St. Benedict Parish History
(The following is taken from a booklet published during the parish centennial in 1959, titled "St. Benedict Parish - Historical Sketch", with excerpts taken from Ozark Graphic newspaper articles in 1959.)
The steady progress of the Church over the centuries, at times against outstanding odds, has been due partially to the fact that there have always been mission-minded people in the Church. Every generation has produced men and women with the restlessness of pioneers. . . .
Ripley County was a rich hunting field for the Indians; principally the Osage and Cherokee Tribes. Many of the Osage Indians had been converted by the Jesuit Missionaries in Missouri. Through the wanderings of these tribes the Catholic Faith had been brought into this area before the 19th Century. When the Osage Indians sold their land to the United States Government, the white man drifted in. By 1847 the village of Doniphan had been settled along the Current River.
A Diocesan priest in St. Louis, Father John Hogan, inspired by his reading of missionary activities, appealed to Archbishop Kenrick for permission to work in the out-lying areas of Missouri. Much of his apostolic work was in the northern part of the State. But in traveling through southern Missouri he found vast areas of untouched land, abundant in game and timber. He remembered this when his attention was brought to the plight of many Irish immigrants in St. Louis who were living in shanties along railroad tracks and exposed to the moral danger of the slums. That was in 1857.
The beautiful land to the South, owned by the Government, was selling for one dollar, or less an acre. It was tillable and secluded and altogether appealing as a safe refuge for a colony of Catholic families. Father Hogan traveled on horseback to Greenville and across through Butler and Oregon Counties, searching for the most likely place for a settlement for the Irish immigrants. . . . . Three such tedious journeys Father Hogan made until he found a vast valley stretching along the Ten-Mile Creek. He stood on a high hill, looking down along the promising valley, calculating its possibilities, assuring himself of its security. And he came to a decision.
Ten-Mile Creek rises near Ellsinore, flowing southeast through Carter County. The land that Father Hogan wanted lay along the valley somewhere above the mouth of Cane Creek. He entered purchase notice with the Government for 480 acres of this land.
Back in St. Louis Father Hogan’s next step was to persuade the Irish immigrants to establish a settlement on the land he had obtained. It took many months of persuasion and preparation before he could return to his land. Once more he rode south alone to see that all was in readiness for his people. As he approached the Ten-Mile Creek valley he began to detect houses and evidences of land being farmed. Great was his disappointment to discover finally that his land was being possessed by others.
Because of bureaucratic confusion the Government was erratic about making land grants official and often re-sold land that had been purchased previously by others. So much of Father Hogan’s land had been re-sold and settled during the intervening months that not enough remained for his colony. There was nothing left to do but continue his search.
With a heavy heart he traveled westward into rougher, though more beautiful, country. He forded the Current River and continued on as far as Eleven Point River . . . . . . Continuing westward Father Hogan approached country that grew more and more formidable. But an area at the conjunction of Ripley and Oregon Counties appealed to him. It was an area of pine trees and clear creeks, hemmed in like a fortress by a jumble of almost impassable hills, with the treacherous Eleven Point River to one side and the cliff-rimmed Current River to the other. It was a land not altogether untillable, but a safe land secured by the wildness of nature. It was a wild region that legend and history would one day remember as the “Irish Wilderness”.
Throughout the winter of 1858 small groups of Irish families drifted into this wilderness. By the Spring of 1859 there were 200 settlers in the Wilderness. The site of the first church “in the wilderness” was along Route J near Bardley and for many years iwas still called “Priest’s Field”. In the Spring of 1859, the first church, named in honor of St. Benedict, was built.
“On a wide and fair tract of ground bought and donated by Reverend James Fox of Old Mines, Missouri, a one-story log house forty feet square was erected and partitioned into two apartment, one for a chapel and the other for the priest’s residence.
“Soon improvements went on apace; cutting down trees, splitting rails, burning brushwood, making fences, grubbing roots and stumps, building houses, digging wells, opening roads, breaking and ploughing land, and sowing crops.
“Already in the spring of 1859, there were about 40 families on the newly-acquired government lands, or on improved farms purchased, east and west of Current River, in the counties of Ripley and Oregon, and many more were coming, so that the settlement was fairly striding toward final success.
“The little chapel amid the forest trees in the wilderness was well attended. Mass, sermon, catechism, confessions, devotions, went on as in old congregations. The quiet solitariness of the place seemed to inspire devotion. Nowhere could the human soul so profoundly worship as in the depths of that leafy forest, beneath the swaying branches of the lofty oaks and pines, where solitude and the heart of man united in praise wonder of the Great Creator.” (from Father Hogan’s “On the Mission in Missouri”)
Allthough the Irish Catholic settlers had no fear of the Civil War, an adjunct of the war proved fatal to the community. Bushwhackers, conscienceless scavengers of the war, made constant forays throughout southeast Missouri, burning and pillaging. And so it happened that the very sanctuary provided for the Irish in their wilderness betrayed them. Here was the safest refuge for the bushwhackers. They proceeded to threaten and then to burn. The Irish settlers fled, driving their ox carts back across the Current River, back to Iron Mountain and to St. Louis.
After the Civil War, many of the Irish settlers returned to Ripley County. They built their homes now, not in the wilderness, but along Fourchee Creek. There they built their second church on a plot of ground given by the Clark family at what is now called Ponder. Families like the Timlins, Ryans, and Cronins lived there. Mass was said only occasionally by a priest coming from Iron Mountain and Arkansas as Father John Hogan, after leaving to oversee other parishes, never returned to his “Irish Settlement”. (Father Hogan eventually became Bishop of the Kansas City Diocese)
Also after the Civil War a group of Catholic families, some Polish and some Irish, had settled around Flatwoods, not far from Doniphan. The towns of Doniphan and Grandin were growing and the Catholic people were scattered over a large area. The priest coming to administer to these people would say Mass at the home of John O’Neill. There the priest would stay overnight, as well as the people who had come a great distance for Mass. (This house would later become the childhood home of our departed parishioner Leo Wisnieski when Leo’s parents purchased it from Mr. O’Neill. Leo’s sister became Sister Stanislaus).
In 1878, Michael and Annie Stack donated a plot of ground on the Doniphan road, about three miles from town (site of the present day St. Benedict Cemetery on Ballpark Road). Their gift stipulated that a new St. Benedict Church was to be built on the site. The building was started in 1879 and Father P.A. Trumm was appointed as resident Pastor by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick. Father Trumm, however, was resident in name only because he was required to continue the missionary work of this vast area. Under his care were the Catholic people at Des Arc, Piedmont, Gatewood, and Poplar Bluff. Doniphan was selected as the place of residence for the priest because it was centrally located. Father Trumm retired in 1882, leaving the church without a pastor for almost three years. The people, however, rallied to complete the building of the church. Catechism instructions were given every Sunday by John Mullin and the church bell was rung to keep the faith alive.
In 1885 with the permission of Archbishop Kenrick, a Benedictine Monk, Father Theodore Schmitt, was sent to Doniphan from St. Vincent Abbey in Pennsylvania. He and his successor, Father Pius Reiser, also a Benedictine, did profitable work in rejuvenating the parish of St. Benedict. Father Pius is described in the archives of his Abbey as an “extraordinary man, very zealous in the spread of the faith, and very ascetic in his religious life.”
Father Pius Reiser was so loved by the people of the area, both Catholic and Protestants, that he became like Father Hogan, a legendary figure. With an eye to the future, Father Pius selected to take up his residence in the town of Doniphan, although the church was three miles away (at the present-day St. Benedict Cemetery on Ballpark Road.) His residence was a single rented room above a drugstore. He owned no means of transportation and so would walk the three miles to church. He became a familiar figure, walking along the roads to make his calls. The lantern that he carried at night was reverently preserved for years. In addition to the missions attached to St. Benedict parish, Father Pius traveled as far west as West Plains and the White Church area, and south into Arkansas.
Seeing that Doniphan was becoming alive with the tie-making industry, Father Pius sought a better location for the church. The Benedictine fathers had received a plot of ground from Mrs. Sophia Kegler. This site was chosen for a new church. The church and rectory in Doniphan were completed around 1889. The rapid development of Poplar Bluff encouraged Father Pius to build a new church there, also. In 1891, while building the church in Poplar Bluff, Father Pius died and was buried in the cemetery there.
The death of Father Pius halted missionary activity temporarily. He had been foresighted in the attention he focused on Poplar Bluff, because the Catholic Church grew quickly in that area, eventually taking the lead in ecclesiastical affairs. Mainly responsible for this was an Irish Cistercian, Father Daniel Donovan, who was appointed to Poplar Bluff. For the next 14 years, St. Benedict parish was attended by the priests stationed at Poplar Bluff.
Once again the settling of groups of Catholic families in various sections of Ripley County, notably at Oxly and the Beaver Dam area, with the consequent necessity of building chapels, prompted the Archbishop of St. Louis to restore the parochial identity of St. Benedict parish. In 1905 Father S. J. Zielinski was appointed Pastor.
A congregation of Polish people settled at Mullin Switch around 1909. Though not far from Doniphan, they organized themselves into a parish, held regular meetings every Sunday, and pledged themselves for contributions toward the building of a church. They called their community “Pulaski”. They petitioned Archbishop Glennon in 1911 for a desire for a priest who could speak their language. The Archbishop graciously complied by sending Father Joseph Zielinski who was to reside at Poplar Bluff and attend the Polish people throughout the area. Later the priests residing in Doniphan attended the chapel.
Shifting populations and improved means of transportation rendered the numerous Doniphan missions unnecessary. One by one the chapels were closed and the various communities were incorporated into the St. Benedict Parish. It was seen, however, that the frame church in Doniphan would not be adequate for this enlarged parish. The building had stood for 60 years and was in need of great repair. When on one winter Sunday morning the flue of the heating stove collapsed during Mass, frightening the congregation and showering them with soot, the people were convinced that a new church was needed.
In December, 1947, Archbishop Ritter of St. Louis, gave approval to Father Bernard Timpe for a new St. Benedict Church to be built. On September, 5, 1949, Archbishop Ritter solemnly dedicated the new church. Through the generosity of St. Louis friends, a new rectory was built by Father Raymond Schuerman in 1953. This church and rectory are what serve our faith community of St. Benedict today in 2017.
For many years, the religious instruction of children in the parish had been taken care of by the pastor alone. From 1944 to 1949 the Sisters of the Society of Christ Our King resided in the parish for nine months of the year, making visitations and giving catechetical instructions. The sudden withdrawal of the Sisters and the building of a new church made a parish school imperative. The School Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to come when the pastor, Father Timpe, assured them that at least twenty pupils would attend. The old church was remodeled into a two-room school and dedicated in September 1951.
The St. Benedict Parochial School succeeded in giving great impetus to the parish and the community. The first Notre Dame Sister to come was Sister Clementia. Also educating the youth at the school were Sister Albertine, Sister Heironyma, and Sister Dosithea. The parochial school, taught by the Notre Dame sisters served the parish for ten years, closing its doors in 1962. The religious education of our youth has been taught the past 55 years until the present time by members of the parish and our priests at weekly religious classes.
Prior to 1956, St. Benedict Parish had been part of the St. Louis Diocese. When Pope Pius XII established the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on August 24, 1956, the St. Benedict Parish was placed under the jurisdiction of the Most Reverend Charles Helmsing, D.D., in the newly established diocese.
St. Anne Mission Chapel at Grandin (est. 1959, Closed 2005)
Blessing of the structure and the first Mass was held on March 8, 1959 (the centennial year of sister parish, St. Benedict Church). Reverend Val Reker of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Doniphan designed the church and was its first pastor. The church seated 100 persons and was built by Paul McCracken of Grandin. The edifice featured a Williamsville stone front. The altar was designed and refinished by Rev. Reker from a piece of furniture hand-carved around 1859, probably in Germany. The altar piece belonged to the late Sebe Street and was contributed to the church by his widow as a memorial to him. The crucifix in St. Anne was hand-carved around 1909.
The church was built through funds raised by the 75 Catholics in the area and was highly endowed by the Catholic Church Extension Society of America. The church of St. Anne was in the planning stage for more than a year but actual construction took only three months.
The building was located in a grove of pine trees on Highway 21 north of the Grandin city limits on one acre of ground donated by Mr. and Mrs. Niles Pinney. The church was in a more central location for the Catholics in the area. It replaced the Beaver Dam church, and served Catholics of Grandin, Hunter, Ellsinore, and along Ten-Mile Creek.
“Such are the workings of God that a church now stands to serve that area that Father Hogan first dreamed about 100 years ago,” wrote the author of the centennial history of St. Benedict church.
St. Anne Mission Chapel was closed in 2005. (photo - altar of St. Anne Mission Chapel)
**Public Masses have resumed, with social distancing and other restrictions.**
See Links to Online Masses on our homepage.
Regular Mass Times:
Sunday: 9:00 AM
Saturday: Vigil Mass 6:00 PM
Weekday Mass: M,Tu,W,F ~ 9:00 AM, and First Sat. of month~ 9:00 AM
Saturday: 5:15-5:45 PM
Sunday: 8:15-8:45 AM
Saturdays: 7:30pm-9:30pm, and All Day on First Saturdays
Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet:
Saturday: 5:00 PM
Sunday: 8:00 AM
St. Benedict Catholic Church
P. O. Box 595
Doniphan, MO 63935
Pastor phone: 573-785-9635 or 573-785-0401, 573-351-1107
Parish Office Hours: vary
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