Munjor is one of seven remaining German Villages in Ellis County that were settled by Germans from Russia and Germans from Bukovina in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Visitors to our community will find several “explorer” type of attractions and will enjoy the peaceful and simple feel of our small community. Be sure to make an appointment to visit St. Francis of Assisi Church and see one of the most impressive dark wood altars in our area. When you browse around the church grounds you will notice the impressive architectural features of the limestone buildings nearby, including the monastery and sister’s convent. For more information call 785-628-1970.
Founded - August 1876
Population - 224
Elevation - 1,946 feet
Munjor Improvement District
Box 93 - 893 Main
Munjor, KS 67601
Munjor on Volga German.net
Munjor on GenWeb
Munjor - Legends of Kansas
Munjor - Hometown Locator
Munjor - Places & Names
German Village With Six Names
The origins for the name of the town of Munjor goes back to the German people who established villages along the Volga River in Russia around 1764 to 1768. When the Germans left their homeland and came to settle along the Volga River, they were divided into groups of 100 families and each group was given a leader. Two German speaking Frenchmen with the last name of Monjou became the leaders of two of the groups. The older, Otto de Monjou, became the leader of a Catholic group which settled along the Volga, north of Saratov. The younger Monjou established a colony of Lutherans further south. Both villages were named Monjou, which caused confusion and resulted in the Russian civil authorities to name the northern colony Obermonjou and the southern colony Neidermonjou. Peter Leiker, from Obermonjou, was one of the five men in the scouting party that came to America in 1874 to find a suitable location to establish new German villages in Kansas or Nebraska. When he and many other immigrants (some from the town of Obermonjou, others from the colony of Wittman and Marienthal, and Peter Stoecklein from Gattung) arrived to establish a new place to live in Ellis County, they referred to their settlement as Obermonjou. Often times, these immigrants had difficulty with reading and writing in English, and their German pronunciation of many words provided the only guide English speaking civil authorities had to create legal documents. It is because of these types of translation errors that Munjor had six different spellings at various times:
Obermonchu, Over Mancha, Obermonjour, Over Muncha, Offermoncha and Monjor. Sometime around 1880 to 1882, the name Munjor was finally accepted by the settlers as a shortened practical version of their native Obermonjou.
The founding of Munjor, Kansas
Munjor was founded in August 1876 by Germans immigrants who came from Obermonjour, Russia, a small village along the Volga River. Their ancestors had come from Germany following the end of the Seven Years War and settled along the Volga area at the invitation of Catharine the Great in 1763. A manifesto issued by Catharine invited Germans to settle along this vast steppe region. She promised them land, freedom of self government, freedom from military conscription, religious freedom and several other enticements to encourage them to develop this land and build communities along the Volga River. In 1874, the reigning Czar began to remove the privileges Catharine the Great had promised. The German communities along the Volga formed a scouting party of five men to find out about available land in the United States. In 1875, these men traveled to Kansas and Nebraska and reported back that the farmland was suitable for their needs. In the summer of 1876 a group of colonists left Russia, arrived in New York, and then proceed by train to Topeka, Kansas. They reached Herzog (Victoria) east of Hays in late July. After remaining in Herzog for several days, they moved approximately 2 miles south and 6 miles east to a place near Big Creek. After two months at this location they established the townsite where the town of Munjor now stands. They used whatever they could find to build their first homes that summer including saplings and trees from the nearby creek and prairie sod to help build dugouts and their "Semlinkas" (sod homes). The next year they built a wooden frame structure church that measured 41 feet by 20 feet. Other immigrant groups arrived in Munjor in November 1876, September 1877, and July 1878.
HISTORICAL & ARCHITECTURAL SITES OF INTEREST
Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
883 Moscow St.
Munjor, KS 67601
Construction of the first church in Munjor began in the fall of 1877 and was completed in February 1878. It was originally a wood frame building 41 feet by 20 feet and in 1883, the church was enlarged by adding another 16 feet. During the 1880’s, immigration from Russia continued and the congregation at Munjor grew. In 1889, church members decided it was time to build a new church and they wanted to construct it of native limestone which was abundant in the area. The cornerstone of the current church was laid on Passion Sunday 1889, and by December of that same year, the roof was completed. The church was dedicated by Fr. Francis Wolf, O.M Cap on Trinity Sunday 1890 in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. The church is 105’ long, 49’ wide and 50’ high. The 60’ high tower was designed for a steeple, but due to a lack of funds, the steeple was not completed until 1906. This church and its members were faced with a great tragedy on February 5, 1932, when the church burned. Many of the interior furnishings were saved by the parishioners, but the altars, organ, bells and stained glass were destroyed by the fire. The church was restored with the same appearance it had prior to the fire with the exception of the steeple which was never replaced. On June 3-5, 1946, the windows were replaced and are among some of the finest stained glass windows in Kansas! The church is an active parish with daily and weekend Masses. Daily Masses Tuesday and Thursday 8 am and weekend Masses: Sun - 8 am. The church can be open for tours by calling 785-625-5314.
Saint Francis Monastery
884 Main St.
Munjor, KS 67601
The first priests to serve Munjor came in from Herzog or Hays and it was not until a suitable residence was built that Munjor finally had their own permanent priest. In April 1901, the church committee requested to have a priest with a permanent residency in Munjor, and the Capuchin Father agreed, once a monastery was built that could house a number of friars. On May 26, 1901, it was announced to the parish members the plans to build a monastery, and the very next day the men began to haul stone to build a residence for priests. The building was completed on June 1, 1902 and on August 9th Fr. Chilian and his assistant, Fr. Theodosius, moved into their new home. When you walk around and take a look at this impressive two story building, you will notice the limestone rock is the same rock used for the church, schoolhouse and sisters convent. Over the 50 years the monastery was in use, it was the home for many Capuchin theological students, friars or Capuchin brothers who may have been ill and needed a peaceful and quite place to rebuild their health. The beautiful gardens tended to by the Capuchin friars provided a relaxing and restful place for the priests to tend to their vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The last priest to live in the home was Father Kenan Crowley in 1965. When the arrangements for the school changed in 1967 and the nun’s were no longer affiliated with the parish, they moved out of the sister’s convent and that building then became available for as the parish rectory and a residence for priests.
One interesting fact about the monastery is that it was also used as a brewery by the Capuchin friars. The art of brewing their own homemade beer was a custom the friars had brought with them from their native Bavaria. They converted an old ice house into a brewery cellar and in January 1904 they obtained the necessary equipment and ingredients to start making their own beer. When prohibition came to Kansas in 1917, the brewing at the monastery came to an end.
Munjor, KS 67601
The Sisters of Saint Agnes from Fond du Lac, Wisconson, served the Munjor community and were the teachers at the school from 1885 to 1967. For over 40 years a wood frame building was the residence of the sisters until it became inadequate and the two story stone building that you see today south of the church was completed in September 1930. The sisters moved out of the old convent on October 28, 1929, and temporarily moved into the home of Joseph B. Pfannestiel. The following day, the old convent was torn down and construction began on the new home for the Sisters of St. Agnes. During the 38 years this building was used as the convent, there were 40 different nuns that called it home.
In 1948, the arrangements with the parochial school and the unified school district changed. The nuns continued to teach at the Munjor School, but were now staff of the school district. When USD 489 decided to staff and operate the school as their own elementary school, the nuns discontinued their teaching arrangement, and in May 1967 vacated the convent. This building was then used as a home for the priests. Today the building is used for evening religious education classes for the Munjor children and the parish office is located on the lower level. Visitors are welcome to walk around the grounds of the church, sister’s convent and monastery to notice the detailed workmanship used with the limestone construction.
Munjor, KS 67601
The two story limestone building that is used as the St. Francis Parish Hall served as the Munjor School for many years. In the fall of 1877, a wood frame structure was built to serve as the church. In 1890, when a new church was built (the current St. Francis Church) the wood frame building was left standing and served as the first parish school. The Sisters of Saint Agnes arrived in Munjor in the fall of 1885 to teach and provide religious education for the children. Soon the wood frame school building became overcrowded and with an untiring effort from the nuns and their successful educational programs, the parishioners were convinced to build a new schoolhouse. Justus Bissing from Hays, who was one of the original founders of the town of Catherine, Kansas, designed the school. Construction began in the fall of 1891 and the building was completed on September 28, 1893. Most of the labor was donated by the parishioners and by April 3, 1894, it was ready for the dedication ceremony that took place with Bishop John J. Hennessy. When you walk around the outside of the school building, you will notice it is made of the same native limestone that the church is made from and that was quarried from a site southeast of Munjor.
The school operated as a parochial school until 1948 when the financial burden of supporting the school became too much for the parishioners and it was combined with the Hays school district. The sisters continued to teach the eight elementary grades with the school district providing the salaries for the nuns. This arrangement continued until May 1967, when the district decided to staff and operate the school as one of the USD 489 elementary schools.
In the early 1960s, the school district decided to build a new elementary school. They first had a new gymnasium and cafeteria built and they were completed in 1968 north of the old schoolhouse. In 1974 the classroom sections of the building were added to complete the new Munjor Elementary School.
The St. Francis Parish Hall is used for parish functions, religious education classes, church meetings and community activities.
Munjor Elementary School
Munjor, KS 67601
Prior to when the Munjor Elementary School building became operational in 1974, the two story limestone building at 882 Main was the school house for Munjor children. When the USD 489 school district took over the operations of the eight Munjor elementary grades in 1967, they decided to build a new elementary school with a gymnasium and modern kitchen. The gym and kitchen were completed in 1968 and the addition for classrooms was completed in 1974. The building served grades kindergarten through fourth grade until it was officially closed as an elementary school on September 18, 2006. In February 2009 it became a site for the USD 489 Munjor Early Head Start program. The playground equipment is still maintained and provides the neighborhood children with a nice play area and park facility to enjoy. There are over a dozen play features including 3 slides, several balancing posts, swings, a baseball field and a basketball court.
Today, the building is still used by the parish and it becomes the gathering place for the Munjor community German meal held each year on the first Sunday of March. Over 700 people attend this annual parish fundraiser and enjoy a traditional Ellis County style German meal.
The Munjor Store
887 280th Ave
Munjor, KS 67601
This somewhat ordinary looking building has an interesting history and was a special place to the residents of Munjor because for years it was known as the Munjor Store - the place to buy groceries in Munjor. It was built around 1929 by Alex Schumacher and Alex Leiker and they referred to it as Grandpa Leiker’s Store. Children and grandchildren worked at the store and for years this was the place to buy fresh cream, meat, milk and eggs, candy, cereal, sugar, salt and other essential grocery items. The store also served as the post office for many years. In 1952, Martin Leiker, who was the son of Alex Leiker, took over the store. Martin operated the store for approximately 17 years and after his death Vernie Pfannenstiel, took over the store in February of 1970. Vernie and his wife managed the store through the mid 1980’s before it closed.
In March of 1999, Steve Pfannenstiel, the great-grandson of Alex Leiker, purchased the store to keep it in the family. Steve and his wife Jeanette, in addition to many friends and relatives who helped out, renovated the building and decided to use it as a family gathering place. By Thanksgiving of 2000, the upstairs was ready for the families to celebrate the holiday. Additional outside work was completed and in 2003 the basement was completely gutted and remodeled.
The building is used for many holiday and social gatherings of the Pfannenstiel and Wagner families. Because it is used for many family and community get-togethers, they furnished the facility with tables, chairs, recessed lighting and a kitchen with stoves, sinks, refrigerators and freezers. Arrangements can be made to rent the facility for reunions or other special events associated with families and friends from the community of Munjor.
art & HISTORICAL SITES OF INTEREST
Iron Crosses at Saint Francis Cemetery
S.W. Kazan Street (located southwest of Munjor)
As you stroll through this small country cemetery you will notice the beautiful metal art works that are the iron cross grave markers for many of the early Munjor pioneers. The southeast section of the cemetery has the most iron crosses (44) and is also the location for two of the town’s founders - Peter Stoeckline and Peter Leiker. Iron crosses serving as grave markers are something you typically will find only in cemeteries of Germans from Russia communities. Local blacksmiths and men from the community who were good at working with metal hand crafted these iron crosses. Other towns in Kansas, South Dakota and Nebraska that trace their roots to Germans from Russia also have iron cross grave markers, but the St. Francis Cemetery is unique because there are 12 priests buried at this small parish cemetery. To the west of the crucifixion cross you will see stone markers for the priests and Capuchin Friars that date from 1908 (Fr. Maurus Schebler) to June 5, 1990 (Fr. Leo Leiker O.F.M. Cap)
The first adult death was Agnes Fischer, who died soon after the settlers arrived in 1876. She was crushed to death from a cave-in of sod blocks when they were building their sod home.
Notable facts about the cemetery: June 5, 1898 - Cemetery blessing ceremony. 1954 - Crucifixion cross placed in center of cemetery. 1976 - Stone entrance and iron gates installed. Number of iron cross grave markers – 74.
Probably one of the best known residents of Munjor and the biggest promoter of the Volga Germans of Munjor was Rupert Pfannenstiel. He helped organize the first Oktoberfest held in downtown Hays in the fall of 1973. Those first two years the Oktoberfest celebration was held on 9th and 10th Streets and then because it had had outgrown this location, it was moved to the park on South Main Street. For 22 years Rupert helped with the Oktoberfest and the food booth for Munjor. The Munjor food booth was always known for their wonderful food! He was an avid historian, eager community volunteer and was involved in just about everything. He was longtime member of the Ellis County Volga German Society and served as secretary and treasurer. His passion was promoting the Volga German heritage and he was one of the charter members of the Sunflower Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia when it was formed on December 2, 1979. He was also a charter member of the Munjor Knights of Columbus and served on many boards including the Thomas More Prep-Marian High School board of directors.
Rupert was the former Ellis County treasurer (1950 to 1955) and worked in the life insurance industry until he retired. During retirement he remained active as a farmer and volunteered his time with a variety of community and church projects. He was born on March 7, 1923 and died on May 13, 1996 at the age of 73. He is buried at the St. Francis Parish Cemetery and his grave marker can be found approximately 25’ north and 14 rows east of the main center crucifix (just north and east of Peter Stoeckline’s grave)
Peter Stoeckline was one of the five men in the first scouting group that came from Russia in 1874 to investigate locations in the United States where the Germans from along the Volga River could establish new villages in America. He was also one of the original founders of the town of Munjor in August 1876. Peter Stoeckline was born in Gattung (Zug), Russia on May 20, 1825.
At some point during the mid 1870’s, representatives from the German colonies along the Volga River met and elected five men to act as scouts and travel to the United States. They were to learn about possible locations where the land was suitable for farming, the climate was similar to what they were use to in Russia and the living conditions were favorable to building new homes and communities where they could live among their own people. The five men left from Obermonjou, Russia in 1874 and arrived in New York City. They met a land agent, more then likely someone associated with a railroad company, and traveled by way of Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln and then to Sutton County, Nebraska. They took back with them soil and prairie grass samples and gave a glowing account when they returned back to Russia of what they found out on their trip. Other scouting groups came to America at later dates and checked out land that was available in other areas of Kansas and Arkansas.
When four young German men from Herzog, Russia were drafted into the Russian military on November 24, 1874 – and another 21 from Katharinenstadt were drafted on December 11, 1874, the German villagers along the Volga River knew it was time for them to leave. The first group departed from Katharinenstadt on October 22, 1875. They came by way of Baltimore and then Topeka, Kansas where they spent the winter and later decided upon land in Ellis County to establish their new homes. The family of Peter Stoeckline, his wife and seven children set out on their journey to America in July 1876. They arrived in New York on August 3rd and traveled to Topeka and then to Herzog, Kansas. They stayed in Herzog for several days before moving to the location on Big Creek near where the townsite of Munjor was eventually established. Peter Stoeckline died in Munjor on November 21, 1908 at the age of 83. His grave marker can be viewed at the St. Francis cemetery. It is located approximately 15’ north and 12 rows east of the center crucifixion scene that is toward the center of the cemetery.
He was one of the original founders of the town of Munjor in August 1876. His ancestors were part of the group of Germans who left their homeland following the end of the Seven Years War. From 1763 to 1768 many Germans immigrated to Russia and built villages along the Volga River. They were invited to Russia by Catherine the Great, who was born in Germany and was the leader of Russia at the time. The Empress issued a manifesto on December 4, 1762 and sought to strengthen her empire by having immigrants settle and farm the vast steppe regions of southern Russia and the Ukraine. The first invitation was not effective and a second manifesto was issued on July 22, 1763 with many more enticements to lure potential immigrants. She promised freedom of religion, freedom from military conscription, free land and an exemption from taxation. Catherine’s invitation appealed to the people in the southern provinces of Germany, who had suffered great economic stress and other problems as a result of the Seven Years War.
In 1874, the reigning Czar began to remove the privileges Catherine the Great had promised the Volga Germans. Consequently, the Volga-Germans began to search for a new homeland. In 1875, they sent a scouting party of five men to America to inform themselves of the climate, soil and living conditions suitable for their farming lifestyle. Peter Leiker was one of these men in the scouting party which also included Jacob Ritter from Luzern, Nicholas Schamme of Graf, Peter Stoeckline from Zug and Anton Wasinger of Schoenchen. The five men departed from Obermonjou, Russia, in 1874, arrived in New York and set out for the plains of western Kansas. They found the prospects of life in America and the farmlands favorable and returned to Russia with their report. Encouraged by the accounts of these men, a group of colonists left Russia the following year in1875. They landed in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 23, 1875, and traveled westward as far as Topeka, Kansas. After spending the winter in Topeka, many of the immigrants then arrived in Ellis County in the spring of 1876.
Peter came from Obermonjou, Russia and was born in 1836. He died in Munjor, Kansas in 1927 at the age of 90. His grave marker is located on the east section of the cemetery and you will find it approximately 10 grave markers to the north of the crucifixion scene that is in the center of the cemetery. (75’ north and 2 rows east of the center crucifix)
St. Francis Church German Meal
St. Francis Church Annual German Meal-Munjor Grade School-894 Main-4-7 pm – 785-628-1970
The small village of Munjor, just south and east of Hays, has an active parish community at the St. Francis Church that organizes the annual German Meal. This is a traditional Ellis County style of German feast with roast beef, stewed chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, rolls, dessert and drink. The church members also host a raffle and Country Store. This event is held the on the first Sunday of March and provides the opportunity to enjoy some good food, visit and enjoy the hospitality of the Munjor community. For additional information call 785-625-5314.