A Knight of the Holy See
In May of 1952 the Most Reverend Mark K. Carroll, Bishop of the of the Diocese of Wichita, made a trip to St. Paul on behalf of the Pope. He was here to convey one of the Catholic Church’s highest honors to a St. Paul resident and St. Francis parishioner.
William Whites Graves was born near Manton, Kentucky, on October 26, 1871. His birthplace was in an area similar to St. Paul, a settling spot for eastern Catholics during the 19th century . In 1881, his parents moved young Will and his siblings to a new Kansas community known for its strong Catholic roots and excellent educational opportunities—Osage Mission.
During the next ten years Graves mingled with the original Jesuit and Loretto missionaries, watched the completion of a large stone church and was educated in the Osage Mission schools. The Graves family was not affluent, and when the superior of the local Jesuit finishing college noticed the boy's intellect and spirit he offered free tuition. Graves seized the opportunity. He graduated from St. Francis Institute for Boys, with honors, in 1891. The experiences of his first ten years at Osage Mission likely played a defining role in the remainder of his life.
Graves described his success in life as a series of opportunities, and how he reacted to them. After completing his education, he had opportunities to work in his father’s store and to teach. He tried both, and then moved on. He wanted to be a printer or journalist. He entered journalism with a short stay at the Fort Scott Lantern; and then a two year assignment with the Pittsburg/Girard World newspapers. While working for the World he became a valued employee of it's editor Abe Steinberger. More importantly, he met Abe’s office manager, Emma Hopkins, and he married her on April 30, 1895.
After the World folded in late 1895, opportunity knocked again. With assistance from a local friend W. W. Graves bought the Osage Mission newspaper, then known as the Neosho County Journal. In 1902, another ‘knock’--and this was a large opportunity! He was asked to bid on starting and publishing a weekly newspaper for a well-respected national vigilance organization. In spite of woefully inadequate printing capacity he put together a compelling proposal and won.
Revenue from the Anti-Horse Thief Association Weekly contract helped Graves build the most modern publishing operation in southeast Kansas. In addition to the A.H.T.A. Weekly, he printed the Kansas Knights of Columbus newspaper and periodicals for other state and local customers. New contracts brought additional revenue and better capabilities.
Improved capacity fed his other passions. Graves loved history and he was a writer. He wrote countless publications and brochures for the A.H.T.A., our church and other organizations. But the work that propelled him to prominence was a series of books he published, or co-published, about the history of southern Kansas, prominent area Catholics and the role the Osage, Jesuits and Loretto’s played in the settlement of Kansas. Many were centered on the Catholic Osage Mission and its staff. In addition to his books, he submitted numerous papers to the Kansas State Historical Society; and he was a founding officer for both the Kansas Catholic Historical Society and an early Neosho County Historical Society.
Our Most Esteemed Citizen.
It was Graves’ life-long dedication to the Church and our history that brought Bishop Carroll to St. Paul on May 31, 1952. At an honors banquet in the school gymnasium, the Bishop was joined by the president of the Kansas State Historical Society, college presidents, local and state press executives, the Chief of the Osage Nation and a group of local friends, farmers and businessmen. Graves was showered with awards and accolades that evening, but one honor stands out:
The Bishop, on behalf of Pope Pius XII, presented W. W Graves with a scroll notifying him he had received the Vatican Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great . This special honor is bestowed upon Roman Catholic men and women in recognition of their personal service to the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church, It is the highest honor possible for a Catholic layperson. In Graves’ case the knighthood recognized his literary contributions to the Church.
On July 22, 1952, William Whites Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack at his home. The obituary on the front page of the St. Paul Journal started: “Death took this community’s most esteemed and honored citizen Tuesday evening.” There is no doubt that he was!
Some Reference Information:
 The Graves ancestors were among many Catholics who fled Maryland to Kentucky during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in search of religious freedom. By today’s travel standards, Manton is minutes from Nerinx, Kentucky, home of the Loretto Motherhouse. It is hard to imagine that Graves did not compare his birthplace with his new home of Osage Mission.
 The scroll and other Vatican documents are on file in the Osage Mission – Neosho County Museum (Graves – Hopkins Collection). The archive also contains the photo of Graves and the newspaper clipping used above.
 W. W. Graves' first wife Emma passed away on July 30, 1936. In October of 1941 he married Suzie Gibbons Graves.
 More information about W. W. Graves is available at: http://www.acatholicmission.org/w-w-graves.html
A Partial List of Graves' Books:
This is the community website for the St. Francis de Hieronymo and St. Ambrose Catholic Churches in Neosho County, Kansas. Both churches are located in the center of the historic nine-county southeast Kansas area. We share one of the richest Catholic Heritages in Southern Kansas and the Four-State Region. For more information about our churches, history, organizations or programs browse our site including its links.