A Brief History of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Humboldt, KS

A Vibrant History

The story of St. Joseph’s parish is woven into the story of Humboldt, and vice versa, because Catholics have called Humboldt home since before her founding in 1857. Jesuit missionaries first wandered into the area to evangelize Native Americans.

The Early Years

The history of St. Joseph’s parish really begins with the establishment of Humboldt as a Free State town in 1857. At that time, there were only two houses standing in Humboldt. Almost immediately, Jesuit priests from the Osage Mission in St. Paul began to make their way to Humboldt from time to time to serve the needs of the Catholics living there. An Italian, Fr. Paul Ponziglione was one of these priests, and was eventually given charge over Humboldt. He came once a month to celebrate Mass and provide for the spiritual needs of the infant community. Today Fr. Ponziglione is known as the “Apostle of Southeast Kansas” because of his significant work in this area. Humboldt became his headquarters.

The first Masses in Humboldt were said in the farm-home of a young, non-Catholic attorney named Orlin Thurston. Fr. Ponziglione would stay with him on his visits to Humboldt. Thurston’s home was the locale for all of the activity of the parish from 1857-1867, when at last a church was built.

When Humboldt was destroyed by Confederate sympathizers in 1861, Fr. Ponziglione, together with another priest named Fr. Shoenmaker, did much to encourage the struggling community. In response, the town came together to help erect the first church building, built of native stone, 30’x60’. Orlin Thurston purchased the property for that building. Later, his son would be baptized there.

The Church Matures

In 1869, Bishop Miege assigned a Fr. Heller to reside in the church in Humboldt. Unfortunately, the impoverished parish was unable to provide for the needs of a full-time priest, and Fr. Heller left in 1870. For the next several years, St. Joseph’s was once again a mission church.

In 1876, Fr. Bierhurst took up residence in Humboldt, and in the same year, St. Joseph’s parochial school was opened in a tiny school-house 20’x30’ situated north of the church.

In 1910, the tiny stone church building was replaced with the current brick structure. As the school continued to grow, a new building was erected for it in 1925, and students could attend there through the eighth grade.

Decline and Renewal

In 1968, the decision was made to close the school. In the fall of 1982, the building was razed to the ground, and the site of the school is now a parking lot. Mass attendance also began to sharply decline in these years. By 1993, the situation was severe enough that it was difficult for Bishop Gerber to justify keeping the parish open at the same time that the diocese was struggling to supply priests to all of its parishes. Plans were made to close St. Joseph.

Fr. Mike Maybrier, the priest at St. Patrick in Chanute heard about this, and offered to serve as the pastor of both parishes, saying Mass on Sunday mornings a few hours before the Mass in Chanute. Shortly after this, the parish hall for St. Joseph was built. Then, in 2001, at the invitation of Fr. Scaletty, Don Wendt of Ecclesiastical Studios in Greenwood, MO renovated the church.

Today, more than 130 families call St. Joseph’s parish home. We are striving to be faithful to the vision of the pioneer priests and laypeople who founded St. Joseph, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and offering the grace flowing from His sacraments to our beloved hometown of Humboldt.