St. Joseph Parish & School
Catholicism came to Conway Springs only two years after the city's birth. The nucleus of the parish was formed in 1886 when six Catholic families came from Illinois and settled in this area. Despite the fact that there was no church, a priest from Wellington made sure that their spiritual needs were met. The home of Andrew Leddy was used as a chapel, and the first Mass and baptism (Leddy's son, John) took place there.
In 1906, the upstairs of the Bon Ton Bakery in Conway Springs was offered as a chapel by the owner, Frank Konecny. Mass continued there for four years.
Joe Lange and Andrew Leddy met in Wichita one day in 1909. While discussing the need for a church in Conway Springs, Mr. Lange proposed that each of them donate $500 and collect the remainder from the other families. Joe Lange presented this proposition to the Bishop. The Bishop agreed to a frame church. Andrew Leddy gave a big donation and they took pledges among the families. Joe Lange matched all pledges, and due to his generosity, the name St. Joseph was chosen. Land was bought and the new structure was built that same year at a cost of $2500 willingly contributed by the eight families that now made up the parish.
After the new church was built, Mass was held only once a month due to the scarcity of priests in the Wichita Diocese. In 1917, it was changed to twice a month. Also in 1917, the Altar Society was formed with 11 members. 1922 saw the formation of a Parish Council NCWC with 20 members, and the Ladies Activities Club, with 18 members. There were now 25 families in the parish.
1930 was a busy year for our parish. With the congregation growing to include 160 people (34 families), the Mass schedule was changed to have services every Sunday. Our first parish newspaper was also introduced—The Shepherd's Voice. Last, but certainly not least, November saw the very first Feather Party. It was held in the Bon Ton Bakery and cleared $100. Before the end of the year, the parish received permission to have two Masses each Sunday.
Father Alex Stremel was assigned as the first resident pastor of the parish in 1932. He was followed by Fr. Joseph J. Grellner, who was appointed in 1935 and stayed until 1946. It was Fr. Grellner who made sure that we had a school built in 1942. Next came Father Joseph Oenbrink, who was pastor from 1946 until 1948. In 1948, Rev. Joseph Gerstenkorn assumed duties. He drew the blueprints for the new rectory, and joined the men of the parish in the construction. All of the work, with the exception of the bricklaying and fitting of the windows, was done by volunteers. Our parish now consisted of 105 families, and a school enrollment of 94 students. During this year, the parish also acquired its own cemetery. Both the new rectory and the cemetery were dedicated February 26, 1950 by Bishop Mark K. CarrolI.
Father Steve Reif was assigned to our parish from 1950-1951. From 1951–1963, Father Leonard H. Torline was our pastor. September 20, 1956 was a sad day for the St. Joseph family. A fire completely destroyed the frame church. With his quick action, Father Torline saved the Blessed Sacrament. With the aid of volunteers, they saved everything in the sacristy and sanctuary that was not attached. A former eighth grade student recalled viewing the destruction with the entire student body, and the terrible feeling that was experienced when the 3-foot cement crucifix on top of the bell tower fell straight down and stuck in the ashes as the church burned. It was saved and now is in safekeeping by the Ivan Kingsley family as a grotto.
Plans were quickly made to build a new brick church. On February 16, 1958, the first Mass was held in the new church and a class of 24 children made their First Communion. On March 19, 1958, Bishop Carroll blessed and dedicated the new church.
In 1953, Father Herbert W. Mohr came to St. Joseph. We were blessed with 18 wonderful years with Father Mohr. He remained our pastor until 1981. We helped Father Mohr celebrate not only his 25th anniversary to the priesthood, but also his 40th anniversary. He would play softball with the 6th grade class every day at recess. He was often heard giving advice to the young ball players. It is for this reason that Mohr Field is dedicated to him.
Father John Zich was our pastor from 1981–1982. Next would follow Father Robert Larson from 1982–1983, Father Leroy Linnebur from 1983–1992, Father Robert Wachter from 1992–1998, Father David Linnebur from 1998–2002, and Father Thomas Hoisington from 2002–2008. Father Andrew Seiler was appointed to our parish in 2008
Catholicism has continued to grow in Conway Springs for over 100 years. While our church has continued to expand, so has our school. In September 1942, the school was opened with an enrollment of 36 children and two Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. It was furnished to have classes in two rooms. By 1946, with an enrollment of 101 and 3 teachers, it was clear that another classroom was needed. Construction began in 1955 on a 90’ x 23’ addition. This added two classrooms, a principal’s office, two cloak rooms, and toilet facilities. Additional remodeling has occurred over the years to meet the needs of our children. Enrollment continued to grow for St. Joseph’s School, and today we have 122 students.
The parish broke ground for the basement of a new rectory on February 8, 2006. Twenty men began framing on Ash Wednesday, March 1, and within a week the house was framed and roofed and had outside doors. All work on the new rectory was completed by parishioners from start to finish, including demolition, excavation, design, concrete, carpentry, electrical and plumbing work, masonry, HVAC, painting, wall papering, decorating, and landscaping. By the following September Father Thomas Hoisington moved into the new rectory. On June 3, 2007, Bishop Michael Jackals came to celebrate Mass and bless the new rectory.
A new rectory had been a much-needed and long overdue project for the parish. It was completed through the time, treasure, and talent of the parishioners of St. Joseph. Building the new rectory was truly a parish project of love.