St Joseph-St Lawrence Parish
St Joseph-St Lawrence Parish

History of St. Joseph-St. Lawrence

St. Joseph of the Valley and St. Lawrence Parishes were formally merged on July 1, 2009, due to the shortage of priests.


For a year prior to the merge, Father Neal Stull and a committee of parishioners met and made plans on how to combine and develop an efficient system for Parish Council, Finance Council and other matters.  Father Neal passed away in Sept. 2009, and Father Richard McDonald lead the parish through the first year of the merger.


The merger was announced in the Year In Review in the Leaven.


Today, we are "Two Churches, One Parish".


2016 SJ-SL Pictoral Directory


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History of St. Lawrence Church

According to the Herbert C. Jones book, "The Trail to Progress", published in 1956:  "The St. Lawrence Church was organized in the year 1878 by the Rev. G. M. Kelly, with the aid of the committee composed by Michael Hennessey, Peter Boyle, John Warren, and Thos. Sullivan; the church costing twelve hundred dollars.  Dr. T.C. Craig was the secretary of the church form the year 1879 until the year 1914, during which years Dr. Craig aided the Rev. pastors morally and financially in establishing the church.


The following pastors took charge of St. Lawrence church:  1855-1879, Rev. B. J. Hayden; 1885-1887, Rev. S. Meehan; 1887-1888, Rev. B. F. Hudson; 1888-1895, Rev. Francis Taton; 1895-1896, Rev. F. Lydecker; 1896-1903, Rev. A. Grootaers; 1903-1914 Rev. Ernest Fisher; July and Sept. 1915, Rev. H.C. Leherke; Sept. 1915, Jan 1916, Rev. J. Laczhiak; and from Jan 1916 for several years, Rev. Kozlowski.


During the month of March, 1916, the members of the congregation, seeing the need of a new church, took steps to build a new edifice.  The plans of the church were drawn by H. Brinkman of Emporia, Kansas, according to Roman architecture, and Mont J. Green of Manhattan, Kansas, was given the contract.  The church proper cost the congregation $20,717.22, not counting the labor that was donated by the members.  The furnishing of the church cost $4,000.  Many donations were given in furnishing parts of the interior.
The new church was dedicated on April 18, 1917, by the Rev. John Ward, D.D., bishop of Leavenworth, Kansas.  The Rev. A. Grootaers, former pastor, sang Solemn High Mass, assisted by Rev. Fr. Goldman of Nortonville, and Rev. B. S. Kelly, pastor of Leavenworth Cathedral preached the dedication sermon."
In Kathryn M. Seber's book, "A Unique Leavenworth Catholic View", published 2005, Viriginia Beying Mowery said that at the dedication of the new church, it was free from all debt and "the first church building was then converted into a parish hall.  In 1972, a new parish hall was built and the old original structure was torn down."
In the book "The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, 150 Years of Faith 1850-2000", it states "St. Lawrence Parish was founded in 1878.  The first Mass, offered by Father William Smith, was said in a railroad section house.  Soon after that first Mass, Father Smith made plans to build a church.  On horseback he visited the scattered families in the area seeking funds.  Within a year, a church was built.  Over time, the parish began to grow and by 1916, a larger church was needed.  Support for the new church was great and by summer of 1916, the cornerstone was laid.  The following spring, the Roman style church was completed and dedicated."

Newspaper Article, regarding the dedication of St. Lawrence Church, from the Catholic Advance, April 28, 1917

Newspaper Article, from the Catholic Advance, May 5, 1917.

Newspaper Article, from the Leavenworth Times, April 17, 1917.

St. Lawrence Parish Directory, 2008.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Lawrence Parish Directory, 1998.  Click here to review the pictures.


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History of St. Joseph of the Valley Church

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 chronicled here."

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 parish community.


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 Church Directory, 2008.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Joseph of the Valley Church Directory, 2003.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Joseph of the Valley Church Directory, 1998.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Joseph of the Valley Church Directory, 1992.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Joseph of the Valley Church Directory, 1983.  Click here to review the pictures.


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St. Joseph of the Valley Parish  150th Anniversary Jubilee  1863-2013

Celebration held July 21, 2013.  A beautiful day, a beautiful celebration.  Great time had by all attending!

Enjoy reading information regarding the celebration by The Leaven - "Three Times the Fun" (click here).

Enjoy some pictures from our celebration by clicking here.

Listen to the song "The Little Old Church in the Valley", which was sung at our celebration, by clicking here.

Our Parish Priests

Fr. James H. Defouri   1857-1863
Fr. Theodore Heimann (organized SJV) 1863-1868
Fr. Ambrose T. Butler           1868-1873
Rev. A.J. Abel                                  1873-1874
Rev. Peter J. Suite 1874  few months
Rev Martin Huhn                          1874-1878
Rev. William Smith &
Rev. Gregory Kelly
Rev. B.J. Vonderlage 1881-1882
Rev. Bernard J. Hayden 1882-1885
Rev. Sylvester Meehan 1885-1888
Rev. James Dunning 1888-1889
Rev. Francis Taton                        1889-1895
Rev. Henry Leydecker                          1895-1896
Rev. Fr. Connors 1896  few months
Rev. Andrew Grootaers    1896-1943
Rev. Paul Kelly                               1943-1953
Rev. Francis McVay          1953-1960
Rev. George Bertels         1960-1966
Rev. Thomas Kearns 1966 (MAR-AUG)
Rev. Patrick Fitzgerald                1966-1970
Rev. Marcellus Rottinghaus,
 Asst. Pastor
Rev. Gabriel Eckert,  Asst. Pastor 1967-1968
Rev. Arthur Sullivan, Asst. Pastor 1969-1970
Rev. Tom Hesse                      1970-July 1972
Rev. George Bertels                    July 1972-1982
Fr. Thomas Hesse                 1982-1983
Fr. Dick Bayuk, C.P.P.S.   1983-1984
Fr. William M. Haegelin        1984-1986                     
Fr. Harold Wickey             1986-1995
Fr. Paul Hosler                  1995-1997                      
Fr. David Rabe 1997-2000
Fr. Kyle Haden 2000-2001
Fr. David Rabe 07/01-11/01
Fr. John Ayang, SOLT                11/01-07/07
Fr. Neal Stull, SOLT          07/07-09/09
Fr. Paul Johnson & Fr. Dao Ming Dou  09/09-02/10
Fr. William C. Smith 1878-1881
Fr. Bernard Vonderlage 1881-1882
Fr. Bernard Hudson 1882
Fr. Bernard Hayden 1882-1885
Fr. Sylvester Meehan 1885-1888
Fr. Jmes J. Dunning 1888-1889
Fr. Frances Taton 1889-1895
Fr. Henry Lydeckers 1895-1896
Fr. Andrew Grootaers 1896-1903
Fr. Ernest Fisher 1903-1914
Fr. H. C. Kehrke 1914-1915
Fr. Joseph Laczniak 1915-1916
Fr. J. F. Kozlowski 1916-1919
Fr. H. J. Fitzgerald 1919-1920
Fr. S. H. Healy 1920-1932
Fr. P. J. Smith 1932-1936
Fr. M. J. McManus 1936-1940
Fr. Leavitt Jacobs 1940-1948
Fr. John H. Walter 1948
Fr. Florian Reichert 1948-1950
Fr. Thomas Culhane 1950-1965
Fr. George Bertels 1965-1966
Fr. Thomas Kearns 1966
Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald 1966-1971
Fr. Thomas Hessee and Fr. Earl Dekat 1971-1977
Fr. Maurice Gardner 1977-1979
Fr. James Shaughnessy 1979-1981
Fr. Ronald Cornish 1981-1984
Fr. William Haegelin 1984-1986
Fr. Harold Wickey 1986-1995
Fr. Paul E. Hosler 1995-1997
Fr. David Rabe 1997-2000
Fr. Kyle Haden 2000-2001
Fr. David Rabe 07/01-11/01
Fr. John Ayang, SOLT 11/01-07/07
Fr. Neal Stull, SOLT 07/07-09/09
(Merged July 2009)
Fr. Richard McDonald              Feb. 2010-July 2011
Fr. Mathew Francis                  

July 2011-Jan. 2019 (July 2019) 

Fr. Francis Bakyor

July 2019-June 2022

Fr. William McEvoy July 2022-Present
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