Saint Joseph's Industrial School and Orphanage, and later Home for the Aged, Bethany, Oklahoma.

It opened in 1912 and by the time it closed in the 1965 several thousand children, and aged, had been cared for by the facility.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bishop Theophile Meerschaert

On October 6, 1912, Bishop Meerschaert, assisted by many clergy, provided a solemn blessing on the new facility.   Meerschaert (1847-1924) was the historic first Bishop of the Oklahoma Territory. "On August 17, 1905 the Diocese of Oklahoma was erected by Pope Pius X. Bishop Meerschaert was appointed as first incumbent of the new Episcopal See of Oklahoma on August 23, 1905." (Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 11, No. 1; March, 1933, pg 739) He had previously served as pastor at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez. His online biography can be read here.


In 1921, the original articles of incorporation for the institution were amended to include the addition of a new arm of care offered at St. Joseph's. (Southwest Courier, Diocesan Golden Jubilee, undated, pg. 97).

The social needs were great for both children and the elderly. It was an innovative concept for the two groups to be united and provide what was lacking for each.


Leadership of the institution while at its Bethany location include the following:

Father John M. Kekeisen, 1912 - 1919
     - Father J.B. Dudek, was appointed interim director until Father Schaeffer was appointed as permanent director.

Father P.P. Schaeffer, was in charge of the facility 1919-1926
     - He was assisted by Father Philip Hartman and Father W. Van Mens.

Father James Garvey, director from 1926-1949

Father A.A. Isenbart, 1949 -

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Physical Description

A remainder of the "high knoll" on which the orphanage was built in 1912.
In the newspaper article "First Building at Orphanage" (Oklahoman, Aug,18, 1912, pg. 17) a physical description of the building materials and location was given.

The facility was planned to occupy 33 acres, the main (and first) structure would be located on a high knoll.  The brick used in construction was red paving stones with white stone trimming.

The first three buildings planned were the main building of several floors, adjacent a church and an auditorium.   Later a school building would be part of the auditorium plan.

Other sources, indicate the original acres were purchased in part by the Diochease and partly through a gift by a James Maney.  In 1913 land was added making the total some 60 acres. (The Sooner Catholic, Sept 5, 1976: 6).

John Kekeisen, First Director 1911-1919

On June 11, 1919 a news paper entry read "Priest's Body to Lie in State".  The first director of St. Joseph Industrial School and Orphanage had died at age 53.. His body would be removed to Michigan for burial.

$100,000 Addition Added 1923

In a news paper article titled, "Large Crowd at Dedication" (Oklahoman of June 18, pg. 5) it was noted Bishop Meerchaert would lead the ceremonies with  Dennis T. Flynn of Oklahoma speaking.
The celebration featured food and drink booths (to raise funds for the building project), a baseball game and finally Troop 32 of the Boy Scouts presented the play, "Huckleberry Finn."
The addition was for the use of dormitories and rooms for the faculty of the school. The school in June was already reporting enrollments of 200 for the September term. It was noted, that while the orphanage was operated by the Catholic Church, about half of the orphans were Protestant.
The director of the Orphanage was P.P. Schaeffer.

Monday, December 17, 2012


The records of burials in the cemetery were destroyed in the 1950's when the chauncry headquarters burned.

Closing Down

In 1965, the orphanage, responding to new trends and ideas about charitable services, moved the children, the staff, and the services to a location a new building on 10 acres at 3301 N. Eastern in Oklahoma City. 
The old red brick structure on NW 39th Expressway was left to temporarily house an order of  Sisers of Divine Providence from Houston, texas. Also there was a 78 year old retired priest, Rev. Thomas R. Hoffman, a married couple who served as caretakers ( Gerard and Joan O'Niel), and some horses being stabled there by a local club. ("Empty Orphanage a Tranquil Store of Memories." Oklahoman ( 27 May 1973): 22).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Broken Stones

There are several areas in the cemetery where it looks as if headstones might have crumbled or broken. They may be the remains of sign posts or memorials.  There do appear to be records indicating burials not listed on the memorial.  

Additional survey of newspapers reveals a few more names or information.  They were reported as being buried in the "orphanage cemetery" at St. Joseph's.

John Stine Mars, he is listed on the memorial as John Stine,  was a 70 year old inhabitant of the Orphanage when it was also caring for the elderly. Rev. John Garvey officiated at his funeral.  Mars or Stine  had been a resident since 1916, was blind, and had operated a broom factory on the grounds while in residence. (Oklahoman, June 11, 1936, pg. 15).

Carl Lorish, 93 year old resident of the orphanages' home for the aged for fifteen years. He died in a local hospital. (Oklahoman, Dec. 20, 1936, pg. 54).

Rev. Father Louis Doering (?), 1874-1927

Sister Mary Cecelia

In 1933, 58 year Sister Mary Cecelia, who was teaching at Mount Saint Mary's in Oklahoma City, died. It was noted that she had worked at St. Joseph's at one time.  "Catholic Sister's Funeral Rites Set", Oklahoman (Jan. 6, 1933): 6.

Stop 12 on the El Reno Interurban

Similar to the type of cars used in many such rail systems,
including local trolley lines.
The orphanage was located near Stop 12 on the El Reno Interurban line. The ErI had begun in 1902 and soon many trains were utilizing the tracks.  The link between El Reno, built around a fort and therefore a center of population and the bustling capitol city was a necessity.  It encouraged shopping, business, and tourism. It connected rural areas in a time before the widespread use of the speeding motorized vehicles.

Further reading:
Following the Tracks of Time
Oklahoma Interurbans
Oklahoma Trolleys (Doug Dawgz Blog)

"Sixty-Four Tots Housed at Saint Joseph's Orphanage" (1914)

A news article in the Oklahoman of 1914 shared how the facility had grown. "Sixty-four Tots Housed at Saint Joseph's Orphanage" (Nov. 22, 1914) recounted how the facility had been open only about two and a half years (1912), it was conveniently located on a train line, and covered forty acres.

The main building had 20 rooms which included spaces for classes, sleeping, store rooms, dining rooms, kitchen, a combined clothing/sewing room, and in separate building  a combined carpenter and printing shop, there was Father John's residence and numerous outbuildings.

All aspects of the facility were designed to support the mission of the facility to serve in an industrial arts training capacity.  The clothing/sewing room was were girls sorted donated clothes and learned to alter or sew new clothes for their fellow "inmates" as they were called on the census.  The kitchen was where girls learned to prepare, cook and serve food under the tutelage of the sisters.  Father John had experience in newspaper work and had insisted on the printing aspect. Along with carpentry skills, boys learned to manage, plant, grow, and sell agricultural products.

In that time period, self-sufficiency was a standard for everyone and especially for charitable institutions.  They raised their own chickens and may have had cows for milk as well.  They had a kitchen garden and no doubt planted fruit trees at some point.

The Sisters

Over the decades many orders of religious were in residence at  St. Joseph.   These included :The Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the Sisters of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Carmelites, Benedictines, and Missionary Sisters of the Most Blessed Trinity.  These will be individually profiled in upcoming entries, as well as their role in Oklahoma history.

On August 1, 1912 a group of sisters arrived to prepare the facility to receive children.  These included Sister Mary Scholastica  (Superior), Sister Mary Anthony, Sister Mary Raphael, Sister Mary Ambrose (Of the Sisters of Mercy in Oklahoma City).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

1920 US Census - Updated and Complete

1920 Oklahoma US Federal Census for Council Grove, Oklahoma, OK
Feb.3, 1920.  The children were listed as "inmates" and most were born in Oklahoma, although many recorded parents born in other states and some foreign nations, such as Poland and Italy.  Handwriting makes spelling is sometimes hard to read.  They are listed in the order found on the census; this will make it easier for interested persons to locate them and learn information as to age, birthplace, and place of parents birth (if known and listed).

St. Joseph's Orphanage lines 51-75

Albert Ludwig
Hilton Downey
Raymond Higgins
Pauline Noel
Margaret Noel
Mary Doyle
Mary Hamand
Hazel Beebe
Florine Beebe
Irene Rupprecht
Roberta Caulwell
Nora Donahue
Phillipi Munoz
Lola Munoz
Ethel Mallernee
Robert  Downey
Joseph Ludwig
Nellie Kikaskey
Anna Wilcox
Clarissa Wilcox
Leo Wagner
Margaret Wagner
Frank Wagner
Andrew Loveish
Landie Stirgl

2nd page lines 4 -75
Lidia Brown
John Carney
Haskell Cauldwell
Irby Downey
Elizabeth Fielder
Catherine Fielder
Virdie Grimett (sp)
Dorothy Hamand
James Hamand
Frank Ludwig
Eva M. Law
Alice Mchale
Clova Noel
Ramond Lewis
John Weichart
Vula Wilcox
Joseph Wagner
Phillip Cantwell
Elizabeth Weichart
Marie Keotoh
Lillie Grimnett
Joseph Loveish
John Loveish
William Steigel
Ferdinand Rigazzi
Philbert Regeggt
Joe Kutoskey
John Kutoskey
James Wilcox
Joseph Carney
Albert Cantwell
James Doyle
Bill Hamblin
Charley Hamblin
Charles Rupprecht
Andrew Mchale
Joe Grygo
Harvey Harvey
Duff Green
Lewis Bourken

The Orphan in Early 20th Century America

In 1848 in Arkansas one family lost both parents, two children and orphaned five others. Extended cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles stepped in to absorb these children into their family units.  That was the way things usually went but sometimes there was no extended families, sometimes the friends were taxed to add another person to often overcrowded living quarters and food needs and sometimes there were no friends. New immigrants, strangers passing through, and abandoned children presented a challenge to local communities and charitable groups.

Stepping into this void in the Victorian era were various institutions conceptualized as a helpful force in society but which often, for one reason or another, failed to live up to their noble goals.  Church and religious groups were one force for community care of those in need.

In the later half of the 19th century, due to illness, economic depression, and many other forces there were many orphans.  Many methods, philosophies, and approaches to care of the children without parents.  Some were spurred by sheer sense of civic duty, some by deep seated religious beliefs about caring for those in need, some by new sociological ideas about social engineering, educational concepts which attempted to merge factory floor efficiency with school, and various views on the nature of psychological development.

The truth was that sometimes children found themselves, through no fault of their parents or themselves, "temporarily orphaned."   Several stories have emerged of children who were sent to St. Joseph's due to serious accidents to a parent which created a chain reaction of job loss, home loss, and the total chaos of sudden temporary poverty.  Several of these children were reunited once the parent or parents had healed and found work.  The children's facility then served as a port of safety during temporary crises.

For others, however, the stories were heartbreaking tales of children left alone, or abandoned, and then struggling in a new place, among new people, and a foreign world which seemed overly harsh and confining. 

The facility opened in 1912 but already there were new models of child care and orphans filtering through the country.  The well known orphan trains would continue to run into the 1920's taking eastern orphans across the Midwest to place them with families who would come to every stop.  The need, however, was great because several plagues, diseases, unsafe working conditions, sudden death, and destitution were creating what seemed an endless stream of orphans.  

Facilities such as St. Joseph's attempted to fulfill their mission of Christian charity and love. In the process they utilized what were believed to be the latest and most progressive ideas of caring for orphans.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Original Second Floor Plan

On this floor (left to right) were dormitories, cells for the staff, center area was classrooms, more cells and far right (west end) was chapel space.

The east of the second floor duplicated the dormitory and staff space of the other floor.  The educational core add two small classes to replace the sewing room and parlor of the main floor. Apparently, the other two classes had originally served as a chapel and had a movable partition to allow it to be converted to classrooms when not used as a chapel.

Another section of three cells, bathroom and linen closet

The dormitory ends were apparently added on in the first 20 years.  This plan shows the west "dorm area" designated as a Chapel and the notation that some features were to be moved from the old chapel to the new chapel space.  Strangely, there is an entrance to the 16 sink and 3 toilet wash room from the chapel, so it can be guessed they were thinking ahead to the eventual construction of the exterior chapel in the early 1930's.

Church Floor Plan

The church with adjacent office/prayer room/tower. Constructed ca 1931. It measures 91 feet from west to east and about 40 feet north to south.

At the west end is the sacristy in two distinct spaces connected by an opening, then the sanctuary, then the nave, and the entrance  through two doors would have revealed to the right a confessional and to the left access to the balcony above.

There appeared to be only two points of access and egress; the stone steps leading to the sacristy and the main entrance.

The bell tower is shown here with a dirt floor and a note about future plans to lay stone there.

Original Main floor

Left to right - Dorms, cells for the staff, restrooms, storage, classrooms in the center, cells, restrooms, storage, and more dormitory space.

The dormitory was the larger 44 x 70 size, with thirteen windows, the corridor was to the south side of the building. From the dormitory there was access to "wash room" with 16 sinks and 3 toilets, a linen closet ringed with shelves and some in the center.

Heading the hall, there was a branch off to the quarters of the sisters in residence. This included three cells with closets, a restroom with bath, toilet and sink, and a small linen closet. This space measured roughly 30 x 30.

Continuing west along the corridor would be the main entrance into the educational space. Here there were three classrooms one sewing room, and one parlor.

At the west end of the building and the other dormitory was a duplication of the east end.

Original Ground Floor

Left to right:  dining rooms, kitchens, storage, preparation areas, large restrooms, with bathing tubs, playrooms.

The dining spaces included a Dining Hall (44 x70) and two smaller dining rooms.

The kitchen space included what appears to be a bakery room (8 x 12) with tiled walls.  The kitchen space was large and empty with what appeared to be insufficient sink and counter space given the size of the facility.

West of the main ground entrance were toilets (one for girls with 7 toilets and three sinks and one for boys with four toilets and an unspecified number of urinals along with two sinks) and bath/shower room

The playrooms were designated as the Girls' ( a space roughly 30 x 30) and the Boy's (a much larger space 44 x 70)