Transcribed by Sean Furniss
REVEREND FRANCIS J. WATTRON.
Rev. Francis J. Wattron was born in Alsace, France, on July the 8th, 1833. At the age of seventeen he came to this country with the intention of studying for the priesthood. Soon after his arrival here he entered St. Benedict's College, Atchison. After a successful course at St. Benedict's he went to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, and after completing his theological studies he was ordained priest by Bishop Miege at Liverworth, Kansas, on the 8th of August, 1865.
Paola was his first appointment. He remained here nine years, and during that time accomplished much for the salvation of souls and for the welfare of religion. An unrecorded chapter in the life of Father Wattron is written in the hearts and memories of the older inhabitants of Paola. In 1865 the war had ceased its deadly strife, and people began to settle down to normal habits of peace. New families began to move on the land and the population increased daily. North of Paola, along the Bull Creek district, several Catholic families had built their homes, and these together with the people of the "Irish Settlement" on the south, made Paola a center of church activity. Father Favre, who had succeeded Father Schacht on the mission, found himself powerless to do anything towards the completion of the church which stood there as an abandoned building--a shelter for cattle, swallows and pigeons. The end of its desolation was, however, near at hand, for Divine Providence was shaping all things for a most auspicious future.
Father Wattron came in his youth and vigor. He came as the first resident pastor of Paola in the fall of 1865, and found no residence nor church, except--as afterwards at Fort Scott--the shell of a weather-beaten building which was soon set to order, plastered, furnished and otherwise beautified. The bell was swung into its tower, the little organ piped its soft notes, and Mass was sung by the happy pastor in tones of sweetest music, for Father Wattron had a beautiful voice. The deep-toned bell was heard far out on the prairies and great numbers came, of all creeds, to witness the dedication of the first Holy Trinity Church. The date of this even is not recorded, but future research may establish the exact date of an event which future generations may deem important.
A pastoral residence was the next thing undertaken. A modest frame building was soon under roof, and the people vied with one another to make it homelike and comfortable. the ladies left nothing undone to make "the good Father" contented and happy. The years passed pleasantly and the congregation grew in numbers. The people were very faithful in their attendance at Mass in all kinds of weather. Many came great distances, for eight or ten miles were not thought much of in those days. Heavy four-wheeled wagons were much in use in getting to church, and the horse and saddle were considered high class. The people came, they always came, they never missed Mass. Father Wattron loved his people and was beloved by them, as living witnesses can now testify. In 1874, however, an occurrence took place which changed it all. One evening while in his study, sitting near the window, a pistol shot was fired from without, piercing the chair on which he sat just a second before. He had risen for some purpose, and the change of position saved his live. The affair was a great shock to Father Wattron. He never got over the fear it inspired, and the result was that he request the Bishop for a change. It is supposed that the calling out of names of non-paying members from the altar led to the dastardly act.
During his nine years at Paola, Father Wattron recorded in most beautiful handwriting 187 baptisms; the first occurring on January the 8th, 1866, and the last on March 12, 1874. There were 22 marriages in that time, and the last one was on January the 21st, 1874. In those early times it was difficult to get many of the necessary things of life anywhere in the county. Corn bread was the food of the people; flour was a luxury and tea and coffee precious commodities. On one occasion, it is related, that Michael Allen and Maurice Cunningham made a raft to cross the flood tide of the Marais des Cygnes River and, then from the north bank started on foot to Richmond, twenty-two miles away to buy flour. Each man shouldered a sack of fifty pounds and walked back to the raft and to their homes in the "Irish Settlement."--A remarkable feat! It is also related that on one occasion there was no flour in Paola on Christmas eve, a load was on the way from Kansas City and the next morning each family received nine pounds of the precious meal for their batch of Christmas biscuits.
After the Civil War prices arose to a prohibitive degree; the poor suffered and as Father Wattron was one of that class he felt the pinch of poverty to an extent that is scarcely believable today. On a certain Sunday morning Michael Allen found the old housekeeper grieving over the empty wood box in the kitchen; she had no wood to cook the priest's breakfast. There was not a stick of wood anywhere. After Mass Mr. Allen hurried home--eight or nine miles--and began to chop wood for the priest. By next morning he had loaded his wagon and hurrying on, he was back in Paola by noon, Monday. He stated that he found Father Wattron at table with nothing but a piece of rough, cold cornbread and a glass of water. There was no coffee and no fire with which to make it.
Long afterwards Mr. and Mrs. Allen were sitting on their porch one evening when they saw a stranger approach. Mr. Allen said in an undertone to his wife, "It looks like Father Wattron." Like tow children they rushed down the lawn, and falling on their knees they kissed his hands. The little party wept with emotion, and when they found speech, Father Wattron said: "Michael, I have come to have a long talk with you before we die. This may be my last visit to Leavenworth, and I stopped off the train at Fontana and walked over (three and one-half miles) to spend the night with you both and talk over old times."
The venerable Michael Fenoughty relates that the first Sunday he attended Mass in the old Stone Church in 1866 he heard Father Wattron announce from the altar that he could not live on less than $250.00 a year, and that he would be compelled to ask the bishop for a change unless the people would pay their dues. This gives a good idea of the poverty of the people and, as a consequence, of the priests who for many years eked out a precarious existence on the Mission of Miami and Linn Counties.
Newmn, Jefferson County, Kansas, was Father Wattron's next appointment. After nine months in this place, he transferred to Fort Scott. He arrived at Fort Scott on December the 9th, 1874. At that time the shell of the new church was already built. it remained for Father Wattron to complete it. By his untiring efforts, he succeeded. When he arrived in Fort Scott there was a debt of $7,000 on the church, but before many years not only was the church completed and the debt paid off, but a splendid rectory built. For thirty years Father Wattron lived at Fort Scott, and passed to his reward on the 19th, December, 1904.
The following account of his death is taken from the Fort Scott Tribune: "Father Francis J. Wattron, Pastor of the Catholic Church in this city for almost thirty years, and a priest for forty, died this morning at his home 413 Crawford Street, of a complication of diseases, at the age of 71 years. The expected end came at 7:15, and it was pleasant and peaceful, surround by Father B. J. McKernan, who had been his friend for twenty years; his faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Annie Hughes, and her sister, Mrs. Cronin; Sister Angela of the hospital, and Carl Williams, who had been waiting on him for a couple of weeks. * * * Father Wattron had been in ill health for more than ten years, suffering from a weak heart. Seven years ago he showed signs of fast failing and he was compelled to give up his life's work at the church. * * * Father Wattron was a man of retiring disposition, but he was a faithful worker and always at labor for the interests of his church and the welfare of his parishioners. He never took a prominent part in the outside world, and whenever he was not conducting services at church he was found in his study. He was a profound student of all that was good, and many good works along such lines were found in his library. He was loved by all of his people and respected by the community at large. His church was his life. He had a faithful trust to perform in this world and he fulfilled his mission, and did it well."
As the first resident pastor of Paola, the name of Francis J. Wattron shall remain forever enshrined in the hearts of the people of this parish.
The following deed gives legal titles, under the Town Company to the tract of land donated by Baptiste Peoria in 1859: .
This Indenture, Made this 24th day of August A. D. 1865, between the Paola Town Company, party of the first part and John B. Miege, party of the second part, Witnesseth, That the party of the first part in consideration of the sum of one hundred dollars in hand paid by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, have granted, bargained and sold, and do by these presents hereby grant, bargain, sell and convey to the party of the second part, the following described real estate, situated in Miami County in the State of Kansas, and bounded and described as follows:
This is to say Lot Numbered one (1) two (2) three (3) four (4) and five (5) in the block numbered one hundred and thirteen (113) in the city of Paola in said county and state as the same are designated on the plat of said city. To Have and to Hold the above described premises with the appurtenances to the party of the second, and to his assigns and successors forever, Hereby covenanting that the title hereby conveyed is free, clear and unencumbered and further that the party of the first part will forever warrant and defend the same to the party of the second part and to his successors or assigns against the lawful claims of all persons except as against taxes assessed on said lots.
In Witness Whereof, the Paola Town Company have affixed their corporate seal and hereunto signed the same by their agent.
In Presence of R. W. Massey.
BISHOP MIEGE VISITS PAOLA.
The Right Reverend Bishop Miege Administered the Sacrament of
This was the first class to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at Paola. They were gathered in from all the surrounding country and Mrs. Alice McGrath housed and fed thirty-one of the young people the night before.
NOTE--The lists of the Confirmation classes are not complete but as many as have been found are inserted in their proper places.
REVEREND ANTHONY JOSEPH ABEL,
Reverend Anthony Joseph Abel, who came to Paola in March, 1874, was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1830. He attended elementary schools there and absorbed the gymnasium course in the same country. He came to Canada when about eighteen years old and attended a Jesuit school at Montreal. He also took the Seminary course in Canada and was ordained priest at Cleveland by Bishop Rapp. His first service was on the Ohio Missions. Later he came to Missouri, and to Leavenworth Diocese about 1872.
He was thoroughly equipped in everything necessary to make him a wonderfully successful missionary priest. His education was thorough, not only in theology, but in science. He spoke English, French and German fluently, and had a working knowledge of Spanish. It goes without saying that he was a thorough Latin scholar.
He did wonderful work in Miami County in gathering together the scattered Catholic families. No condition of weather or roads would keep him from appointments at his various missions. While residing at Paola he was at home less than half of his time, as he had charge of the Wea Church, where he had services every other Sunday. He also gathered together a number of Catholic families in and about Louisburg and said Mass for them at a private home in Louisburg. He did the same in Sugar Creek Township, where he had regular services at the home of the late Andrew Gorman.
Many of the children of the Catholic families in this vicinity had never had the chance to hear Mass, or to be taught in the Catholic religion by a priest. He gathered these children about him, taught them the catechism and imbued them with a Catholic spirit.
He frequently walked to a settlement six miles northwest of Paola to teach the children. In fact, no hardship ever kept him from being at his appointments. On Christmas Day, 1874, he celebrated the first of two Masses at Wea, one of them being a High Mass, then rode to Paola on horseback, twenty miles, over very rough roads, with the thermometer fourteen below zero, and celebrated High Mass at Paola at eleven o'clock on the same day, and in spite of his fatigue after these services, he was cheerful and gathered about him a class of youngsters in the afternoon, for a musical entertainment. A thorough musician himself, music was his hobby. He trained a splendid choir at Wea and at Paola. He was an excellent organist and a very creditable performer on the flute and violin.
After leaving Paola he went to Boulder, Colorado, again engaged in Missionary service, but on account of the continuous strain of it, the Bishop of Denver retired him as Chaplain of a Denver hospital, but he later returned to Kansas and was active in the Wichita Diocese for a number of years and finally was again appointed Chaplain of a hospital in Wichita. Here he remained until his death, which occurred December 11, 1907.
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