It was in 1895 that the Ursuline Sisters of Paola became an autonomous community. In these early years, decisions were being made as to where their motherhouse would be located and what schools they would serve. One of the first schools and towns considered as an option was St. Francis School in St. Paul, Kansas. This school had already been established many years before the Ursulines came to the area. St. Paul was originally called Osage, which was a branch of the southern Sioux.
Missionaries visited the Osage as early as 1820, but the first steps leading to a permanent Jesuit residence on the banks of the Neosho were taken by Father Felix Verreydt, who on April 23, 1844, visited the Osage reserve with a view to establish a missionary-station within its borders. On May 10, 1844, nine chiefs of the tribe, including their principal chief, George White Hair, affixed their signatures in the shape of crosses to a petition addressed to the commissioner of Indian affairs. This petition of the Osage tribe of Indians stated that they wanted to better their condition by the instruction education and the domestic arts for their children.
At Washington, however, no eagerness was manifested to accede to the Osage petition. Sometime during the first half of 1846, approximately two years after the date of the petition, Father Van de Velde, while on his visit to the nation capital, took up the question of the Osage school with the commissioner of Indian affairs. Commissioner Medill proposed certain terms, which the superior engaged to lay before his consulters. Van de Velde did so with the results that the terms were found unsatisfactory. An agreement was finally made between the Jesuits and the U.S. Government Indian Affairs. Finally, on November 13, 1846, a decision was reached to enter into contract with the government to open the school in March 1847, when the necessary buildings should have been completed.
On April 7, 1847, Father John Schoenmakers and four others started from St. Louis to inaugurate the missionary experience among the Osage. In accordance with arrangement made the previous autumn by Father Schoenmakers, houses had been built by the government to lodge the missionaries and serve for school purposes. The houses, however, were in an unfinished state when the missionaries arrived and the school building soon proves quite inadequate for the number of children in attendance. The name, Catholic Osage Mission, was bestowed upon the place, the term Catholic being meant to distinguish the new establishment from the Protestant missions, which had been opened among the Osage before the arrival of the Jesuits and later discontinued.
A boy’s school was opened May 10, 1847, and exactly five months later, October 10, a girl’s school, the latter being conducted by the Kentucky Sisters of Loretto. The success of the mission school in educating the young generation of Osage had the result of making many Indian parents belonging to tribes other than the Osage eager to see their children also share in the benefits of the school. But Father Schoenmakers could not admit many children of this class, the government appropriation covering, with one exception, the education of the Osage only. Yet representatives of other tribes, especially the Miami, Wea, Piankashaw, and Peoria were occasionally found in the school. As to Quapaw children, these were admitted and paid for by the government on the same terms as the Osage. In 1853 some form of incorporation of the Quapaw with the Osage tribe appears to have taken place.
Before 1867, the Osage had withdrawn from the neighborhood of the mission to their diminished reserve and before 1870 had withdrawn altogether from Kansas to the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. With the departure of the Indians, the attendance dwindled. In 1870, the majority of the pupils being white, the Osage Manual Labor School was transformed into St. Francis Institute for Boys under a charter issued by the state of Kansas, March 13, 1870, the girls’ department being chartered September 19, 1870, under the name of St. Ann’s Academy. Both were taught by the Sisters of Loretto.
A fire to St. Ann’s Academy building brought about the withdrawal of the Sisters of Loretto from Kansas. Bishop Louis Fink requested the service of the new Ursuline Sisters of Paola and in September 1896 the sisters taught at St. Francis School in St. Paul. Due to the inability of superiors from several communities to reach an agreement on the properties of these schools, the Ursulines decided to withdraw from this mission in 1898. The Sisters of St. Joseph took over the St. Francis School. Two religious vocations came to the Ursuline Sister of Paola from this school: Sister Mary Helen Fitzpatrick & Sister Mary Leona Fitzpatrick.
An interesting side note to the story of the Ursuline Sisters of Paola in Osage, Kansas, is the relationship of Sister Jerome Schaub with John Stink, Osage Indian Chief. Having thought to have died in a handful of instances, John miraculously came back to life and was regarded as medicine man. He grew in prosperity and eventually became a millionaire. Sister Jerome Shaughnessy met him in 1916 on one of her trips to solicit students for Ursuline Academy. John responded to her with gifts of money to assist tuition for girls to attend the school.