By the Rev. Mr. Paul M. Steele
This is the second of three articles about the first Mass celebrated in Wichita.
Fr. Ponziglione would make four additional trips to Wichita, regardless of winter’s coldest, or summer’s hottest days. In a letter to his superior, he wrote, “I have just returned from a long trip of twenty-five days during which I have ridden some 750 miles. I was well received wherever I went by Catholic’s as well as Protestant’s.”
In the same letter, he details his plan, or what he describes as “my order of march” for greeting Kansas’ arriving Catholics. He wrote, “On arriving at a house my first care after securing my office is to catechize the children. At night I say the rosary with the family and in the morning I hear confessions, say Mass, preach, and take breakfast.”
Fr. Paul Mary wisely anticipated a successful home-church would attract faithful families for Sunday gatherings of song and prayer; as well as becoming the resource for compassionate care and leadership for the new Catholic community.

By Fr. Paul Mary’s, “order of march,” newcomers could be catechized, welcomed into the home-church; and then entrusted to the Virgin Mary for her protection. Such a model would also provide equal leadership opportunities for women who would spread their influence into the community. Ellen Meagher responded to the challenge; and because of her influence and leadership, she was recognized as “Mother Meager”; and later referred to as “The Mother of the Catholic Church in Wichita.”
Fr. Ponziglione’s second trip to Wichita would begin with his arrival at the Meagher home-church on Monday evening, Jan. 13, 1870. While Fr. Paul’s journal entry does not specifically mention the celebration of Mass, his “order of March” suggests the second Mass occurred the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 1870.
Fr. Ponziglione’s would arrive several days in advance to celebrate a third Mass on Sunday evening of July 17, 1870; however the city’s growth had to have been a surprise to him, as the new city now included more than 600 residents. By the beginning of November, the population would increase to approximately 800 persons, with 175 buildings; compared to 16 buildings when the first Mass was celebrated 11 months earlier.
In addition, a larger Christian community was forming, as arriving Presbyterian’s gathered for a first service in the fall of 1869; and the Episcopalian’s during December 1869. During this time, the home-church continued to be a destination for arriving Catholics; but the small home was unable able to accommodate the growing Catholic population.
Fr. Paul’s notes reflect the growing success of his mission station. He wrote, “As it was Sunday and we had already notified people about it several days before, we had quite a large attendance at Mass as well at 3:00 [in the afternoon] when I gave a lecture on the principal tenets of our holy Religion.”
He adds, “Protestants had come in promiscuously with Catholics and had behaved most honorably. They all appeared to be satisfied and requested me most earnestly to remain with them and build a church in their town, nay, they literally offered me land for the purpose . . . that day we formed among Catholic’s a Committee of seven trustees, whose business it would be to procure a location, and once our Rt. Rev. Bishop will have approved of it, raise subscriptions and proceed to build the church.”
As the city grew, concerns about maintaining peace and justice in the city became an issue in the Meagher household. Fr. Ponziglione’s zeal may have been a factor as he had witnessed the effect of disproportioned evil in another mission-station community. His sadness revealed in a letter to a fellow priest. He wrote, “Though some of our Catholic’s are very fervent, still others are deplorably negligent, and the spirit of indifference so widely spread over this country is heart-rending.”
“Unfortunately, is frequently a desideratum in many of our new towns and no wonder, for the full measure of inequity seems to pour in on us from the oldest and most substantial cities of this great continent? To give you an example idea of this, I shall simply state what I was told in Newton last summer; that of the thirty-six persons buried in that place, only one had died a natural death, such is the field we are working. . . ”
Five months later, there was joy and astonishment in Father Ponziglione’s correspondence after the fourth Mass was celebrated on Nov. 27, 1870, as he wrote, “I had Mass in Wichita, and as that day was Sunday and the town newspaper had already two days before notified the people that on this day the Catholic’s would have Mass. We had a large congregation. On this occasion, we found the number of Catholics had censurably increased so as now to be about 600.”
At this point, Fr. Paul indicates a necessary change in his “order of March.” This is apparent by his comment, “already two days before.” Therein he seems to acknowledge that additional time is now required to meet the sacramental needs of an ever increasing Catholic population. There is also evidence of Mother Meagher’s preparation for his visits and her assistance upon his arrival. Both assertions apparent by the first Wichita entries in the Osage Mission Sacramental Record for Nov. 27, 1870.