Our History

  • A Little about our Church and Parish


    St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church was founded shortly after the opening of the Cherokee Strip. In 1894 Father Iserman, a Benedictine, came to Newkirk to offer Sunday Masses in private homes of the few Catholic families here. In 1894 a store building was purchased for $150 at Cross (now part of Ponca City) and was moved to Newkirk by mules and a steam engine. The building was located on 8th and Magnolia Streets and was used as a temporary church. In 1898 Father Renier Sevens, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Ponca City, began construction of a new church located in the 400 block of South Main Street. With aid of the Catholic Church Extension Society and contributions from the congregation, the church was built at a cost of $1500 and was dedicated to Bishop Meerschaert on August 24, 1898.

    In 1906, Fr. J.M. Kekeisen was named the first resident pastor of St. Francis Church, now an independent parish, and Chilocco Indian School was attached as a mission. There was also a mission at Peckham. Fr. Kekeisen started the first school in a two story house in the 400 block of South Main. With his sister, Miss Kekeisen, Father taught the upper grades. A three room house on South Maple was rented and two rooms were used for teaching the lower grades. Fr. Kekeisen used the third room as a workshop in which he made altars for the church. The present church property in the 600 block on West Ninth was purchased in 1907 for $1600. The church on South Main was moved to this property in 1910 by steam engine. A two room school was built west of the church and was staffed by the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Wichita. In order to provide room and board for children living too far to commute by horse and buggy, the Sisters rented a house at 412 S. Cedar. Later a Presbyterian Academy was purchased and moved to the southwest corner of the church property. This building was converted into a convent and high school. The Sisters kept boarding students there for several years, until automobiles became more common. The high school was named St. Francis Academy. A small house across the street from the church was rented as a rectory from 1911 to 1918, when a new rectory was built by the parishioners. After the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood discontinued teaching, the Benedictine Sisters from Guthrie taught for the next 20 years. Following them were the Carmelite Sisters of Saint Teresa of Oklahoma City. From 1966 to 1973 the Felician Sisters taught at the school. The high school portion of the school closed in May 1932, with its final graduating class. The number of pupils in the grammar school in the beginning was about 20; during 1954-55, it was 70.

    Construction of a new brick church was started in 1952 and was dedicated by Bishop Eugene J. McGuinness on February 3, 1953. In 1954 construction began on a new rectory and convent, which was blessed by the Bishop McGuinness on March 21, 1955. The old convent was dismantled during Holy Week, 1954, and the salvaged materials were used in the new convent. Parishioners donated much of the labor required for this project. In 1960 construction of a new school and combination gymnasium and parish hall was started. It was completed in time for the opening of the fall term in 1961. It was dedicated by Bishop Victor J. Reed in 1962. With the passage of Vatican II in the early 1960's, the local parish changed many of its traditions. One of the most visible changes was the removal of the communion rails. Another change was the altar being turned around to face the congregation. In 1973 the parochial school was closed. In 1978 six stained glass windows were installed in the church and the church vestibule. The Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in 1978 with Archbishop Charles A. Salatka present. The year 1978 marked the 75th anniversary of the parish with a resident pastor. Today's Newkirk parish serves 125 registered Catholic families. An interesting fact about our children is that from June 1991 to February 1993, a total of ten girls were born in the parish. There were no boys born during this time. However, the First Communion Class of 1994 consisted of eight boys and no girls.


    The 1994 Centennial Celebration of the parish was observed with Archbishop Eusebius Beltran present as celebrant and homilist. Father Lowell Stieferman, parish pastor, presided over the celebration. Also in attendance were Father Marvin Leven, Father William Perras, Sister Silveria Wanko, Sister Christina Ward and four Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa who had formally taught at the parochial school. After the Mass Celebration, a catered dinner was enjoyed by all in the Parish Hall as old friendships and memories were rekindled. In 2007 Father Vas started an annual St. Francis Feast Day celebration including the blessing of the animals and church family reunion. An important tradition in our church is to include all of our school age children in the annual parish Christmas program. In the past few years, many major renovations have been accomplished inside and out of our church building. In 2009 Father Vas celebrated his 80th birthday. In 2010 Father Vas celebrated 30 years in the Priesthood, Father Leven celebrated his Golden Jubilee and Father Beckman celebrated his 80th birthday.