"The growth of Catholicism in this district may be traced as far back in the history of the district even before the white persons began to settle the prairie lands." Jesuit priests began to settle in this area as early as 1830 establishing missions among the Indians. The first post was located near what is current day St. Paul, KS. Eventually white persons began to settle in the area, and the priests who were serving in the mission began to branch out administering the sacraments to the new settlers.
A coal mining camp was established in Scammon, and Father Eugenio Bononcini was assigned as a priest there. Fr. Bononcini began to make irregular visits to Pittsburg once the community was established. In 1881, the members of the Pittsburg community began to meet in the Odd Fellows hall near present day Sixth and Locust. On December 7, 1882, the first definite church organization was started in Pittsburg. Fr. Bononcini purchased two lots on that day for a total of $650. These lots were purchased on what is current day Elm Street. A small frame Church was erected and the first Mass was celebrated there on May 26, 1883.
After the purchase of the lots and the erection of the small frame church on the site of the present parochial school, the membership became stronger and a resident priest was obtained, Reverend Robert Loehrer, who came in 1884 and remained for two years. Fr. Robert Loehrer immediately added two rooms to the frame church, one to serve as his rectory and the other as a class room.
In 1885, Fr. Robert Loehrer was succeeded by Fr. Sigismun Wozing. According to the records, Fr. Wozing started the first parochial school in Pittsburg with Miss Amy Lee Hughes the teacher. Where Fr. Wozing went after St. Mary's Parish is unknown. However, the records suggest that he left Pittsburg in 1886.
During Fr. Wozing's stay in Pittsburg, Fr. Bononcini returned to the parish. Fr. Bononcini was at the parish until August of 1886 when he was replaced by Fr. Francis J. Zvocek. It was during Fr. Zvocke stay when the Diocese of Wichita was founded in 1887. Father Zvocek left Pittsburg in January of 1890.
In January of 1890, Fr. Joseph Gaydousek became the pastor of Pittsburg. Soon after Fr. Gaydousek was appointed pastor Fr. Bononcini returned to Pittsburg. Fr. Bononcini remained in Pittsburg until 1891 when he was succeeded by Father F.S. Hawelka. Fr. Hawelka built the first Catholic Church in Frontenac. Fr. Hawlka remained in Pittsburg until 1893, and he is widely remembered for his peculiar hobby of collecting snakes dead or alive.
Father Hawelka was succeeded by Dr. J. A. Pompeney in 1893 who had made a trip four years earlier while serving as chancellor for the Diocese of Wichita. The parish was rather small when Dr. Pompeney arrived, and the new pastor devoted himself to increase its membership and make it stronger. On Christmas Eve 1893 an organizer of one of the anti-Catholic societies which periodically swept the country, the American Patriotic Association, conducted a meeting at the G.A.R. hall. Despite his heavy Christmas duties, Dr. Pompeney was at the meeting and so successfully answered the organizer's arguments that he alone remained after the lecture to talk to the man. Dr. Pompeney was also successful in bringing the Sisters of St. Joseph to teach in the school. He remained in Pittsburg four years leaving in May 1897.
In 1897, Dr. Pompeney was succeeded by Fr. E. M. Coolen. In 1901, Most Reverened John J. Hennessy came to Pittsburg to begin the erection of a new hospital and likewise instructed the pastor, Fr. Coolen, to begin the erection of a new church in Pittsburg, KS. Fr. Coolen never got around to doing this before he was transferred in 1903.
In 1903, Father James Donohue became the pastor of St. Mary's Parish. In 1904, Fr. Donohue started building the current church structure under the wishes of Bishop John J. Hennessy. The church building is built in Gothic style with the stone coming from Carthage. The Church is built with the size of 46x72. This size was thought to be plenty big at the time, and it allowed plenty of room for the parish to grow. The church cost $30,000 to build.
When Fr. Donohue arrived in 1903, he was unable to find the Catholic Church. He was able to find the Anchor of Home on the Methodist church and mistook it for St. Mary's. Thus, He decided to put a steeple high enough on the new church so no one could make the same mistake.
In July 1905, Fr. George R. Reinschmidt became the pastor. During his seven-year pastorate at St. Mary's, Fr. Reinschmidt completed the church edifice and had it decorated. Many of the church furnishings were donated by parishioners. However, the high altar was not donated by any individual, and the money was raised by various projects and personal donations. The high altar cost $700. In 1909, Fr. Reinschmidt bought two more lots to be used for playground space.
Dr. J. A. Pompeney returned for his second stint of pastorate at St. Mary's parish in 1912. Upon his second return to Pittsburg, Dr. Pompeney became involved immediately in a struggle with the "Appeal to Reason", a Socialist paper published by E. Haldeman-Julius at Girard, KS. This contest gained such wide recognition that Eugene V. Debs took occasion to censure the Pittsburg pastor. Debs at the time was the Socialist candidate for President. Socialism became wide spread through out the county during Dr. Pompeney's second stay in Pittsburg. In order to combat the socialist movement, Dr. Pompeney found it necessary to have Sunday meetings at the parish to instruct the faithful. After 8 of these meetings, Dr. Pompeney had 135 converts to Catholicism.
The parochial school was closed in 1906 due to hard times in the community. In 1915, Bishop Henessy suggested that the old church building be utilized as a parochial school. After the reopening of the school, Dr. Pompeney saw a return of Catholic fervor. The old frame church could only support up to 200 students. Thus, Dr. Pompeney found it necessary to draw plans to build a bigger school. The construction of a new modern building started in 1920, and it was ready for occupancy in March, 1924. When Dr. Pompeney left the parish, the parish had 450 families, and he believed the parish could use an associate pastor so he wrote Bishop Schwertner asking for an associate pastor to help with spiritual needs of the large flock. The first associate pastor of St. Mary's was Fr. Leo A. Debes, and he only stayed in Pittsburg for five months when he and Dr. Pompeney left in February, 1928.
Dr. Pompeney was replaced by Fr. P.J. McCullogh in 1928. Fr. McCullough had always been an active priest and a great builder of parishes and when he arrived in St. Mary's, he found that he had plenty to do. The parish was deeply in debt; repairs had to be made; a rectory had to be bought; a Sisters' convent had to be arrange for; and a complete parish census had to be taken. With all this work facing him, he asked Bishop Schwertner for an assistant. His request was granted in the form of Fr. Alex G. Stremel a newly ordained priest. The material and the spiritual progress of the church kept rising to the exten that an addition was made to the present church edifice. Fr. McCullough added the transepts to the church at a cost of $35,000. The church was rededicated on November 27, 1931. Following the blessing of the Church by Bishop Schwertner, 1,200 people crowded into the church for the celebration of solemn high Mass, which was sung by Father Matthew Brady, assistant Pastor of St. Mary's.
Father McCullough's memory lives on at St. Mary's parish. During his stay in Pittsburg, he was able to clear the parish of a $60,000 debt. At the same time, Fr. McCullogh bought several lots, a parish house, and completed the $35,000 addition to the church. The chancellor of the diocese, Rev. F.J. Morrell, made the following comment "Difficulties to the ordinary man are not difficulties to the genius."
Fr. McCullough did not stop with the addition of the Church. He found it necessary to furnish the church with an appropriate pipe organ. The organ was dedicated in on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the parish on October 12, 1933.
The next great event in the history of St. Mary's parish was on November 6, 1935 when the following headline appeared in the Catholic Advance: PITTSBURG PASTOR MADE MONSIGNOR. The church was full on the day Fr. McCullough was made Monsignor.
Msgr. McCullough kept looking to the future and in 1936 he inaugurated the high school program for St. Mary's starting with 26 freshmen. The same year saw the beginning of the Kindergarten program. In 1937, more room was needed and the third story of the second school was added, furnishing four class rooms and a combination gym and auditorium.
In 1944, Msgr. McCullough began to drive for funds to build a new gymnasium. The new gym was set to cost $80,000. Msgr. McCullough desired that the building be completely modern in every aspect with shower rooms and dressing rooms and a large seating capacity. The new building was a post-war project for the parish and school.
Msgr. McCullough final effort to make St. Mary's church an outstanding one in the Diocese of Wichita was to provide the church steeple peal of Bells. He succeeded in doing this by getting the Frank J. Lenski family to donate $8,000 for this project. Bishop Mark K. Carroll installed and baptized the bells on Wednesday, October 29, 1947. These bells, Frank, Domicella, and Joseph, still remain in the church and ring at 6am, Noon, and 6pm.
Msgr. McCullough became ill in December, 1947, and Fr. Neil Driver became the administrator of St. Mary's. During Fr. Driver's administration many things were done for St. Mary's. The school was in need of repair and remodeling; the church needed redecorating; tile floors were needed in the school halls and the aisles of the church. All this was taken care of during Father Driver's administration fir $32,210 which depleted the funds which had been raised for the new gym.
Father Alex G. Stremel, who was not unknown in the parish, replaced Fr. Driver in 1949. At the installation of Pastor, Bishop Mohr introduced the new pastor as a building pastor. The building committee met and discussed the three buildings which were needed at the Parish, new rectory, gymnasium, and a convent. The wish of the committee was to complete the building projects the summer Fr. Stremel arrived. After several meetings, it was decide the new rectory would be built first. Ground was broken on July 14, 1949. The structure was built to house four priests. The house was completed for an open house on October 16, 1949. This rectory remained until a new one was built in 2010.
In 1950, a new gym was in need, and the problem weighed upon the parishioners, the pastor, and the building committee for months. It was finally decided in May to build a new gym in honor of Msgr. McCullough. The gym was finally ready for use in December, 1951, and the first game was played on December 7 against Frontenac.
The Kansas Passion Play, which was produced in western Kansas for nine years, created a great deal of interest in St. Mary's parish and brought about a meeting of several men in September, 1950, to discuss the possibility of staging the sacred drama in Pittsburg, Kansas, as a parish project. It was suggested that the play be produced during Holy Week of 1951 but the pastor and director of the play suggested that another year should pass before the project should be undertaken due to the pressing building program in the parish and also due to the fact that the pastor had not had enough time to size up his characters for the different 162 roles needed to portray the sacred drama. Fr. Alex G. Stremel, pastor and author, of "Calvary Hill" wanted to revise the play which he wrote in 1941 before it was performed at the parish. Finally in 1952, "Calvary Hill" was performed at St. Mary's. "Calvary Hill" saw it last performance at the parish in 1957.
Sunday, October 25, 1952 was a red letter day at St. Mary's Parish, Pittsburg. It was also a very busy day for the Most Rev. Mark K. Carroll, who dedicated three new buildings of St. Mary's, administered Confirmation to a large class, and invested Thomas J. McNally and John J. Towner with the knighthood of St. Gregory, a Pontifical Equestrian Order.
In 1953, the Newman Center across from Kansas State Teacher College was bought and Pittsburg has the distinction of having the only state college that the Catholic students have a Newman Center.
In 1954, The Knights of Columbus celebrate their Golden Jubilee by hosting the Kansas State Convention of the K. of C. on May 15-17 with Bishop Carroll in attendance and preaching the festive sermon.
In 1954, St. Mary's for the first time in history had a native son ordained to the priesthood in the person of John Massman, now known in religion as Father Albert, O.S.B.
In 1960, The present High school building was erected.
In 1963, Father Charles Smith succeeded Father Alex G. Stremel. Fr. Smith did a variety of things to improve the rapport between Catholics and non-Catholics in Pittsburg as part ot he Ecumenical Movement following Vatican II. During Fr. Simth's time as pastor, he raised to the clerical rank of Monsignor.
On July 24, 1966, the popular Father Colgan died along with three others in an automobile crash at Chicopee, Kansas. In honor of Father Thomas Colgan, the high school was renamed. It then became known as the Colgan Regional until 1971, when it reverted to a parish high school, supported and guided by the St. Mary's parishioners. It is the only high school in the diocese supported by a single parish.
In 1967, Father Francis J. Baumstark succeeded Father Charles Smith. His main project during his three year stay as pastor of Pittsburg was the complete renovation of the Church. The work started in the Spring of 1968 and was completed in the fall of 1969.
On May 5, 1968, Bishop Maloney dedicated the hansome new facility as the St. Pius X Catholic Center. A chapel is the central feature of the structure. It is surronded by meeting rooms, a loung, library and game room. The Center is part of the St. Mary's parish, however its operation is supported by students and St. Mary's parishioners separately.
Father Edward John Steinberger replaced Father Baumstark in the Sprink of 1970. Father Steinberger instituted the changing of Colgan Regional High School back to a parish high school. The following was written upon the occasion of his death.
Beloved Fr. Steinberger, Pray For US
Fr. “Stiney” was laid to rest on Wednesday in his hometown of Independence.
Father Edward J. Steinberger arrived as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in June of 1970. He found Pittsburg and Southeast Kansas familiar to him since he grew up in Independence, KS. Being at Our Lady of Lourdes was a blessing for him because he had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother.
Fr.Steinberger was a very prayerful and dedicated hardworking priest. He wanted everyone, especially the young people, to have a great love and commitment to the faith. He saw the Catholic schools as an important vehicle to provide training, growth and development in the Faith. A great deal of his energy was given to keep the schools and especially Colgan High School open. He would do what-ever it took to get the extra monies necessary to assist the schools even selling typewriters and cars. He was always looking for a bargain or a donation of money, equipment, school supplies or anything that could be used for the schools. He became very creative.
It was during his early years (about 1972) that one of the parishioners, John J. Towner, planted a seed in the mind of Fr. Steinberger. Mr. Towner was very committed to Catholic education and saw that Fr. Steinberger was just as committed. Mr. Towner knew that it would be difficult for the schools to survive and prosper without some planning for the future. Thus, the Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Fund began in 1973 with a donation from Mr. Towner. Fr. Steinberger worked diligently to make people aware of the Fund’s purpose and to invite parishioners to include the Memorial Fund in their estate planning. Now 35 years later the Memorial Fund is a testimony to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of these two men.
Fr. Steinberger spent 11 years as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish and Administrator of St. Mary’s Elementary and Colgan High School. Under his leadership Pat Forbes became the first lay principal in 1973.
Father had a passion for the students and faculty. It was not un-common for him to have tears well up in his eyes as he talked to the faculty at their in-service be-fore the beginning of each new school year. He gave his every-thing, prayer, devotion, energy, talents and gifts in service of the people of the parish and the students of the schools.
This article was written by Fr. Thomas Stroot, associate pastor under Fr. Steinerger at Our Lady of Lourdes, and published in the Our Lady of Lourdes bulletin the week of October 19th, 2008 the following week after the death of Fr. Steinberger.
Father Ivan Eck replaced Father Steinberger in June of 1981 and was promptly confronted with an urgen need to rehabilitate the gymnasium which had settled along with other Pittsburg structures during the summer of 1980.
In 1981, the centennial of the first Catholic group in the area was celebrated. A Mass was celebrated at the J.J. Richards Band Dome on October 11, 1981 by Reverend David Maloney.
In 1981, Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated its centennial anniversary. The opening chapter of the Centennial Souvenir book described the first one hundred years, "The centennial of St. Mary's parish is a celebration of our Catholic Faith. For five generations peoples from all over the world have been settling and working in St. Mary's parish in Pittsburg, KS. The faith has been a beacon of light and a pillar of strength for countless people. They have worked to preserve their faith and to pass it on to the generations following. A desire to pass on our faith and preserve it has been expressed in many ways. Some through buildings, such as our gothic church, St. Mary's Grade School, and Colgan High School. In purely spiritual ways, such as the untold religious services that have been participated in and the endless hours of good works of the parishioners.
"Our parish over these past one hundred years has been blessed beyond reason. We realize that nothing we have done.
has merited these many spiritual and material blessings. The Lord has been rich in His bounty to us. In comparison to the kindness the Lord has shown us, there is no way that we could ever repay Him for His graciousness, yet we wish to express publicly in these celebrations our deep appreciation.
"Our celebrations, in addition to thanking the Lord, have another purpose. Our centennial is a landmark for the generations that will follow us in the next one hundred years. We want this celebrations to be remembered by our future parishioners. We hope they realize how deeply we love our faith and we want them to know that our prayers are with them as they span another one hundred years.
"Pray for us, future parishioners of St. Mary's."
- Reverend Kenneth J. Melaragno. Assistant Pastor at the time, photo from Centennial Souvenir BookIn 1987, Father Ivan Eck was succeeded by Father William Carr.
In 1988, Father Thomas J. Stroot succeeded Father William Carr. Father Tom played a large role in the continuing success of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He was at the parish for 21 years upon retirement in 2011. In 1991, Fr. Tom initiated a capital campaign in order to renovate the church and build the new Activity Center. The church was completely renovated in 1991. The renovation did not include a full restoration, but brought the church back to the beauty which it possessed before the renovation of 1969. The church was rededicated by Bishop Gerber in 1991.
In 1994, the construction of the new Activity Center was completed.
In 1998, the Threshold to Tomorrow was a campaign which added a junior high wing to the high school along with renovations for the high school.
The grade school which had originally been built in 1924 was in need of updating and many repairs. Thus in 2004, plans were drawn up to build a new elementary school and a field house. The new construction was made possible by the generous donations of donors to never be revealed. The new school building was ready for occupancy for the 2006-2007 school year. Upon the completion of the new grade school, the old grade school which stood for 82 years was torn down. In the fall of 2006, Bishop Michael Jackels presided over the formal dedication of the new school and field house.
At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, plans were announced for a renovation of the high school. The renovation include a new addition to the high school to serve as a common area. Renovations included new lockers, some of the class rooms and the high school offices.
In 2009 on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Our Lady of Lourdes opened the Christ the King adoration chapel in the old convent chapel.
In 2010, the Edwards Jones office was bought in order to move the parish offices from the rectory.
The Rectory built in 1949 was in need of many upgrades. In 2010 in order to better serve the future priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, a new rectory was built.
In June 2011, Father Thomas J. Stroot was succeeded by Father Michael E. Baldwin.
The Diocese of Wichita finds great need in their future priest to be bilingual. In 2011, Fr. Mike Simone, the Director of Vocations, decided to establish a Spanish immersion program at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. The seminarians reside in the vacated convent. In 2012, "That Man Is You" decided to renovate the convent and name it the St. Joseph Suites.