A History of Saint Francis

The Reverend Robert Mize Jr., mission priest and son of a bishop, founded Saint Francis Ministries 75 years ago when he opened Saint Francis Boys’ Home in the dilapidated former “Old People’s Home” in Ellsworth, Kansas. Virtually everyone thought he was making a mistake. “Father Bob,” however, believed in redemption. He believed that through daily prayer, accepting responsibility for one’s actions, unconditional love, and forgiveness – what he called Therapy in Christ – anyone could regain their self-worth. Hundreds of Fr. Bob’s boys have attested to this truth by going on to live lives of purpose and wholeness after leaving Saint Francis.

This ethos, that no one is beyond redemption and that everyone deserves healing and hope, has guided Saint Francis and its people following Fr. Bob’s departure in 1960. Much has changed. Some of its work resembles that of other agencies and nonprofit organizations. Yet, unlike them, Saint Francis has always been first and foremost a ministry. Over the years, Saint Francis programs in New York, New Mexico, California, and other places have come and gone. Many others remain. Each was a response to an identified need in a certain time and place. Saint Francis has always been good at that – seeing a need and then moving in to minister to those most at risk. Saint Francis serves wherever called by God.

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  • 1945

    Opening

    Opening

    October 27, 1945
    Opening
    Opened Saint Francis Boys’ Home in the dilapidated former “Old People’s Home” in Ellsworth, Kansas.
  • 1948

    Another home

    Another home

    January 20, 1948
    Another home
    Fr. Bob opened another home near Salina, Kansas.
  • 1959

    Dunbar School

    Dunbar School

    March 10, 1959
    Dunbar School
    Saint Francis purchased the former Dunbar School at 509 E. Elm Street in Salina, to serve as its corporate offices.
  • 1965

    Passport for Adventure

    Passport for Adventure

    May 28, 1965
    Passport for Adventure
    Saint Francis operated residential treatment centers for both boys and girls in New York state, while also establishing Passport for Adventure, a..Read More
  • 1970

    CPA

    CPA

    June 20, 1970
    CPA
    Kansas Licensed CPA
  • 1974

    Accreditation

    Accreditation

    April 15, 1974
    Accreditation
    Saint Francis Academy received accreditation from The Joint Commission and has retained that accreditation every year since. (Pictured: Equestrian Program)
  • 1992

    Mississippi in 1992

    Mississippi in 1992

    March 29, 1992
    Mississippi in 1992
    The ministry opened several programs in Mississippi in 1992.
  • 1997

    Foster Care Homes

    Foster Care Homes

    November 15, 1997
    Foster Care Homes
    Foster Care Homes Program established in Kansas.
  • 2000

    Reintegration

    Reintegration

    May 4, 2000
    Reintegration
    Reintegration/Foster Care Program Provider in western Kansas.
  • 2005

    Adoption Services

    Adoption Services

    November 18, 2005
    Adoption Services
    Added Adoption Services in Kansas.
  • 2008

    Oklahoma

    Oklahoma

    October 5, 2008
    Oklahoma
    Foster Care Program established in Oklahoma.
  • 2014

    Fr. Bobby

    Fr. Bobby

    April 13, 2014
    Fr. Bobby
    Fr. Bobby installed as sixth president.

What follows are a few of the milestones marking the
path of Saint Francis over the last 75 years:

Three years after founding Saint Francis’ Boys’ in Ellsworth, Fr. Bob opened another home near Salina, Kansas. Eventually, this second site would become Salina West, home of Saint Francis’ residential treatment facility. In 1959, Saint Francis purchased the former Dunbar School at 509 E. Elm Street in Salina, to serve as its corporate offices. The move came with a name change – Saint Francis Academy – to reflect the ministry’s increasing emphasis on learning and treatment programs. The site would remain the headquarters of Saint Francis for more than 60 years.

From 1965-1973, Saint Francis operated residential treatment centers for both boys and girls in New York state, while also establishing Passport for Adventure, a wilderness therapy program near Salina. Although none of these programs remain, former staff and youth who were served by them still speak fondly of their experiences in connection with them.

In 1974, Saint Francis Academy received accreditation from The Joint Commission and has retained that accreditation every year since. The ministry opened several programs in Mississippi in 1992, and in 1996-2000, Saint Francis became a family preservation and foster care/reintegration provider in Kansas. During this time, the ministry changed its name to Saint Francis Community Services to reflect its expanded role as a child and family social services provider. In 2008 and 2012, Saint Francis began providing those services in Oklahoma and Nebraska before moving into Texas and Arkansas in 2018-2019. With a significant portion of Saint Francis’ revenue now coming from state contracts, leadership determined that the ministry needed to diversify. In 2016, The Saint Francis Foundation was incorporated to re-engage with philanthropy and build relationships within the wider Episcopal Church.

Over the last several years, Saint Francis has worked to form partnerships, create new programs to serve new areas of need, and added to the ministry’s facilities.

In 2015, Saint Francis dedicated its new state-of-the-art residential treatment facility on the campus of Salina West, and in 2018, it partnered with the Roman Catholic Congregation of St. Joseph to renovate and lease Mount St. Mary’s, the order’s former convent. Serving at-risk children and families in Wichita and Sedgwick County, the building houses administrative offices, mental health services, and the new Saint Francis Migration Ministries, a refugee resettlement program affiliated with Episcopal Migration Ministries. In 2018, Saint Francis also established an office in Washington, D.C., to support its advocacy efforts, and in 2019 received a civil society organization designation by the United Nations.

In 2016, Saint Francis International Ministries began work in Central America, partnering with International Social Service USA and organizations in Honduras and El Salvador. In 2019, it launched the HOPES Project, a justice enterprise initiative to fund social programs in the Salvadoran community of San José Obrero.

What had begun 75 years ago as a ministry to boys has become a ministry proving programs and services to boys and girls, adults with intellectual disabilities, survivors of sex trafficking, refugees from oppression and violence, and at-risk families in six U.S. states and Central America. In 2018, Saint Francis realized a new name was needed to better reflect this new sense of mission and changed its name to Saint Francis Ministries.

In 2020, Saint Francis embarked on a new collaboration, merging with St. John’s Military School in Salina to house residential/outpatient substance abuse treatment programs, education and job training programs, and administrative offices on its 40-acre campus. After 60 years on East Elm Street, Saint Francis Ministries’ corporate headquarters are now located on the St. John’s campus.

The Very Rev. Robert N. Smith, current president, dean, and CEO, says growth is both natural and necessary for a ministry dedicated to the premise that every human person has dignity and worth. It’s what has led and continues to guide Saint Francis into new areas of service.

“We honor people’s dignity and from there, hope can grow from any circumstance,” he says. “It’s the ministry of showing up, the power of presence. I deeply believe that is what Fr. Bob Mize set out to do 75 years ago, and I think that is what we have been committing ourselves to ever since.”