By Rich Brown
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Ulysses S. Grant was re-elected as president, George Brayton patented the gasoline-powered engine and Britain handed over $15 million to the United States for damages during the Civil War, which had ended seven years before.
The year was 1872, and a Catholic parish in Carthage was taking root.
St. Ann’s Catholic Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary, along with the 50th anniversary of its school, at noon Sunday in the school gymnasium at 1156 S. Grand Ave.
A pork lunch with drinks and desserts will be available, and those attending are urged to bring a side dish. St. Ann’s schoolchildren will perform during the lunch program. The Hispanic Prayer Group Choir also will sing, and a slide show will highlight the history of the church and the school. All parish members, including former church members and school alumni, are invited.
Between 1872 and 1880, Catholics in Carthage were largely railroad workers involved in building the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Priests from Springfield, Pierce City and Carthage would visit Carthage every two months or so, conducting Mass at Casey’s Confectionery, Reagan’s Hall or the Jasper County Courthouse. Offerings from those visits went toward purchasing two lots for the church, which would be the established parish of St. Ann’s, formerly at 910 S. Clinton St., in 1880, thanks in large part to guidance from the Kansas City Diocese.
The pastor of the new church not only served Catholics in the Carthage community but also those living in Lamar and Nevada. After the latter two became self-sustaining, the Carthage pastor took care of the Webb City parishioners.
Carthage did without a resident pastor from 1893 to 1895, with Mass celebrated every other week under the direction of the pastor from Sarcoxie.
After the original frame-structure church served congregations for nearly three decades, the St. Ann’s of today was built out of Carthage stone in 1908.
Before William Hodgson began as pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church 10 years ago, he spent most of his pastoral duties as a circuit rider, going from one community to another while ministering at Catholic churches throughout the Springfield/Cape Girardeau Diocese.
Hodgson shares something in common with the church’s founding fathers: Those early priests also had to travel from church to church in leading services.
“I just went from place to place to minister,” said Hodgson, who is fluent in Spanish. “I would visit places that already had a pastor but needed someone to minister to the Spanish-speaking members of the congregation. I visited in a circle of about eight to 10 churches at that time, and Carthage was one of the stops on my circuit.”
As more priests learned Spanish, they began relieving Hodgson of his duties. That’s when Hodgson took over the helm at St. Ann’s.
An attempt at starting a school, staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, in 1890 fell short and closed in 1891. It wasn’t until 72 years later that another attempt would be seen, but this time the school would succeed.
Ground was broken and the new St. Ann’s school was completed Sept. 16, 1962, with Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, of O’Fallon, agreeing to staff it. Nine years later the sisters withdrew and were replaced by lay faculty.
Steve Carlton, associate circuit judge for Jasper County, was among the first pupils at the school, which used to hold classes for students up to eighth grade, but now only goes to sixth grade. Carlton attended third through eighth grades before heading to high school at McAuley in Joplin.
Carlton and his wife, Kay, have three children who went to the school, which had doubled in size by 1992. The gymnasium was built in the late 1980s. When the school had eight grades, there were two grades per room.
Despite its small size — 112 pupils enrolled in the first year — Carlton said the school had its advantages, just as it does today.
“We were provided an excellent education, because the classes were small,” he said. “We got specialized and personalized attention.”
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.