church
|Built: • 1902 | Abandoned: • 1982
|Status: • Burned Down
|Photojournalist: • Darrell Powers
Table of Contents
The First Church 1871-1879
In order to understand the St. Aloysius Church Historic Site, you have to understand the history of the three buildings that play a massive role in its history. The first church on this plot of land was built in 1871 as a frame church. It was the first Catholic church in Crawford County. The story of how this church came to be is documented in The Pittsburg Daily Headlight on June 25, 1902 and tells the following; While Father Colleton was returning on horseback from St. Louis he lost the trail. During the night a violent storm broke loose over the prairie. No human habitation in sight, he lassoed his pony and calmly abided by the warring of the elements. He had been in many storms but never such a tempest, the fury of the hail lashed by the fury of the wind was such that he had to cover his head with his saddle. He feared for his life and vowed to the Blessed Virgin to build a chapel wherever he would find himself in the morning. Marking the spot he immediately set out for Kansas City where he received a grant for 470 acres and fulfilled his vow, this was the first church at Greenbush. Father Van Hagen was the first resident pastor of this church and remained for five years.
On June 20, 1879 a severe storm came through the prairie, dooming the site again. The Catholic church near Hickory Creek had been thrown from its foundation. With the church being destroyed a new church would need to be built and Father Van Hagen wasted no time building a spacious rock church.
Hickory Catholic Church 1881-1907 (1984-Present)
Stone from the nearby Hickory Creek was quarried by the parish with the help of Xavier LaFouge, a French stonemason. quarrying stone from the fine ledge of limestone cropping out along Hickory Creek. The church was completed in 1881 at a cost of $700 and became known as the Hickory Catholic Church because of the nearby creek. It retained this name until 1890 when it became known as Greenbush Catholic Church. The first resident pastor, Father Francis M. Verdan, served the church from December 29, 1882, to 1932. Father Verdan two years after becoming the resident pastor called on the assistance of the parish to aid him in raising funds to purchase an organ. With no issues, the parish raised the needed money. Over the years it held events such as a Catholic Fair and entertainment nights partnering with the nearby school.
The congregation continued to grow which meant the building of a larger church on the grounds. This building would continue to be used while the other was under construction and then turn into the patriarchal school and parish hall from 1907-1984 after the third building was finished.
St. Aloysius Catholic Church of Greenbush 1902-1982
The building for the third church started in the early 1900s. The stone for this building was also quarried from the nearby Hickory Creek and would become the largest church in Crawford County. On June 15, 1902 a gentleman by the name of Mr. Rose from Girard presented the cornerstone to Father Verdan. It was a marvelous piece of Italian marble with a cross and 1902 engraved on one side and the letters “J.N.K.J.” on the other side which stands for “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” The cornerstone was officially laid on September 14, 1902 with a large crowd to watch and celebrate. In March 1904 the mason work was completed on the huge stone church, allowing for woodwork to commence. Because of the immense size of the church, it was predicted that it would take two years to finish but construction ran until 1907, three years longer than expected.
Finally being completed the opening services of St. Aloysius Catholic Church of Greenbush were held on June 21st of 1907. The solemn mass was held at 9 am and Dr. Joseph Pompeney delivered the address. The steeple of the church was 110 feet high and displayed a copper cross given by Mr. Hertner of Girard. A large marble slab displayed the name of the parish in front of the large building and was presented by Marble Works of Fort Scott. The altar alone was over $700 and made by W.T. Cornwell.
This massive building served the congregation for over seven decades before mother nature stuck again, literally. On August 11, 1982 another storm rolled through the prairie when a crack of lightning struck the building. A fire had engulfed the entire building and burned it from the inside out entirely. The church had just finished with renovations and parishioners were getting ready to move back into the building. Unfortunately, it was a total loss, parishioners had to renovate the old 1881 second church that had been used as the parish hall and school. Stones from the burned building were incorporated into the second church and the building was rededicated on March 9, 1986.
In another misfortune, the Diocese of Wichita was experiencing a shortage of priests in the 1990s and nine churches including St. Aloysius. The last mass was held on September 4, 1993 and the buildings on the property were set to be demolished or sold. The former congregation and citizens of Greenbush rallied together to create the St. Aloysius Historical Society in a bid to protect their history. The 1881 building was listed on the Kansas Register of Historic Places in 1994. You can now visit the grounds and get an up-close and personal look at history.
Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan
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