Timeline: 1827 - 1847

Early Jesuit contacts with the Indians of Kansas


August 14 - Fr. Felix Van Quickenborne visits a trading post among the Osage Indians on the Neosho River in southeastern Kansas. He investigates the prospects of doing effective missionary work among the Indians of the area. Nothing permanent develops; it will be years later through the efforts of Fr. Verreydt before a permanent mission is set up for the Osage.
1835 July 4 - Fr. Van Quickenborne visits the Kickapoo reservation just north of Fort Leavenworth, after having heard of the readiness of the Indians there to receive the Gospel.
1836 June 1 - Father returns to found a mission for the Kickapoo. The first Mass is offered on Corpus Christi in a French trader's cabin. With Father are lay brothers Andrew Mazzella, an Italian who is a terrific cook and all-around handyman, George Miles, a Kentucky native who grew up in Missouri on a farm adjoining the Jesuit novitiate, and Edmund Barry, who had helped missionaries in Kentucky. Of these, the former two will be among the founders of St. Mary's. Br. Mazzella would be buried here. The mission is on Salt Creek, just west of the Missouri River and five miles from Fr. Leavenworth. Fr. Christian Hoecken, S.J., a Hollander, and one of the great missionaries of Kansas, arrives soon after and astonishes the Indians by learning their language and composing a grammar for it. The Indians call him "the Kickapoo Father." The fathers open a school with 20 Kickapoo pupils, but the response is poor - only about 30 Indians attend Sunday Mass regularly. Liquor-peddling whites undermine the missionaries' work.
1837 Worn out from his labors, Fr. Van Quickenborne is recalled to Missouri where he dies August 17, and is buried at Florissant. Toward the end of the year, Fr. Hoecken, at the Kickapoo Mission, receives a communication asking for priests from Nesswawke, Chief of a Christian band of about 150 Potawatomi moved by the government from the Wabash River in Indiana to southeastern Kansas.
1838 January - Fr. Hoecken travels to Nesswawke's camp on Pottawatomie Creek in present Miami County. He witnesses the marriages of two of the chief's daughters and stays two and a half weeks, returning in May and October. (Note: the names of Pottawatomie Country and Creek are spelled differently from the name of the tribe.)
  May - At Council Bluffs (Iowa) on the upper Missouri, Jesuit Father Peter Verhaegen sets up St. Joseph's Mission for the Prairie Potawatomi (primarily from Illinois) said to have many Catholics in their number. Assigned for the initial staff are Fr. Verreydt, Br. Mazzella, and a last minute substitute - Fr. Pierre De Smet. Thus, almost by accident, the future great missionary of the Northwest gets into the field. He goes up-river to negotiate peace with the menacing Sioux and makes his first contact with the Indians of the Northwest. St. Joseph's Mission is not very successful; the "great number" of Catholics proves to be a myth; the fathers have just begun to develop a Catholic social order with 300 Christians. (Note: Catholicism around the city of St. Joseph, Missouri, traces to the visits of these Jesuits.)
  October - Fr. Hoecken is directed to take up residence among those of the tribe who are living on Pottawatomie Creek in southeastern Kansas.
  November 4 - Fr. Hoecken is on hand to receive with open arms 650 Christian Potawatomi who arrive with their pastor, Fr. Benjamin Petit, on the "Trail of Death" from Indiana. The government had rounded up 800 Potawatomi and sent them westward in the heat of August on a forced march like prisoners with a military escort. Fr. Petit had accompanied his flock, sharing their trials which they offered up with the generosity of the first Christians. He assisted thirty sick, elderly, and newborns who died on the journey. Many more deserted en route. Arriving in Kansas, Father fell sick of fever and could not return to his post in Indiana. He suffered the winter cold in a tent while Fr. Hoecken, with some knowledge of medicine, nursed him. In January, he set out on his return journey; he reached St. Louis in a state of exhaustion, and there died a holy death on February 10, 1839.
1839 March - In Kansas, the tribe moves about 15 miles south to Sugar Creek (named for the maples along its banks), a short distance east of the present Centerville in Linn County, Kansas. The missionaries call it "St. Mary's Creek." This is the official beginning of the "Saint Mary's Mission." Alone, Fr. Hoecken cares for a flock of over 600 and trains catechists to go out to neighboring tribes.
  Summer - Fr. Hoecken's health breaks and he must return to St. Louis for a rest. Fr. Herman Aelen takes his place and is credited naming the mission after the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God.
1840 The Jesuits open a school for Indian boys at Sugar Creek; along with their lessons they learn to farm. In Missouri, Fr. Hoecken thrills St. Philippine Duchesne and her nuns with stories of the Potawatomi Mission.
  Christmas Day - A large chapel built by the Indians is dedicated under the title of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Over 500 Potawatomi attend the High Mass and Solemn Vespers. Young Indian girls carry a beautiful statue of the Immaculate Virgin in procession all over the settlement.
1841 July - Urged on by Fr. De Smet, four "Ladies of the Sacred Heart" journey by riverboat and wagon from St. Charles, Missouri, to Sugar Creek to work among the Indians. They are 71-year-old St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and her companions, Mother Lucille Mathevon, Mother O'Connor, and lay Sister Louise Amyot. These latter three will eventually be buried here in Mt. Calvary. The Potawatomi receive the Sisters with great joy; and one family loans their cabin to the nuns while their faithful Negro helper Edmund builds a cabin and school. Their new girls' school soon has 50 pupils. Indian mothers come to learn the secrets of housekeeping; the nuns learn Potawatomi and begin teaching the Indians the prayers and hymns of the Church.
  August 14, Eve of the Assumption - The Mission is thriving; Fr. Aelen hears confessions in Potawatomi for 18 hours! Many of the faithful attend Mass daily, receive Communion regularly, and are faithful in praying the Rosary. Continually outgrowing and rebuilding their church, they will be working on their fourth one at the time of the move to the present St. Mary's. The response of the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek is a great consolation to the fathers.
  September - Fathers Verreydt and Hoecken, having insurmountable difficulties at Council Bluffs, must depart and establish themselves among the Kansas Potawatomi at Sugar Creek, where Fr. Verreydt is named new superior. Brothers Mazzella and Miles arrive with them. Fr. Hoecken continues to visit the tribes on the upper Missouri. The Jesuits at Sugar Creek are the only priests for the white settler on the Missouri-Kansas border. Fr. Verreydt is virtually pastor of St. Francis Regis Church in Westport (Kansas City), a trip of 70 miles on horseback! To his sorrow he is never able to master the Potawatomi tongue, which Fr. Hoecken speaks as if he were an Indian.
1842 St. Mary's Mission at Sugar Creek continues to grow: 235 baptisms, 300 confirmations by Bishop Kenrick, 66 boys and 72 girls in the schools, and 940 Catholic Indians in all
  June 19 - The aged St. Philippine Duchesne bids farewell to the Potawatomi and begins her return journey to St. Louise in obedience to her superiors who wish her to have better care than they can give in the primitive conditions at the Mission.
1843 There are 61 pupils in each of the schools. The girls are taught reading, writing, and spelling, and many home skills including sewing, knitting, and even fancy-work, along with baking and housekeeping. The fathers teach the men and boys how to farm and build permanent buildings, difficult lessons for a people who had been free-roaming hunters. The parish boasts many confraternities and liturgical functions, including an eight-day mission preached according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, May devotions, blessing of crops, and elaborate Corpus Christi processions. The piety and industry of the Potawatomi is praised by all. The priests affirm that some have lived such innocent lives they have probably never committed a mortal sin. The church is packed every Sunday and perfect silence reigns during the sermon; mothers immediately remove noisy children.
1844 Fr. Verreydt founds the Osage Mission for Indians from their ancient lands along the Osage in Missouri to southeast Kansas. The cradle of Catholicism in southeast Kansas, this mission has an illustrious history under Jesuits Fr. John Schoenmakers, a Belgian, and Fr. Paul Ponziglione, the son of a count of Turin.
1846 June 5 - A treaty is signed with members of Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes at Council Bluffs, Iowa, by which a 30-mile-square tract of land lying on both sides of the Kaw (Kansas) River extending west from Topeka is allotted to the Potawatomi. The Indians - and St. Mary's Mission - must move again, a distance of about 90 miles.
1847 Although there are 1300 Christian Potawatomi coming to the Mission, the work of the Jesuits is once again being hampered by unscrupulous whites selling liquor. A move to the new reserve farther west is welcomed by the fathers.
  Where will the new mission be located? Reports of early explorations on the bare south side of the river leave everyone discouraged. Fr. Verreydt makes a personal inspection tour and reports sufficient timber for building on the north side of the river. The Indians begin migrating to their new territory accompanied by Fr. Hoecken and Br. Mazzella. They start a temporary mission at Wakarusa Creek, but Fr. Verreydt rejects the site. The mission site must be central to Indian settlements on both sides of the Kaw, near timber and fertile farm land, but not too close to the river for danger of flooding.

Prologue: Early Threads in the History of St. Mary's
Time Line: 1827 - 1847
Time Line: 1848 - 1869
Time Line: 1869 - 1931
Time Line: 1931 - 1967
Time Line: 1967 - 1978