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ST. FRANCIS ORPHANS' HOME
The St. Francis Orphans'
Home was in operation in Nevada, Missouri from 1896 until 1952. The
facility then became St. Francis Academy, a boarding and high school for
girls. In 1982 the Academy was relocated to Independence, Missouri
where it continues operation.
There are not many
records other than the names of children prior to the 1915 fire (see
below). After 1915, there are usually some school records and sometimes
other information about the children. The orphanage is enumerated in
the U.S. Federal Census, and the children are listed.
You can contact the
Sisters of St. Francis regarding possible records on an orphan. It is
suggested that you send a written request to the following address and
enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope and contribution to help cover
copying charges for records that may be found. (If a large number of
pages are copied and sent to you, please reimburse the Academy for the
Sisters of St.
It is recommended that
your request be in writing because it is easier to go to the archives
and look for information without being rushed on a phone call.
Below are picture postcards, the history of
the orphans' home, and newspaper stories about the home and children from
the local newspaper.
ST. FRANCIS ORPHANS’
Orphan’s Home, where about one hundred children are given comforts of a
home and receive every care and attention that an ideal mother could
give, is conducted by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual
Adoration. On December 12, 1892, a band of five sisters, namely Sister
M. John Hau as superior, Sister M. Bernandine Fah, Sister M. Bonaventure
Rosenberg, Sister M. Xavier Blatter and Sister M. Basilia King, arrived
at Conception, Mo., where they entered the Benedictine Convent to study
the English language. They had been sent from Grimmerstein Convent,
Walzenhauser, Appenzell county, Switzerland, with a mission to care for
following year the building which they now occupy, together with twenty
acres of land, was purchased by the sisters from Rt. Rev. Ignatius
Conrad. The sisters arrived in Nevada September 3, 1893, and on
September 15 opened a day school. In November, of the same year,
Sisters M. Creszentia Gruniger, M. Angela Baumgartner and M. Ignatius
Buhman arrived from Switzerland to take up their duties at the
orphanage. The sisters experienced many hardships during the first few
years of their residence here, but through the splendid business
qualifications of Sister M. John, and the hearty co-operation and
untiring energy of the sisters of her community, the institution made
progress. The only source of revenue came from the tuition of their
pupils, and the soil which they tilled.
The first orphans
were received January 26, 1896, and then it was that the noble work to
which they had dedicated their lives had its real commencement. St.
Francis Orphans’ Home was incorporated under the laws of Missouri, at
Jefferson City, October 16, 1900. After the incorporation papers were
received the institution became what is termed a mother house with the
privilege of admitting novices into their ranks. The election for the
purpose of choosing one to guide the destinies of the institution and
its inmates was held July 10, 1901, and Sister M. John was unanimously
voted the Mother Superior, and each succeeding year she has been
accorded the same honor. Mother John was born in Lentkirch, Wuttenburg,
Germany, April 6, 1863, and entered the convent in April, 1881, becoming
a sister during the month of October 1882. Her life has been one
devoted to the welfare of humanity and the honor and glory of her
Master. During her administration of St. Francis Orphans’ Home,
fourteen novices have become brides of the cloister that they might
assist in caring for the children of the poor. Since their residence
here two sisters have been called to their eternal reward—Sister M.
Basilia and Sister M. Elizabeth. Among the many children that have been
received at the home not one death has occurred.
The sisters have
purchased land from time to time, until now St. Francis Heights
comprises about 200 acres. A few years ago it was seen that the
original building was fast becoming inadequate to meet the demands made
upon it owing to the number of children it was called upon to shelter
and on March 17, 1910, a twenty-five room addition was started which is
now nearing completion. Within the walls of St. Francis Home, sweet
charity pure and unalloyed is practiced by the noble daughters of St.
Francis and through their zeal one of Nevada’s most laudable
institutions is conducted.
Johnson, J. B. (1911) History of Vernon County Missouri.
West Ashland Street,
Home to Many
Carolyn Gray Thornton
Today we are
beginning a short series about the St. Francis Orphans’ Home, which was
in the buildings which are now Heartland Hospital. A tribute to the
institution written by Elmer J. Battraw who was a resident there from
1929 to 1936 was discovered in the Chamber of Commerce office and
donated to the Bushwhacker Museum. In Bartraw’s 94-page narrative of
his time there we found a history of the buildings called, “The Halls of
Heartland Hospital,” written by Lorrie J. Mallard. We will start the
series with a summary of her moving story. The background will help us
appreciate the boy’s story more fully.
building on the location of the present Heartland Hospital was built in
1889 by the Christian Church for a university. That lasted only one
year. In 1890 it was sold to the Benedictine Abbey of Subiaco, Ark.,
for a boys’ school. Then in 1892 the Franciscan nuns bought the
building, without seeing it, for $10,000. Father Basil and Brother
Stephen from the Arkansas Abbey cared for the property until the nuns
arrived, after having spent 10 months learning English. The sisters
arrived in Nevada on Sept. 3, 1893, and on the 15th of that
month opened a day school.
In January of 1896
a widowed railroad worker named Hogan asked Mother John to give his four
small children a home. That changed the service as more and more
children were added. For more than 50 years the St. Francis Orphanage
continued to care for children who needed a home. It was incorporated
as St. Francis Orphans’ Home on Oct. 16, 1900. It also became a Mother
House with the privilege of admitting novices into the convent.
Twenty-six-year-old Sister M. John Hau was voted the Mother Superior and
retained that responsibility until her death in 1948.
On the night of
Sept. 25, 1915, a fire destroyed a new wing and the old college
building. There are conflicting stories about how the fire started but
the Sisters discounted them. Sister Gertrude heard the sound of the
fire, awakened Sister Clara and then had Sister Frances get the girls
out of the building while she ran back upstairs to rescue the boys. She
had them line up two-by-two, an older boy with a younger one, and take
their bundle of clothes that was at the foot of each bed ready for
Sunday service, and walk hand-in-hand down four flights of stairs.
Every child and staff person was saved.
The closest city
fireplug was five blocks away and they relied on the Missouri Pacific
pumping plant on the Marmaton River for fire protection.
That night, before
the pressure on the pumps could be raised the building was gone. The
streams of water could not be thrown more than six feet.
responded to the needs of the Sisters and the children by donating
supplies, space, clothing, money and physical help. The Mitchell Hotel
fed the 68 children for breakfast and supper on Sunday and at noon the
children went to private homes.
A house owned by
Dr. J. F. Robinson that had been built as a dormitory for the proposed
university was donated and by Monday night the children were housed
there and cooking and dining facilities were ready.
In 1940 the Sisters
were encouraged to accept more girls to encourage vocations in the
sisterhood, and at the end of the winter term in 1952 the grade school
discontinued and the institution became St. Francis Academy, a boarding
and high school for girls. 61 were enrolled for the 1967-’68 year.
In 1982 the nuns
relocated on Noland Road in Independence and Heartland Hospital opened
its doors in October of that year, still serving the needs of children.
The Nevada Daily Mail,
Nevada, Vernon County, Missouri. July 15, 2005
MY TRUE HOME FOREVER
Carolyn Gray Thornton
In 1929 Elmer J.
Battraw and his brother Bill were brought to Nevada to live at the St.
Francis Convent and Orphanage. In 1992 in honor of the centennial of
the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist being in the United
States, Elmer Battraw wrote a 92-page historical perspective and
autobiography of a little boy’s life, 7- to 14-years-old at the St.
Francis Orphanage. The title of his manuscript is “My True Home
The title gives a
very strong hint of the respect and love that Elmer had for the
institution and the care he received while there. His brother left the
orphanage two years before Elmer did, but upon reading his brother’s
story added comments of his own.
The narrative, with
the brother’s remarks is now preserved in the Bushwhacker Museum after
having been found in the Nevada Chamber of Commerce office in a box of
We attempted to
find out if either Elmer or Bill were still alive so that we might
interview them to tell “the rest of the story.” However we were
saddened to find Elmer’s obituary on the Internet. It did not list any
siblings among his survivors. However it did inform us that he married,
had three children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild at the
time of his death on April 1, 2004. He had been a radio operator
supervisor for the U.S. Border Patrol for 40 years before retiring in
1984. His adult life was lived in Imperial, Calif.
His moving, amusing
and informative narrative begins with a quotation by Feodar Dostoyevsky:
“There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and useful for
life in later years than some good memories, especially a memory
connected with childhood, with home. If a man carries many such
memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if
we have only one good memory left in our hearts, even that may sometime
be the means of saving us.”
Elmer follows this
quotation with his remark: “If this be true of only one memory, what
can be said of thousands upon thousands of wonderful happy ones? For
those who would like, you are invited to borrow from mine as told in
these writings to attain that good end.”
He began his
narrative on Monday, Feb. 8, 1993, saying that at long last he will make
a beginning on his memories of St. Francis at Nevada. He thought it was
fitting that that day was the feast of St. Jerome Emiliani, the patrol
of orphans. He explains that he was not literally an orphan as his
mother was alive, but his home life was such that he said he did not
have homesickness or feeling of loss when he came to St. Francis.
mentions that after the war when he was a radio operator, he joined a
monastery in Ponca City, Okla., but only stayed there about a year
before leaving to care for his mother and stepfather. This would
indicate that his relationship with his family remained important even
though he spent these years at St. Francis.
In the next segment
of this series we will tell more about the daily life of the children
who lived there. But for now we want to emphasize that throughout the
whole narrative tow things are very evident. First he was very happy at
St. Francis and loved being there. Second, he became immersed in
Catholic doctrine and practices and his faith was a strong influence on
him even as a young boy.
Next week we will
become better acquainted with Elmer.
Nevada Daily Mail,
Nevada, Vernon County, Missouri. July 22, 2005
Elmer J. Battraw, St.
Francis Orphanage Resident from 1929-1936
Carolyn Gray Thornton
Elmer Battraw came
to the St. Francis Orphanage when he was 7-years-old and left after he
graduated from the eighth grade when he was 14. These years left him
with happy memories and a good solid education. In appreciation for the
loving care he received at St. Francis, he wrote “a historical
perspective and autobiography of a little boy’s life” titled “My True
Home Forever.” We covered some of the contents in a previous article.
Today we will cover more of Elmer’s personal story.
It is obvious that
Elmer was greatly influenced by the religious atmosphere of the home and
tells in detail the activities around different holy days and holidays.
He became an altar boy at the age of 7 and was one chosen to go with the
priest on monthly visits to the State Hospital and to a Catholic Church
at Schell City.
The children at the
home were required to be silent in their dormitories, at mealtime, and
when moving from one activity to another in their lines of two by two.
But they devised methods of communicating that did not require speech.
He and his best friend, Alphonsus Bain, contrived a way to say the
Rosary each night after going to bed. They decided before going to bed
who would take the lead and who would follow. They tied one end of a
long string to the big toe of one of them, ran the string along the beds
that separated the two boys and tied the other end to the toe of the
second boy. The leader would begin saying the Rosary to himself and
would pull on the string to signal to his friend that it was time for
his response. Then when that was finished the second boy pulled on the
string again for the leader to resume.
Elmer said they
worked this system for several nights before they gave up because one or
the other would fall asleep before they were finished.
Elmer spoke fondly
of the games they played with very little equipment or supplies. The
boys and girls were separated in their playgrounds and in most of their
activities so his record tells little about the girls’ days.
However the boys
had their time spaced with religious observances, school, work and
play. They had various placed they could play in addition to the
playground. They would be taken to the woods, to an area called
Fairyland, and to a pasture. They went barefooted throughout the summer
except for Sunday, and Elmer tells of their joy in stepping in cow piles
in the pasture to feel the manure squeeze between their toes. He also
said that a daily nighttime routine was for each child to wash his feet
before going to bed! In the summer, usually on Saturday mornings, they
would walk to Radio Springs Park to go swimming, but sometimes they also
swam in a nearby creek in a spot that was deeper. He tells of drinking
from a spring and the creek when on outings such as berry picking or
The sisters were on
a very tight budget so their food was simple. He mentions sweet
potatoes often and some soup made with tapioca. (He said he could never
eat anything with tapioca in it the rest of his life.) The life was
healthy as he said he had very few illnesses in his seven years there.
One was severe poison ivy doubled with mumps, another was pneumonia. He
didn’t recall any of his friends being sick often either.
When he was 14 he
received a call that his mother and stepfather had sent him a bus ticket
to California, so he hurriedly gathered some possessions and left with
mixed feelings because he loved being at St. Francis.
Although he went to
California his obituary says that he graduated from Joplin High School
so he must have returned to Missouri. He served in World War II and
became a radio operator supervisor for the U.S. Border Patrol in
California, where he died, April 1, 2004.
Nevada Daily Mail,
Nevada, Vernon County, Missouri. July 29, 2005
email your family member's reminiscences and pictures about life at
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