Maryknoll Memoirs – A Work in Progress

If you’ve ever looked through the Biographies section on our website, you may have noticed that not all bios are equal. Our recently departed Maryknollers have lengthy bios covering their life and mission in detail, while other Fathers and Brothers can have much shorter bios. (See Father Thomas A. Barry, MM for a particularly short example.)

We don’t update or change these biographies because they are record transcriptions created by Maryknollers following a Father or Brother’s death. They have historic significance, even if they don’t tell the full story. When the Archives received a request about Fr. Thomas Barry’s life, the hard work and research used to recreate his life evolved into a blog post, “Fr. Thomas A. Barry: Life and Legacy in Japan”. It was written to celebrate his life and make his story more accessible to the public.

The life of Fr. John J. Massoth is an expansion of this project, which I hope to continue. Fr. Massoth’s life was tragically cut short, making him the first ordained Maryknoll priest to die. Reflecting on his story, I was inspired by his humility and perseverance. His life serves as testament that everyone has the power to make the world a better place.

John J. Massoth – The Early Years

John James Massoth was born on November 25, 1885 in Piqua, Kansas. He was the son of German immigrants, Heinrich Massoth and Maria Klein. Having Anglicized their names, Henry and Mary married on September 19, 1865 in Lake County, Indiana. Eventually, they relocated to Piqua, Kansas to farm and raise their growing family. John was the second youngest of their 10 children.

The Massoths were a devout Catholic family who, in John’s own words, would “never miss Mass on Sunday”. John and his siblings were enrolled in the local St. Martin’s parochial school to support their Christian education. In an essay titled How I Came to Maryknoll, John credits both his parent and his pastor with setting a good example on living a humble and moral life.

“My mother and father used to emphasize the need of praising God, and honoring Him often by prayer, and that, were we to pray all day, give alms, and do good deeds towards our neighbor, we would only be doing our duty.”

By the time John turned 18, he felt called to become a priest. He discussed his doubts and desire to serve God with his pastor. Through his pastor’s intercession, he was able to enter St. Mary’s College in Kansas. Supported and encouraged by his Jesuit teachers, his time here strengthened his desire to serve God’s will as a priest. When unforeseen circumstances caused him to leave St. Mary’s, he continued studying independently. He remained humble and cautiously optimistic that his dream would endure.

Fr. John Massoth walks through the snow with Bro. Thomas McCann, his spiritual advisor, circa 1918.

Humility and Serious Reflection

John continued to study and live piously for five years. His thoughts were always on his intended vocation and serving God’s will to the best of his abilities. When circumstances improved, he began searching for a Seminary to join. In 1913, he discovered Maryknoll and became curious about foreign missions. He wrote to the Father Superior, James A. Walsh, and received “a very encouraging reply” but decided to enroll in a home Seminary instead. In September 1913, he began his studies at St. Meinrad’s Seminary in Indiana.

The idea of being a missionary stuck with him throughout his course work. Between reading issues of The Field Afar (now Maryknoll Magazine) and his cousin Fr. J. J. Sigstein’s zeal in promoting missions, his thoughts frequently returned to Maryknoll. Bro. John and Fr. James A. Walsh also kept an infrequent correspondence. Years of serious reflection led him to request admission to Maryknoll in the summer of 1915. He was accepted and on October 6, 1915, he arrived at Maryknoll.

Maryknoll, my Maryknoll

Bro. John spent the next two years completing his education between the Seminary at Maryknoll and the Venard Junior Seminary in Clark’s Summit, PA. He was ordained Father John J. Massoth at Maryknoll on June 2, 1917. Fr. Massoth expected he would be assigned to mission overseas in Asia. Instead, he was assigned to teach at the Venard.

The remainder of his time at the Venard is best explained in his biography.

“He soon came to love his new home and work. In the following spring the war in Europe reached its peak. Because of his love for America and his extensive knowledge of French, he made known his wish to become a chaplain in France. Father Walsh, however, thought he would best serve God by remaining at his teaching duties.”

Fr. Massoth continued teaching at the Venard until 1919, when he was overcome by illness.

The Venard Junior Seminary, Clark’s Summit, PA. Circa 1916.

Fr. John Massoth, dressed as Santa Claus, brings holiday cheer to his students at the Venard, 1918.

“Blessed are the Dead who Die in the Lord”

Fr. John was plagued by periods of poor health during his adult life. While it did not stop him from achieving ordination, his difficulties kept him from missioning overseas. In February 1919, he fell ill and was unable to recover. He died at Maryknoll on March 9, 1919. He was only 33 years old and in the second year of his priesthood.

At the request of his parents, Fr. Massoth’s remains were brought home for burial. Fr. Massoth rests in Saint Martin’s Catholic Cemetery, Piqua, Kansas, surrounded by his loving parents and several generations of the Massoth family. Additional pictures of the family’s headstones can be found on Find a Grave.

Interested in learning more about Maryknoll? Do you have a relative associated with Maryknoll?

Their records might also be in the Mission Archives. We would love to help you reconnect with your family’s history.

You can contact the Archives at:
Maryknoll Mission Archives
PO Box 305, Maryknoll, New York 10545
Phone: 914-941-7636
Office hours: 8:30 am-4:00 pm Monday-Friday

Cairns, M. (2023, March 27). Fr. Thomas A. Barry – life and legacy in Japan. Maryknoll Mission Archives.

Deceased fathers and brothers. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 22).

Father John J. Massoth, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 17).

Father Thomas A. Barry, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 16).

Henry Massoth, “United States Census, 1880.” (2022, January 14).

John James Massoth, “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.” FamilySearch. (2021, December 26).

Junior seminaries collection, 1916-1969. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2013).

Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. (2023, July 3). Maryknoll Magazine homepage. Maryknoll Magazine.

OLVM History. Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters. (2020).

RisingSun. (2010, August 2). Fr. John Massoth (1885-1919). Find a Grave.