Rev. John J. Davern. The Town of Chase and a large community around that center know and appreciate Father Davern not only as a zealous priest and pastor of St. Mary’s Church but as a man indefatigable in every good cause and a leader in every movement that reflects the enlightened spirit of his community.
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Father Davern came to Kansas about eight years ago fresh from his studies and ordination as a priest back in Ireland. He was born in County Limerick July 24, 1883. He received his early training in the local schools and for four years took the intermediate preparatory and classical courses at Blackrock Academy. He then entered St. Patrick’s College in Carlow, Ireland, and pursued his course in philosophy and theology for six years, being graduated in 1908. He was ordained June 14th of that year and said his first mass at Presentation Convent in Carlow. One of his classmates was De Valera, a prominent leader in the Sein Fein movement in Ireland.
September 12, 1908, Father Davern arrived in the United States and spent his first three months in Wichita as chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph. January 17, 1909, he arrived at Chase as the first resident priest of St. Mary’s Church. He found the church building unfinished, and there was no rectory for his residence. He at once entered upon his task with a zeal and devotion that are unusual even in this religious sect. He inspired his parishioners to sympathy and co-operation with his aims and purposes. The church was completed in 1909, and his parish had now grown to comprise 500 members. His parish covers forty square miles, and extends to include Little River and McPherson. When he first came here Father Davern traveled about over the parish on horseback but had progressed to the point where he now covers the territory in a third of the time with a six-cylinder Reo car. In the meantime a great deal had been done in a material way, and he had a church, a rectory, a cemetery, and his immediate ambition is the establishment of a parochial school.
Father Davern is a member of the executive board of the Red Cross, had from the first been an ardent supporter of that movement and was largely instrumental in establishing a Red Cross at Chase. Besides his work in that community he erected the Mission Church at Little River and rebuilt the chapel at McPherson.
Father Davern on coming to Rice County was strongly impressed by the unending prairies and the magnificence of the future possibilities of the country. Arriving a stranger to everybody, he had made himself a friend to everyone without regard to creed or affiliations, had taken his ministrations to the sick and needy, and is always the first to promote any cause in which public welfare is concerned. In politics he affiliates with the democratic party and is a member of Ellinwood Council No. 1187 Knights of Columbus of St. Joseph’s Church.
Father Davern comes of an old family of County Limerick, where the name had been known for 360 years. Through all these centuries there is an unbroken record of the family’s participation in farming, while various members have filled places in the professions. His father, Edmond Davern, was born in County Limerick in 1842 and is now living there a retired farmer. The name Edmond Davern is by no means unknown to remote parishes and districts of Ireland. He had been a real leader of the people and had acted upon his convictions in spite of long terms of imprisonment and frequent eviction from his property. A determined opponent of the institution of landlordism, he deserves credit for the part which secured the abolition of that hated instrument of oppression. He is a strong supporter of the United Irish League, and is a true Irish patriot. Edmond Davern married Elizabeth Condon, who was born in County Tipperary in 1844. They had a family of nine children, Father Davern being the seventh in order of birth. He was the only one who took the priestly orders. The oldest of the children, Mrs. Kathleen Joyce, lives at Perth, Australia, where her husband is in business. The daughter Mary died unmarried at the age of twenty-four. Nora, also living at Perth, Australia, is the widow of John Whitlock, who was a sea captain. Elizabeth married Patrick Callanan, a farmer in County Limerick. Agnes is a Catholic sister and is now acting as a nurse in France. Joseph is on the old homestead in County Limerick. Edmond, who was the next younger after Father Davern, is a captain of artillery and for the past two years had been battling the Germans on the western front. The youngest child, Theresa, is still at home with her parents.
Father Davern had a most faithful housekeeper, of whom some record should be made. She is Mary Phelan, who married William Sumner. Mr. Sumner was a clerk in Ellsworth and later in Leavenworth. Mary Phelan was born at Stratford, Ontario, Canada, daughter of Dennis Phelan. Her father was a notable character in this section of Kansas. Born in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1820, he came to Canada with his parents in 1831, the family locating at Stratford, Ontario. In 1873 Dennis Phelan came to Holyrood, Kansas, and was one of the first pioneers to settle in Ellsworth County. He homesteaded eighty acres adjoining Holyrood, and that town is now built over a part of his original home. He was a very prosperous and hard working farmer and at one time owned nearly 2,000 acres of land. This land he divided among his children before his death. Dennis Phelan passed away at Holyrood March 22, 1902. He was a democrat and an active member of the Catholic Church. He married Mary Ann Kieley, who was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1824 and died at Holyrood on March 22, 1902, the same day as her husband. Mary Phelan was a child when she came with her parents to Kansas and she grew up here when Indians and buffaloes were still numerous on the prairies.