Fifty-six years ago...
...twenty-five young men lay prostrate in front of the altar at St. Francis de Hieronymo Catholic Church in St. Paul, Kansas. They were about to profess temporary vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and devotion to the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Novices were about to become professed members of The Congregation of Discalced Clerics of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It was hot and humid but that didn't seem important. What was important was that all were about to begin a journey that would take them in many different directions. This was not an unusual event. The Passionist Novitiate had been re-enacting this ritual for more than 30 years prior.
I was one of those young men. I had not been back to this place in all of those years. Below are some of the pictures I took in mid-July, 2010. The monastery is long gone—built in 1913, closed in 1975, torn down in 1985—now just a grassy lawn dominated by a large tree. The handball courts and baseball field are now Prairie Mission Retirement Village. The pond remains, overgrown by the green algae of a hot and humid summer. The church has a new steeple that bears strong resemblance to the old which was destroyed by a windstorm in 2006. The garden and its Stations of the Cross seem immutable. The screened-in patio in the middle for the garden remains, supported by the ghosts of laughing novices sitting around in heavy wool habits marked by the chevrons of white salt under each arm. The Neosho was in full flood and I was told that the "camp" and its mudslide are long gone as well.
The inside of the church appears as it did in 1965, the first year the altar facing the people was employed after Vatican II. The statues of Jesuit and Passionist saints still adorn the copses of the main altar and St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother still contemplates his crucifix, lily, and skull.
Just south of St. Francis there was a rest stop on Highway 47. It is now the
Osage Mission-Neosho County Museum.
Osage Mission was the former name of St. Paul. I spent time talking to Felix Diskin who spends most of his waking hours maintaining a vast collection of history about the surrounding area. As he is about my age, he recalls hearing us novices laughing in the garden but, he says, "I most remember the beautiful music and services conducted by the Passionists at St. Francis." The museum had a book published in 1997, Osage Mission Sesquicentennial. You'll see a picture of the cover to the right. The curator informs me that you can purchase it from the museum at a donational price.
The museum also has a program which allows you to inscribe a brick which is then used somewhere on the grounds, for instance, in a permanent walkway. I have added this form as a PDF file so that if you are interested, you can purchase this brick. I felt that the amount and intensity of time and experience for me, in St. Paul, warranted this. I hope you might find the same. The not-for-profit museum can use our help and we benefit by leaving a little of ourselves in a place that was the stepping-off point for the rest our lives.