Saint Joseph Catholic Church

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Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Conway, Arkansas, was established as a parish of the Diocese of Little Rock in December 1878.

Many of the first German Catholic families of the parish were attracted by federal land grants offered to immigrants after the American Civil War. Jacob Schichtl arrived with his family at the Markham Hotel at 1314 Oak Street in 1874 and built a log home on the Lewisburg Road near Conway in 1874. In 1876 the families of Edward Lachowsky, James Schneider, John Heber, V. Wurzelback, and H. Rapple arrived in the city. Other families arrived shortly thereafter, including those led by Caspar Dum, Jacob Erbach, Hubbard Grummer, Fredrick Halter, E. Jacob Hiegel, Herman Imboden, Julius Jackquet, Joseph Leinhart, Peter Mayor, Anthony Moix, Phillip Nabholz, Fred Nahlen, Conrad Rumker, Edward Scholl, George Simon, and Theo Thessing.

The diocese attracted the services of a priest for the new German immigrants in May 1878, with the arrival of Reverend Brehm of Canton Urie, Switzerland. Brehm ministered to Catholics in the area, moving from place to place using the new Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. Brehm's ministry extended from Conway to Morrilton, Germantown, and Atkins. He was accompanied by Bernard Mamment, Conrad Rumker, and A. Kehres.

Early masses were held by Brehm at the home of Jacob Schichtl. In 1878 the Holy Ghost Fathers of Zanesville, Ohio, sent a parish group led by Reverend Joseph Strub to Conway. The group arrived by flatboat at the Butterfield Stage Landing on the Arkansas River (near the present location of Toad Suck Lock and Dam). Strub wrote in a letter to his superiors that his intent was to open a mission in Conway: "... I had decided to locate a Holy Ghost Fathers colony at Conway as the center of a Saint Joseph colony. I would serve the Polish colony at Marche, the French colony at Morrilton as I first intended, the German colonies at Conway, St. Vincent and Atkins."

The mission received its first parish priest, Reverend John P. C. L. Welms, in the fall of 1878. He was accompanied by Brother Leo and Brother Genes. The Reverend Brehm, in failing health, returned to Switzerland in 1879. Eighty-five German, French, and Swiss families joined Welms in forming the parish and building a church and rectory. The first Catholic marriage rite, for William Wurzelback and Margaret Heel, was accomplished on December 27, 1878. The first Catholic baptist, of Josephine Schichtl, was performed on November 24, 1878. The first confirmation class was held on April 24, 1881.

It is not known how the parish acquired the site of the present St. Joseph Catholic Church. One source reports that the land was purchased for $50 from the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. The deed to the land, however, was received by local landowner Asa P. Robinson. The original church structure was a 62 by 42 foot frame building with an eighty-foot steeple.


  • Kenneth C. Barnes, trans. and ed., The Guiding Star for the St. Joseph Colony by Joseph Struls (Conway, AR: Faulkner County Historical Society, 1997).

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