PONZIGLIONE, Paolo Maria (1818-1900)
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Italian nobleman; Jesuit missionary popularly hailed as The Jesuit Trail Rider.
ALS – Three autograph Letters Signed with original mailing envelopes, all addressed to his mother The Countess Luigia Ferrero Ponziglione di Borgo d’Ales written from the Osage Mission-Neosho County, Kansas.
Count Paul Mary Ponziglione was born in Cherasco, Piedmont, Italy on February 11, 1818. He was of noble descent on both sides of his family. He was educated as a nobleman but in 1839 he abandoned royalty and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Chieri, near Turin. He was ordained in 1848 and during the revolution of that year he was injured by an angry mob and briefly imprisoned. That same year, while visiting superiors in Rome, he discussed the missionary territories in Missouri. He subsequently departed from France for the American West. He spent two years near St. Louis and at Bardstown, KY. In 1851 he traveled with Bishop Miege to Osage Mission where he spent the next 38 years working with the Indians and white settlers. During his time at Osage Mission he established more than 90 mission stations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Much of this work was done from horseback or his covered “ambulance”. He also played an important role in assisting Father John Schoenmakers with Mission business. Fr. Ponziglione oversaw the Mission during a turbulent period of the Civil War when Fr. Schoenmakers was forced into exile for several months. In recognition of his great contributions to the State of Kansas, an oil portrait was commissioned that hangs in the Kansas Historical Society.
Father Paul and the other early Jesuit and Loretto missionaries at Osage Mission watched Kansas develop from vast grassland into a landscape of bustling communities. But Father Ponziglione and his colleagues also contributed to Kansas’ growth by founding mission stations, several of which matured into churches. During the early 1880’s he played an important role in securing funds for our own new stone church. He also assumed a more active local role in running our schools and the church. In 1889 he celebrated his jubilee in that church—one of his final acts in Kansas. In August of 1889, Fr. Paul left his beloved Osage Mission for Marquette College and never returned.His stay at Marquette lasted only seven months. In the spring of 1890, at age 72, he returned to the prairie—this time at St. Stephen’s Mission in central Wyoming. The founding priest needed the assistance of Father Paul’s missionary experience. During Father Ponziglione’s 21 months at St. Stephen’s he also served missions at Lander and Fort Washakie.
After completing his Wyoming work Father Ponziglione was sent to St. Ignatius College, Chicago. There, he simply switched his missionary labors from prairie trails to interurban streets. In 1892 he founded the Guardian Angel Italian Mission for desperately poor inner city Italians. He served as the historian for the college and chaplain of St. Joseph’s Home for the Deaf where he organized a sodality. He was also the Catholic chaplain among the inmates at Bridewell Prison. In March of 1900 he wrote one of the last entries in his voluminous life’s work of journals: “March 18 Sunday, this morning I had Mass at Bridewell.” On March 28, 1900 the legendary Jesuit circuit rider died of bronchial pneumonia. He is buried at Cavalry Cemetery in Chicago.