St. Columban celebrates 160 years since founding

Bishop Johnston celebrates Mass in the newly renovated interior of St. Columban church in Chillicothe on the occasion of the parish’s 160th anniversary. (Sara Kraft/Key photo)

By Sara Kraft

“My perception as bishop is that you are cut from the same cloth as your St. Columban ancestors,” stated Bishop Johnston. He celebrated a Mass for parishioners of St. Columban Parish in Chillicothe honoring 160 years of existence to patron St. Columban. “You love your Catholic faith. You love your parish and you sacrifice for it.”

This is perhaps most evident by the recent $900,000 restoration St. Columban Parish completed in August. The project included plaster restoration and decorative painting of the 138 year old building. The parish currently has 400 families. The restoration helped to preserve a rich and long history at St. Columban Parish.

The parish was founded by Father John Hogan, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who later became Bishop Hogan. Father Hogan was sent on a fact finding mission by Archbishop Kenrick to determine the needs of Catholics in north, central and southern Missouri. When Father Hogan discovered there were no Catholic churches nor Catholic priests between St. Louis and St. Joseph, he requested to go out as a missionary to found parishes and serve the people.

When Father Hogan arrived in Chillicothe, there was one Catholic. In June 1857, he founded St. Columban Parish with twelve families. Chillicothe had around 1,000 inhabitants at the time. The original St. Columban Church was built in 1858 and was a small frame structure. The land was given by John Graves, the founder of Chillicothe, even though Graves wasn’t Catholic because Graves was so impressed with Father Hogan’s preaching.

In 1861, Father Hogan founded the first Catholic School in Chillicothe. Due to the Civil War, the public schools were closed because of funding so both Catholics and non-Catholics requested Father Hogan teach the children. For two years, Father Hogan taught five days a week. The school closed after the public schools reorganized but opened again in 1870 and continues to this day. In 1868, Father Hogan was called to be the first bishop of the Diocese of St. Joseph and later became the bishop of Kansas City. When he left, there were four thousand citizens of Chillicothe.

“I think he was partially responsible for the growth of Chillicothe because people knew if they settled here they could receive the sacraments,” stated Brenda Anderson O’Halloran, who recently published the book “A Duty Sanctioned,” a work of historical fiction based on the history of St. Columban Parish.

Bishop Johnston agrees on Father Hogan’s mark on Missouri history. “Father Hogan ought to be in the Missouri State Hall of Fame,” stated Bishop Johnston. “He is one of the most influential Catholics in U.S. history in my opinion.”

In 1878, Franciscan Father Francis Moenning determined the church was too small for the growing number of Catholics in Chillicothe. In 1878, he purchased land for $550 directly across from the Convent-Academy of the Sisters of St. Joseph, an all-girls school.

On November 23, 1879, the feast of St. Columban, the new church was dedicated. St. Columban Church cost $12,000. The bricks were purchased from a local brick plant, and native stone for the foundation was hauled by horses and wagons from Utica, Missouri. The architecture of St. Columban was designed to bring people’s attention towards God by architect and skilled builder Brother Adrian Wewer, O.F.M. He used a combination of hired men and parishioners that were craftsmen. Some descendants of these men still attend the parish today.

“St. Columban was built in large part by the people themselves, without our modern equipment,” stated Bishop Johnston. He noted what a great feat that was.

While St. Columban was one of the first churches Brother Adrian designed, he went on to build more than a hundred churches, college buildings, seminaries, schools, friaries, convents, and hospitals throughout the United States. Locally, he also designed the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for the monks of Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri. It is thought that Conception Abbey Abbot Frowin Conrad and Brother Adrian became connected at St. Columban’s church dedication.

St. Mary’s Hospital was founded in the late 1880s by the Sisters of St. Mary’s in a small house a few blocks northeast of St. Columban Church. It is believed to be Chillicothe’s first hospital.

In 1892, the present rectory was built and housed three Franciscan priests and three brothers. In 1894, the transept (or arms of the church), sanctuary, and sacristy were added to St. Columban Parish.

“It’s amazing they were able to build this church with so little money,” Brenda stated. “All through the years the church has sacrificed for this.”

Throughout the following years, St. Columban continued to see improvements. In 1937, lightning struck the steeple on top of the bell tower for the second time and the steeple had to be removed. In 2009, a 25-foot tall steeple and spire were installed. In 2012, a new roof was put on the rectory and the church. An extensive $900,000 interior renovation was completed in August 2017 which included plaster restoration and decorative painting. The current design is similar to what St. Columban looked like in 1910.

St. Columban Parish Pastor Father Benjamin Kneib was quick to credit current parishioners for their sacrifices to complete the recent restoration. “We did this for the worship of God and we want to pass this onto our ancestors as well,” he stated. “For a parish to last 160 years, parishioners need a zeal for their faith, a lived practice of it especially within the home, and an appreciation of what’s been handed onto you. It kind of helps you take it on and live it as your own.”



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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph