Miami County has benefitted from the contributions of individuals of all cultural backgrounds, and adherents to Roman Catholicism have made vital positive contributions to Miami County’s cultural, political and economic life.

The first European-American settler besides Roman Catholic Missionaries that is recorded as settling in Miami County was James Poland. “A Centenary of Catholicity in Kansas 1822-1922; A History of Our Cradle Land” states: “The first Catholic settler in Miami County was James Poland. He arrived in 1854. Mr. Poland came from the County Down, Ireland. He was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, and his two sons, John, and William Poland. John went to California and William sleeps with his parents on the old home place. In the year 1856, a third son, Patrick, joined the family in Miami County and took a claim next to his fathers about two miles southwest of Osawatomie. He had been married in New York to Elizabeth Robins, a convert to the Faith, a lady of education and refinement.”

The Poland family was instrumental in working to build the spiritual foundation of the Roman Catholic faith in Miami County, supporting the efforts of Roman Catholic priests and missionaries to establish Roman Catholic worshipping community’s in Miami County.

Their efforts were noted in “A Centenary of Catholicity in Kansas, 1822-1922; A History of Our Cradle Land,” which stated: “Father Schact, the first priest who came to Miami County after the Jesuit Fathers left, said mass at the home of the Poland’s late in 1858, and in Osawatomie the same year at the home of a widow lady named Mrs. Remington.”

Irish immigrants, seeking the opportunity to own their own land, came to Kansas Territory and were willing to risk their lives for the opportunity to make a new start and become property owners. That was largely denied in Ireland by the English, and the Irish potato famine had made immigration to the United States a matter of survival.

In addition, though Ireland was a historically Roman Catholic culture, Roman Catholicism was cast in a negative light by the English, and Roman Catholics were discriminated against in their own historically Roman Catholic nation by the English.

Irish Immigrants sought religious freedom in the United States, and when Kansas Territory was opened for settlement, Irish immigrants made a concerted effort to settle in Kansas Territory. They added the Roman Catholic faith to the spiritual mosaic that made up the culture of Miami County in the 1850s.

Miami County’s pioneers built a spiritual foundation that is a mix of different beliefs and life philosophies that combined to build a strong cultural foundation that we build on today. It is the freedom of religion and belief that Americans enjoy that created the strong spiritual and philosophical foundation then and enables modern Miami County citizens to continue to build up the county’s and nation’s culture as well.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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