Friday, May 8, 2015

A Community Comes Together: St. Joseph's Catholic Church

St. Joseph's Historic Church
While working on a cemetery talk at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, I discovered a deeply rooted community of Irish immigrants that settled in the McDowell Creek area in the very early years of Kansas History. Their lives intersected in a number of ways before they came together to build what is now St. Joseph Historic Church.
                Many of the early settlers of McDowell Creek emigrated from various counties in Ireland in the mid-1840s, which might be attributed to the Irish Potato Famine, the political unrest between Ireland and England, or just wanderlust.
                One of these pioneers was Michael Brannick. Born in Kilkenny Ireland, Michael followed in his father’s trade as a stone mason, something that would serve him well in Kansas. Michael came as a young man with his brother and sister to America, first to New York and then to St. Louis. While his siblings settled in those cities, Michael came to Kansas in 1856. 
                Michael was first married to Bridget Lennon in January of 1862, but in November of 1862, five days after the birth of their first son, John, Bridget died. John was fostered out to nearby neighbors, the Ryan family, who could care for him better than his widowed father.
                James Ryan was born in Ireland between 1810 and 1820 and came to the United States in the 1840s where he met his wife Martha Jane Shannon. Among the earliest settlers of the area, the Ryans arrived in Geary County (then Davis County) in 1855.
When they first arrived, those living in the area were living in tents or dugouts. The first settlement built in the area of Ashland was built along the McDowell Creek due to the availability of timber. The family- James, Martha Jane and a daughter, Mary Ellen, moved into a log house 16x18 feet on July 25 1855.
In 1862, Mary Ellen, the daughter of James and Martha Ryan and the adopted sister of John Brannick, married Michael Brannick. Because there was no local Catholic church, Michael and Mary Ellen had to wait to marry until a traveling priest came through the area. The marriage took place in the Ryan log cabin and witnessed by fellow Irish Catholic settlers, James and Catherine Tully. 
Tully farm in 1950. After James and Catherine moved to Junction City, their
son Elisha "Lash" Tully kept it running. 
In a story similar to the Brannicks, James Tully emigrated from Ireland in the late 1840s before coming to McDowell Creek in 1852, where he married his first wife who died following the birth of their second child. Following his wife’s death, just like Michael Brannick, James Tully fostered his children out to neighbors—including the Burr family. And, like Michael Brannick, a few years later James married a member of that family, Catherine Burr. And, also like the Brannicks, James and Catherine had to wait until a traveling priest arrived before they could be married.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church 1891
Eventually this Catholic community on McDowell Creek decided they needed their own church, so they would no longer have to practice their faith in their homes, and wait for traveling priests to arrive before taking part in Catholic sacraments. In 1870, the Ryans donated land for the St. Joseph Catholic Church. Michael Brannick, the stonemason, took a role building the church and two years later in 1872, the church was completed on McDowell Creek.
The church was later rebuilt in 1910 though the original stonework was used in the foundation of the new church. The church was active until the 1980s when it was closed. The windows were removed and it fell into disrepair. Now, the Friends of St. Joseph's Church and the Geary County Historical Society are actively trying to restore this beautiful historic building. If you are interested in contributing to the St. Joseph’s restoration project, please contact the museum at 785-238-1666, or