Click here for additional pictures featuring the history of SJV
In the April 3, 1893 issue of the Leavenworth Times, the following article described the local church activity:
A Boom in Church Buildings
"The Cumberland Presbyterians of this section have bought an acre of land out of the southeast corner of Mrs. Marvin's farm and will commence at once to erect a church. This association has
occupied the Round Prairie church for the last thirty years and the building is getting quite old and worn. The association has concluded to build a new church and in a more central
location. It will cost, perhaps, eighteen hundred dollars, $1,800. The Catholic association of this vicinity also is preparing to build a new church. They have purchased an acre of
land just across the road from the old church, where they will build a new one. This will be a brick structure and will cost thirty-five hundred dollars ($3,500). This association, 27
years ago, while in its earliest infancy, built what is known as the St. Joseph church, where it has held its services ever since. Both church continue to hold services to this day and are
St. Joseph of the Valley Catholic Church
Catholics in the community of Lowemont included Chmidling, Hand, Hegarty, Herley, Kennedy, Cahill, Tearney, Mottin, Goddard, Wosser, Ernzen, and Sachse. During the great migration of pioneers
westward in the years preceding the Civil War, some families of German, French , and Irish origin were settling in this area. Mass was said occasionally by a priest from the Leavenworth
Cathedral. In the spring of 1863, a Catholic congregation was organized at the home of William McGraw, by Rev. Albert Heiman and Mass was held regularly once a month. Among the following
present at the organization were: John Heintzelman, John Rogan, E. Thiebaud, Patrick McKeever, Dan Gallagher, Richard Wosser, Lawrence Kennedy, David Herley, and John Hand.
An account of the early St. Joseph of the Valley days was given in the "History of Leavenworth County" by Hall & Hand.
"In 1869, Warren W. Brown, familiarly known as "Yankee Brown", whose wife was a Catholic, gave two acres of land and a small church, 14x30 feet, was built under the direction of Rev. Ambrose butler,
then connected with the Cathedral of Leavenworth. The building of this church was the cause of an influx of Catholics in its neighborhood, and three years later, the first building being taxed
to its capacity, an addition was added in 1871."
Frances Cahill Pierron, for many years, was the church historian, writing numerous newspaper articles about the church and finally publishing a booklet about its history. She notes, "The first
congregation of St. Joseph of the Valley, located in Kickapoo Township on Pleasant Ridge Road (now 207th Street), nine miles west of Leavenworth, (and 3 miles south of Lowemont) was organized in the
spring of 1863, followed shortly by the establishment of an adjoining cemetery, Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Many of the Catholics of the community down through the generations are buried there.
Records indicated that the first burial occurred in 1865, just a few years before the first church was actually built. In 1893, a larger church was built to accommodate a growing parish
community. James Tearney, a member of the parish who lived near Lowemont, took the old church apart, then excavated and installed the rock work for the new church. When the church was
finally completed, it was paid for in cash by the parish. A few years later, a rectory was built and Fr. Grootaers became the first resident pastor for forty-seven years."
Fr. Grootaers is credited with beginning the first religious vacation school in a rural parish in 1904. Mrs. Pierron related in her book that for a period of time, Fr. Grootaers held catechism
classes for the children at the old Lowemont Hall, since it was too far to walk to classes at the church. Father would drive to Lowemont with his horse and buggy, occasionally picking up a
child or two walking to the hall. John Roach recalled that Father Grootaers was a native of Belgium. "He was a very congenial man to have around. As a matter of fact, we used
to visit together quite often." Mary Ellen Roach remembers him stopping by the post office of their home, in his Model T Ford Coupe to fetch his mail. Father also helped establish
telephone service in the parish.
Also noted in Hall & Hand's 1921 history was that "The congregation at the present is composed mostly of the children and grandchildren of the
first settlers, and practically everyone owns his own home. The number of families is seventy, all engaged in farming.
On May 1, 1930, at 6:30 pm, the frame church was totally destroyed by a tornado, but rebuilt in a few months, only to be destroyed by fire two years later, in 1932. After the tornado
destruction, Fr. Grootaers purchased a large tent so parishioners could meet there throughout the warm weather months of 1930, but this tent was lost in the 1932 fire and so were all the church
records. The present brick church was dedicated in 1933 with a seating capacity of 250. The bell used today is the same bell used in the two previous structures. In 2007, the
rectory underwent a renovation by parishioners.
Ann Sachse wrote about Fr. Grootaers: "...I first remembered Father Grootaers as a jolly, bespeckled man with a voice that reflected his Belgian ancestry. He was a significant part of the
red brick, cross-shaped, two-story parish house that withstood the perils that twice besieged the church. A feeling of shy ecstasy would creep over me as I would stand before that imposing door
and twist the tiny level that rang the bell, awaiting him to answer, with his cheery greeting. Once that door opened, the aroma of his cigar would strike me before my attention was drawn to
him. I always wondered where he got his cigars, as no other cigar smelled as good as his. It seemed to be a part of his personality...the individual who welcomed me in. I loved that
quaint house for the warmth that it gave me. I'd look beyond him and see first, the stairs in the small hallway, and on the far wall, the old crank-type telephone. Doors opened to the
right into a small tidy office, and as I followed him to the left, there were the double living and dining areas, which could be separated by sliding doors. At the dining end, double-windows
let in the sun's rays. Near there, Father would sit in his easy chair, and enjoy his cigar while inviting me to have a chair and asking me how the family was. Lost in conversation, my
eyes never failed to scan the dellicate pieces in the china cabinet against the east wall. Occasionally Father would get up from his chair and walk to the opposite side of the room and gaze out
the windows, a habit, I supposed, as he remarked, 'I like watching the parishioners arriving at the church for services.'
"Appearing at the kitchen door, his housekeeper, Dora McGonigle, added her cheerful words. I loved her for her many kindnesses, not only for the lovely dresses she gave me from her niece, but
she let me sing in the choir where she played the pump organ and sang so beautifully. Years later, Mrs. Letha Herley Gallagher, who bubbled with enthusiasm, certainly "filled the bill" with her
skill in preparing Father's favorite foods, especially ox-tail soup.
"Beyond our casual visits, my formative years were spent under his supervision, rewarding in its simplicity. At that time, Father taught the 'catechism' classes after Masses on Sundays.
Sitting attentively in the front pews of the church, we'd listen to his carefully -phrased questions as he would shove his glasses up on his forehead while peering at the little green book.
Masses were...quite lengthy and included his voluminous sermons with repetitions and continuous "in conclusions".
"Beloved by all his parishioners, Father was a true shepherd of his fold, not only in spiritual matters, but material living in an age of depression. He was frugal and didn't wish to ask the
people for more than was necessary. We were of the opinion that he spent much of his own money to ease the burdens already carried by many. When the devastating tornado of 1930 flattened
the first white frame church, Father took the initiative and exercised his fatherly concern. He personally drove around to see his parishioners to discuss what each could contribute to building
a new church. It became a familiar scene to see him driving through the countryside in his black box -like Model-T coupe. He seemed so intent on the roads as he sat erect behind the
steering wheel, wearing his black derby that was a familiar part of his black street attire and white collar. He continued to have church services under a spreading tent where we walked down
bumpy dirt aisles to boarded pews before a gracious altar. Confessions were heard behind the altar. As the church was built, Masses were held in the basement of the church. Pride in
the newly built handsome brick structure was easy to see in him, as it would be in anyone, and was for all of us, as well. But, soon after its completion, it burned to the ground.
"Father's work began all over again and a finer, fire-proof, beautiful church replaced it. Life again could go on normally with his pastoral work at St. Joseph of the Valley, interrupted only
when he returned to Belgium for an occasional summer visit. He was an integral part of our day to day life and his influence was deeply felt. Father Grootaers was my pastor until shortly
before I married, and upon his retirement, he became chaplain of St. John Hospital in Leavenworth. After his death, his body was laid to rest in his beloved parish cemetery where today a huge
cross dominates the area where special services are held for the faithful departed. Father Grootaers will always remain in the hearts of his people--for because of his love of the simple life,
in a simple country parish, he remains alive in spirit as an inspiration to all who were fortunate to have known him."
When Mrs. Pierron wrote her book in 1975, she noted an impressive number of couples of the parish who had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary: Lawrence Kennedys, James Hegartys, Peter
Finks, George Roes, Charles Tearneys, Leo Chmidlings, Ed Hands, Francis Pierrons, David Cahills. However, over the years, it seems the parish population had difficulty in remembering just when
to celebrate the milestones of the founding of their valley church. In August of 1975, their centennial was celebrated, which was, admittedly, twelve years overdue. Then, in 1986, Fr.
Angelus Lingenfelser, native son of the parish, dedicated a historical plaque, presented by the Leavenworth County Historical Society, marking the 130-year history of the church, despite the
explanation that the parish was organized in 1866. If my own calculations are correct, based on the history written by Frances Pierron, the 150th anniversary is set to be celebrated in the year
2013. It surely will be a memorable one. Despite the worldwide shortage of Catholic priests, the valley church has weathered its adversities well and maintained a strong and close-knit
We are grateful to Mary Ann Sachse Brown for the
contribution of this article, which is an excerpt from her book,
Remembering Lowemont, published in 2010.
St. Joseph of the Valley Parish Directories-
NOTE: To see pictures in the directory, click on the picture,
and there are arrows to the right and left to advance through the pictures.
2008 St. Joseph of the Valley Directory. Click here for additional
2003 St. Joseph of the Valley Directory. Click here for additional
1998 St. Joseph of the Valley Directory. Click here for additional pictures.
1992 St. Joseph of the Valley Directory. Click here for additional
1983 St. Joseph of the Valley Directory. Click here for additional
St. Joseph of the Valley Parish
150th Anniversary Jubilee
Celebration held July 21, 2013. A beautiful day, a beautiful celebration. Great time had by all
Enjoy reading information regarding the celebration by The Leaven - "Three Times the Fun" (click here).