History

In the fall of 1870, Ed McGuire, his wife, two sons and a daughter came to Norton in a covered wagon from Kentucky. This was the first Catholic family that settled in Norton County. At this time, Norton was a part of the St. Joseph’s KS parish in the Diocese of Leavenworth, Kansas.

Thereafter, other Catholic settlers came one at a time during the early and late seventies. The Conarty family came in 1871; the O’Keefe’s in 1872, O’Toole’s in 1874; Martin, Gleason, Keating, and Browne families came about 1879 and settled in the Norton area.

About 25 Catholic families lived here within the first year of the arrival of the McGuire’s. Within five years there were 80 families; within ten years about 100 families settled and were scattered throughout the county. Ninety percent of the early Catholic population on Norton County was of Irish descent. They were farmers induced to come west by the promise of free land on which they could homestead.

Frank Garrity came in 1897 from Iowa. He became a merchant, was the Mayor of Norton for two terms, served as councilman often, and took a deep interest in the city and community affairs. H Milz (father of Marjorie Milz, a third grade teacher), who arrived in 1879, was a hardware merchant for half a century, served a term as Mayor of Norton, and kept records of weather and rainfall for many years. Tom Doyle and family came from Illinois in 1881. Joe Geraghty and family came in 1881. Many of the older settlers were born in Europe, especially Ireland before coming to America. There was no migration directly from Europe but they came from eastern states.

Among the soldiers of past wars was Patrick Conarty of the Civil War, who died at the age of 90. A soldier in a World War from this parish, Dr. F.D. Kennedy, M.D., was Norton’s highest ranking officer. Other military members were Joseph Casey, Hugh Kennedy, David L. Browne, Leo Gleason, LeRoy McMahon, and Henry Casey.

In 1878, Norton was made a station of the New Almelo, St. Joseph parish. During that summer, the first Mass was offered by Rev. Louis Mollier in Norton in a frame court house building, which later burned, and was on the corner of the same block of the present Court House. Father Mollier was born in 1846 in Savory, France, came to Kansas in 1869, and was ordained in 1873. He was assigned to St. Joseph, Kansas, where he was the pastor when he came to Norton to celebrate the first Mass here. Fr. Augustine Reichert attended Norton from October 1878 – February 1889. Fr. Reichert traveled in Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, and Norton counties by a one-horse buggy. If he came  during the week, he would say Mass in sod houses of his parishioners. Fr. Reichert was a man past middle age, who gave up his home back in Ohio and came here to these western plains, states James O’Toole, to follow the cattle trails into the extreme western part of the state and down through the eastern border of Colorado to search for a scattered flock. He continued on theses journeys for nearly twenty years until he became feeble with age and was taken back to his home and later died in a hospital there.

The Concordia Diocese was established in 1887. Most Rev. Richard Scannell was the first bishop. The See was later moved to Salina.

Rev. B. Fitzpatrick, a diocesan priest with residence at Belleville, Kansas, came to Norton March 30, 1889 and baptized James Casey. He served the parish as a mission until he was appointed first resident pastor by Bishop Scannell from November 28, 1889 to September 1890. He also was pastor at Oberlin. During this time the parish was known as the Church of the Nativity of Our Blessed Lord.

Also serving during this time was Fr. August Heimann, an itinerant priest. Fr. William Wenzel served the parish 1890-1891. Until 1895 this newly organized parish was a mission from Dresden (Leoville), Jewell City, and Colby. The parish became the center of missionary activity for Rev. Daniel Horgan, who attended stations from Jewell County, Kansas to Burlington, Colorado. Records show that Father Browne, Father Disselkamp, and Father Healy also offered Masses during the years until 1898. From baptismal records, it is interesting to note that for several years the parish priest at Norton had baptized people in counties as far west as Sherman, Wallace, and Logan. In November of 1893, Father Dan Horgan moved to Norton, making Norton, rather than Colby, the center of his parish. Fr. Horgan, in the summer of 1895, became Norton’s second resident priest and ended Norton’s title of being a Mission. Bishop Hennessey of the Wichita Diocese, appointed Fr. Horgan as pastor at Norton. Before Fr. Horgan came to Colby, he was an assistant at the Wichita Cathedral, later becoming a Concordia Diocesan priest.

John H. Browne, of Norton, states that Fr. Horgan moved from Colby to Norton prior to Browne’s marriage in the fall of 1895. Frank Ward Sr. also states that he and Pat McCue, who were somewhat of local politicians at the time, visited Fr. Horgan at the rectory in the fall of 1896 to see if they could not get him to vote the Populist Ticket and support William Jennings Bryan. Father told them emphatically that he would not. “Then how would it be,” returned Mr. McCue, “if we take our support away from you, Father?” “I ask none of fellows for money. I have plenty of my own. It is no one’s business for whom I vote,” was Fr. Horgan’s reply. The politicians left without gaining support, which would mean much influence to them locally to have Fr. Horgan on their side. Nor has Mr. Ward forgotten this amusing incident, as he relates it here.

There was only one period of time after the appointment of the first resident priest at Norton that the parish did not have a resident priest. It was then for the first time that Norton became a Mission, a town with a church but no resident priest. That period was from July 1890 to July 1895, occasioned possibly because of the withdrawal of the Precious Blood Fathers from the diocese.

Fr. William Wenzel from Dresden attended Norton from August 1890 to August 1891 and was succeeded by Fr. Michael Browne, a diocesan priest at Jewell City from August 1891 to July 1893.

During Fr. Browne’s administration, Fr. Doyle of St. Louis, MO gave a week’s Mission in November in Norton’s first church.

 
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