Residents of Ellinwood, Kansas, in the early 1870's were aspiring, courageous, honorable, thrifty people. Many of the German residents were devout Catholics. From 1865 to 1870 Father Boniface, a Benedictine monk from the newly founded St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison was probably the first priest to celebrate Mass in Barton County. On June 4, 1875 the first Mass in Ellinwood settlement was celebrated in a building located on the corner of Main St. And “A” Street. Later Masses were celebrated in the homes of the settlers. In 1876 the Ellinwood Catholics organized a parish and began building a Church and dedicated it to the patronage of St. Joseph. In 1877 Father Michael Emmer came to Ellinwood as the first resident priest and served until 1878; he also served as pastor for the mission of Sts. Peter and Paul, located north of the city. The first Catholic cemetery of the area was located north of Ellinwood at the mission of Sts. Peter and Paul. Also in 1877 the Altar Sodality was formed to tend physical needs of the Church. Catherine Schwartz was the first to be baptized at St. Joseph on December 23, 1877. On October 31, 1878 the first marriage was performed, that of Catherine Sauer and Carl Burg. In the year 1879, the Ellinwood population was 1,817. As the city grew, the parish membership increased, also. The first Rectory was built in 1879. In 1885 St. Joseph School was built and classes were taught. The present church building was built in 1900. The cost was $22,204.00, which would measure 128 feet by 50 feet, with a steeple 150 feet high. Native limestone was appropriately selected as the building material. The church was built in gothic style. The interior, finished in white and gold, provided a tranquil setting for those who would worship there. The windows were of stained glass, and the ornate wooden altars had been hand carved by blind people. The pews provided a seating capacity for four hundred fifty people. The towering steeple, a landmark of the area, featured an $800 clock with four dials--one for each compass point. The mechanism provided the ringing of the bells on the quarter hours. The three melodious church bells were named after the three Archangels and were duly christened in May of 1902. The large bell - christened Michael, the middle bell - christened Gabriel, and the small bell - christened Raphael. The steam heating system allowed winter comfort. In 1903 the Dominican Sisters began teaching in St. Joseph's School and in 1907 a new rectory was built. Between December 5, 1915, and March 5, 1916, the church interior was redecorated. A series of paintings over the arches of the ceiling depicted the following events in the life of Christ and Mary: Agony in Gethsemane, Assumption, Heart of Jesus and Mary, Annunciation, Visitation, Crucifixion, Ascension of Christ, Christ blessing the Children, Sermon on the Mount, and Christ's Birth. In the sanctuary there are murals on the north and south walls. The most expensive are the murals in the choir loft of King David singing the Psalms, and St. Cecelia, the patroness of church music. In 1926, the St. Joseph Church had reached the age of fifty years--a significant achievement for the Catholic community. By 1926 the present school was built and dedicated and the parish numbered 400 persons. In the fall of 1937, a convenient approach and new steps were built at the entrance to St. Joseph's Church, and Gothic electric lamps, posts, and metal hand railings were installed. A Sacrarium was installed in the north sacristy, and a vestment case was built. Storage cabinets were built in the south sacristy. In 1941 the present rectory was constructed. The Sorrowful Mother grotto was completed by Tony Christoph in 1942. In 1945, cushioned kneelers were purchased for the church, as was tile flooring. That same year some improvememnts were made in the Catholic cemetery when the north part was filled and leveled. The Ellinwood District Hospital, under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph, opened October 19, 1952. On September 1, 1953, the clock on the steeple of the St. Joseph church was electrified. The new clock, which would now be entirely automatic and driven by eight electric motors, provided the continuation of a bell system which was very familiar to the townspeople. Electronically operated carillon chimes replaced the church’s electrical bell system in 1974. The Legion of Mary, an association for Catholics was started in Ellinwood in 1958. In November of 1965, in accordance with revised liturgy, a new portable wooden altar was placed in the sanctuary, which allowed the priest to pray the Mass while facing the congregation of worshipers. The altar was later removed; and in 1968 the sanctuary was remodeled. The marble altar which had been placed in the church in 1947 was repositioned into the middle of the sanctuary. During the bicentennial year of the United States of America, 1976, the St. Joseph's parish reached the age of one hundred years. A century of growth had seen the congregation of a few German-speaking immigrants rise to a church membership of 376 families (1,429 people) from various backgrounds. In 1981, the St. Joseph's Church members, as well as other parish families of the Dodge City Diocese entered into the renew program. The program was designed as a three year plan for promoting spiritual growth of the people through prayer and the sharing of faith. In 1984 St. Joseph's Parish Center was built and dedicated. In 1992 the new parish garage was built. So in 2010, the St. Joseph's Church of Ellinwood can boast a record of growth that has spanned one hundred thirty four years.
The history of the parish of Claflin began in the midsummer of 1902. For some time the need for a new parish had been apparent, a parish with close access to the Catholic community of Claflin. A movement was started to secure a location for the new Catholic Church in the city of Claflin. Bishop Hennessy in Wichita gave his blessing and ready permissiion to organize a parish.
In July of that year, the present corner lot was purchased for $177.68. Initial work of building the Church was started on October 22, 1903. The first loads of sand and rock were hauled by team and wagon. The sand came from the Arkansas River and the rock from the D.E. Hogan stone quarry some five miles northeast of Claflin. The cost of this first Catholic Church in Claflin was $4,000.00. In the fall of 1904, the first church committee was elected by the members of the newly created parish.
Reverend Francis P. Joyce, a native of New York State, became the first pastor of the Claflin Parish, arriving in July, 1904. The first Mass celebrated in the new Church was on August 7, 1904. Bishop Hennessy visited the parish and dedicated the church May 3, 1905. Soon the Parish purchased the southwest corner of the Claflin Community cemetery to be the Catholic Cemetery for $100.00.
Work began in July, 1918 for a Parochial School. The school was ready for occupancy by October 15 of that same year. The parochial school was under the direction and supervision of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Wichita, Kansas.
The parish had outgrown the church that had been built twenty-five years before, and early in 1929, there began the task of promoting a church building fund. Unfortunately the dpression set in and the building program was temporarily shelved. In 1938, the City of Claflin began to modernize the town, and a sewer system was installed. The school and the rectory were modernized at the same time. New floor furnaces were installed in the school a few years later. In 1940, the roofs of both the school and rectory were replaced, and new floors were installed in the rectory.
Finally work on the new Church was started on September 15, 1948. The cornerstone was laid April 12, 1949, by the Most Reverend Mark K. Carroll, Bishop of Wichita. The new church of the Immaculate Conception in Claflin was constructed, a Romanesque edifice of red brick, 112 by 40 feet, with a full finished basement for parish gatherings. The body of this church seats 336 people, with a choir loft over the vestibule and a special room off the vestibule set aside for mothers with small children. An electric Wurlitzer organ was donated and housed in the choir loft. The stained glass windows, representing the Mysteries of the Rosary, are of a simple panel design with small figures of the Mysteries in the center panels, and were donated by members of the parish and the school children. The sacristy is immediately behind the altar with entrances on either side.
The entire cost of the new church with the many donated furnishings included was $144,945.00. The cost of the new rectory, with many furnishings included, was approximately $29,271.00, with approximately $23,000.00 donated. The new Church and rectory were dedicated on October 11, 1949.
In 1951, a new diocese was created out of the western half of the Wichita diocese, and it was known as the Dodge City Diocese. Most Reverend John B. Franz of Springfield, Illinois, became the first Bishop of the Dodge City Diocese.
The golden Jubilee of the Parish was celebrated on May 11, 1954 with a pontifical High Mass in elaborate ceremonies. Also, on the day of the Jubilee, Bishop Franz and the Clergy blessed the Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception which was built by the school children and Father Stremel. The shrine was erected by the Kansas Stone Co. of Hays at a cost of $1400.00. Half of this money was raised by our parochial school children by socials and Bingo.
To make a complete plant, a contract was made to construct a new convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Work was compleeted at a cost of $27,300 in 1959. In February, 1959, aluminum doors were installed in the church, and in December, 1959, chimes were added to the organ in the church.
Immaculate Conception parochial school was closed in May, 1970, due to increased costs, lack of teachers, and requirements by the Department of Education in Topeka.
Bishop Eugene J. Gerber was installed as the third bishop of the Dodge City Diocese on December 15, 1976.
A Diamond Jubilee celebratiion was held on October 14, 1979.
Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman was installed as the fourth Bishop of the Dodge City diocese on May 4, 1983.
On March 5, 1995, a new organ was purchased. Total cost was $21,000 plus $700.70 tax.
Bishop Ronald Gilmore was consecrated and installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Dodge City on July 16, 1998, in Garden City.
On August 15, 1999, it had been determined that the total cost of the parish center would be $300,000. Finally, on Sunday, August 13, 2000, a groundbreaking ceremony for the parish center was held after the 10:00 Mass.
A celebration of 100 years of Faith on the Plains was held on August 7 and 8, 2004.