St. Francis of Assisi Parish History

Posted: April 17, 2017


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 KS parish in the diocese of Leavenworth, KS.

Thereafter, other Catholic settles came one at a timeduring the early and late seventies. The Conart 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 one hundred families settled and were scattered throughout the county. Ninety percent of the early Catholic population of 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 War from this parish, Dr. F.D. Kennedy, M.D., was Norton's highest ranking officer. Other military members were Josephy 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 sameblock of the present Courthouse. 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 these 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 Scannel was the first bishop.The See was later moved to Salina.

Rev. B. Fitzpatrick, a diocesan priest with residence at Bellville, Kansas, came to Norton March 30, 1889 and baptized James Casey. .... to be continued.....