The history of St. Joseph Home & Orphanage

April 8, 2016 by

This overview shows St. Joseph Home about the time it opened as an orphanage and nursing home in 1915, under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. The driveway was marked with brick pillars decorated with white crosses, at lower left. Those are the only structures that remain in tact on the Buckeye Avenue property.

This overview shows St. Joseph Home about the time it opened as an orphanage and nursing home in 1915, under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. The driveway was marked with brick pillars decorated with white crosses, at lower left. Those are the only structures that remain in tact on the Buckeye Avenue property.


In 1888, the fledging Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia went to the cowtown of Abilene to establish St Joseph Academy as a school for girls, on land just north of the town on what is now Buckeye Avenue. Within a very few years, the state of Kansas was divided into new Catholic dioceses and Abilene fell under the jurisdiction of a different bishop. So most of the sisters returned to Concordia and the few remaining became the nucleus of what would eventually become a new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita.

The Wichita sisters continued to operate the academy until 1912.

After they closed it, the property was purchased by the Concordia Diocese, which renovated it in 1915 and asked the Concordia sisters to open it as an orphanage and home for the aged. By 1924, a home for the elderly residents had been built in Concordia, and so the Abilene facility became strictly an orphanage, with as many as 80 children living there at any one time. During the 1940s and ’50s, children from Abilene were allowed to attend school there as day students.

But due to changing child welfare laws and the advent of the foster care system, the orphanage ultimately closed in 1958. The main orphanage building was torn down a year later.

Sister Xavier Cunningham was one of the original Concordia sisters sent there in 1915, and she is credited with founding the award-winning Holstein cattle herd that provided both money for the home and jobs for many of the boys were lived there. Harold Scanlan was one of those boys, and he and his family eventually took over the Holstein dairy, which one of Harold’s sons continues to operate today.

But the dairy no longer takes up the east side of Buckeye Avenue; that property has been developed into the location of the Brookville Hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Feldkamp’s Furniture and other businesses.

Only the red brick pillars, each with a white cross, mark the property line on the west side of the road. The stone grotto — missing its statues for many years now — and the crumpling brick rectory are the only structures that remain on the orphanage site.

The property is still owned by the Salina Diocese, and there are no current plans to either develop or sell it, according to the diocesan finance officer, Father Keith Weber.




15 Responses to “The history of St. Joseph Home & Orphanage”

  1. Kathy on July 15th, 2021 11:01 pm

    My mother, joy Ann ashbrook, was pl@ced in an orphanage in st Joe missouri after her mother Laura Cox and William Ashbrook divorced. Why did the Ashbrook family disown his children? My mother has passed but she never shared her history with us. Please help us understand her reluctance in sharing!

  2. Paul Bryan on July 6th, 2021 6:13 pm

    I was at the St Joseph Orphanage, at Abilene, Kansas, in the late 30’s and early 40’s, as far as I can remember. The Dairy where the children worked was doing fine. The boys worked the Dairy and the girls did the laundry, etc. We milked the cows by hand. We did all the haying, and most of it was by hand, with horses. We had no tractors.
    I would be interested in hearing from anyone that was there at the same time I was and experienced the same things that I did.

  3. Anthony Wellnitz on May 27th, 2021 12:11 am

    My grandfather, Tony Wellnitz, born 1889, adopted two sons from a convent in Kansas City. Apparently, my father was left on the doorstep during WWII with a note and the last name was Anderson. His father was killed in the war and the mother could not take care of him. I don’t know much more than that and would like to know more about the convents. My mother said that the convent he was from burned and records were lost. I don’t know if this is true or not. If anyone knows more about these please feel free to contact me. Thanks.

  4. Claire de Lou Tosh on March 14th, 2021 7:16 pm

    My sister Sherry Lee Tosh, my little brother Joe and I were placed in an orphanage near Topeka Ks from around October 1948 until sometime in 1949. We were adopted by a distant relative Wayne Ross and his wife Elizabeth. Right before the adoption was final, Elizabeth took my sister and I to a relative’s house and left us. She kept our brother Joseph. I would like to find records pertaining to our stay at the orphanage and the subsequent adoption.

  5. Terri Romero on February 4th, 2021 8:17 am

    My dad Joseph McCarthy and my Uncle Tom McCarthy were in a children’s home in 1940 census in St Joseph Missouri I’ve been trying to find records on that it was the Buchanan County Children’s Home Farm School any information would be appreciated

  6. Carol Mendoza on January 6th, 2021 10:22 pm

    My grandmother Elsie Thibault was sent from Damar, Kansas at the age of 19 years in 1904 to the St Joseph School. I have a note written by her saying this. Is there a way to find the record of her entering and exit in May 1904. She would have left sometime around May 1904 when she married due to a pregnancy.

  7. Sandra Lund on November 3rd, 2020 11:40 am

    I am Sandras mother and am 87 years old Sandra found out hr father was adoped in Washington DC in the year some where in the 1920f er lmre mpyjomh snpiy yjr gismf o hiree jr fof mpy rsyjrt .jod ,pyjrt forf om 16466

  8. Suzanne Brungardt on October 10th, 2020 9:09 pm

    My mom lived in the orphanage in the 1930s and 40s with her sister- my aunt. Is there any way to get records – anything that would bring some connection to my moms childhood?

  9. Paul Dean Bryan on September 28th, 2020 9:52 am

    My husband, Paul Dean Bryan, was a resident at St. Joseph Orphanage in the early thirties. He remembers working in the dairy, feeding the cows, etc.
    He would like to return just to see what is still there. Are there records he can research?

  10. Earle Patrick Thurston on June 16th, 2020 2:55 pm

    Ms T. Tuttle (above) requested info possibly related to an in-law of hers.. I was in an orphanage for about my third year of life.(1941-42) It was a St. Joseph’s or a St. Luke’s home and I will next search for St. Luke’s. Is there a way to see if Ms.Tuttle found out anything that might be useful for me. I wish to “dig” re my sister and I who were “somewhere” together. Barbara was 50 weeks younger than I. Earle P. Thurston born 1939.
    Thank you, whoever might reply.

  11. Tamara G. Suttle on May 5th, 2020 12:57 am

    Thank you for the history of this orphanage. I would like to know how to find records from the school. I would like to confirm or disprove that my mother-in-law was placed in this facility in the 1930’s. Suggestions?

  12. Jill Baszak on April 28th, 2020 9:00 am

    Thank you for providing the history of St Joseph. My grandmother homesteaded about a mile from this location.
    They lived on the Callahan farm. I wonder if any of the girls went to this school. Is there a roster that shows enrollment around the time the school opened in the late 1800’s?
    Thank you for your time!

  13. Kathleen M Harrington on January 25th, 2020 10:48 am

    My grandmother, Evelyn Byard, lived in an orphanage in KC sometime between 1917 and 1927. Is there a way to find out if she was at Saint Josepth’s?

  14. Nadine Wagor on December 1st, 2019 4:34 pm

    Is there a cemetery associated with this home. A family story had one of my greatgrand mothers was buried there in a paupers grave.

  15. Barbara Lee Simmons Durland on December 31st, 2018 12:34 pm

    I was raised in the home for girls. I Have very fond memories of St. Joseph’s home for girls. We had a good upbringing, and schooling.
    Barbara Lee Simmons Durland

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