In about 1898 four black nuns arrived in Leavenworth to care for and teach orphaned children.
In about 1898 four black nuns arrived in Leavenworth to care for and teach orphaned children. The nuns stayed for the next 72 years. When the pastor, Father Huhn, opened an orphanage for Negro children in 1888, he obtained the four Oblate Sisters of Providence from Baltimore. Thus, Holy Epiphany School was relinquished to them.
The Rev. Martin Huhn, pastor of the Holy Epiphany Church, on Pottawatomie Street, wrote to the mother superior of the Oblate Order of the Sisters of Providence in 1888 asking for "Sisters be sent to Kansas because the "plight of the orphans is urgent." The Holy Epiphany church was a Roman Catholic Church for blacks.
The Oblates were established in 1829 in Baltimore, Maryland. Until coming to Kansas they had reserved their talents for teaching school.
Church history says the group made their way from the railroad depot by ox cart to 22nd and Dakota, site of the first Guardian Angel Orphanage. They were greeted by 14 boys, ages 4 to 16 and two clerics, "living in utter destitution."
The orphanage was located in a rundown two-story frame home sitting on 21 acres of land. The roof leaked and it always seemed to be raining. The rain became an old enemy. Only in the middle was the attic high enough to set up a bedstead, so, two of the sisters had to sleep on the floor.
The boys slept on boards covered with hay and no covering except an old carpet. Since there was no money for food, the sisters solicited vegetables from farmers and donations from Catholics of Leavenworth.
After the Rev. Huhn made arrangements to send the boys to Texas, the Sisters were left without a place to live. However, Bishop Joseph Fink recognized the need of the unselfish and completely dedicated servants of God and offered them, rent free, the story-and-a-half frame building adjoining Holy Epiphany Church. Located at 618 Pottawatomie, the home was said to be one of the oldest in Leavenworth.
During 72 years of service in Leavenworth, the Oblates cared for 2,000 in the two orphanages, one for boys, the other for girls. The Guardian Angel Orphanage continued until 1960 when plans were made to place the children in foster and adoptive homes.
Orphanages, like parochial schools and black parishes were in the process of full integration. The need to care for "destitute" children was no longer "urgent." The Oblate Order of the Sisters of Providence returned to Baltimore having fulfilled the request made of them in 1888.
The above was mostly taken from a story by L. Candy Ruff, Times lifestyles editor, April 17, 1988.
Annie Johnston is a Leavenworth resident and wife of the late J.H. Johnston III, former Times publisher.