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A History of the Parish
This is a story of the little country parish which made good in the city—
In 1925 when the Frank P. Walsh family began to work on their idea for a parish to serve the rural Hickman Mills and Grandview communities, the proposed setting for a church was a cow pasture. In 1975, its original boundaries contained approximately 10% of the Catholic population within the city limits of Kansas City, MO.With the sanction of Most Reverend Thomas F. Lillis, St. Catherine’s Parish at Hickman Mills was founded in the fall of the year 1925. It was largely because of the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Walsh that the parish was started. Through their labors and with the assistance of Tom Mullins, the necessary information as to the need of a parish in this locale had been obtained. Then the Walsh family offered the use of their home for religious services until a permanent church could be erected.
The history of the parish from that time, when there were thirty-five known Catholics in the area until the present, is one of consistent and, at times, very rapid, growth and development. At the peak of its size, in 1965 , the congregation numbered over fourteen hundred and eighty (1480) families.
Father Thomas F. Kane was appointed the first pastor and on November 22, 1925, the first Mass was offered on the feast of St. Cecilia with fifty-eight persons in attendance. Among this original group was Mr. William (Bill) Ceule and Julia Ceule. The altar was set up in the living room of the Walsh residence, located on the west side of Grandview Road, at about 108th. Mass was offered there for thirteen months and confessions were heard in the dining room.
During 1926 the first permanent church and rectory were built. The combined building was a frame structure which faced Grandview Road between 105th and 106th Streets and had a circular drive which entered and exited on Grandview Road. The idea is the style of the building was obtained from a Catholic chapel in Virginia where George Washington had once attended. On Christmas day, in the year 1926, the first Mass was offered in this new church.
In October of 1931, Father M. J. Ahern was appointed pastor. He was succeeded by the Reverend James P. Nichol who made arrangements for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth to come out every Sunday morning to teach catechism in a Sunday school.
It was also during Msgr. Nichol’s pastorate that the parish began to establish a reputation for wonderful dinners. So many people in the Kansas City area—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—attended the dinners which were served once or twice a year, usually in conjunction with a bazaar or carnival. It is interesting to note that as far back as 1934, dinners were being served on St. Catherine’s lawn; they became a regular summer affair through 1960. Some were held on the grounds of what was then the Automobile Club on 100th Street between Grandview Road and Jackson. In those years, in the fall months it was usually a ham or a beef dinner served along with a bazaar.
Father Brooks J. Hale followed Monsignor Nichol as pastor. It was during Father Hale’s pastorate that the first of several remodelings of the original building was done. The basement was excavated during 1941 and this hall served the parish for many years for meetings and the dinners. Upon the completion of the hall, work was immediately begun on the addition of a new rectory on the north side of the church so that the old parish house, which was on the south side, might be remodeled for a Sisters’ convent in anticipation of a school. On September 7, 1942, which was Labor Day that year, His Excellency, Bishop Edwin V. O’Hara, then Bishop of the Diocese, blessed the new buildings and reblessed the original ones. On the following day the first classes in St. Catherine’s school assembled—forty-two pupils in all. The original faculty consisted of Sister M. Candida, the superior; Sister M. Anthony, Sister M. Carissima, and Sister M. Anne Isabelle, all members of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Mother house is in Dubuque, Iowa.
As Hickman Mills and Grandview became just suburbs of Kansas City, families moved out from the city and St. Catherine’s school attendance grew proportionately until during the 1946-47 term there were just too many students for the three small rooms which were nestled in between the convent and the church. The outcome of a meeting of the men of the parish to discuss the situation was that plans were drawn up for the construction of a new school building. This structure is the original portion of the school. It was eventually expanded to make more room and included a health room, faculty room, library and offices. At its height, the student enrollment which was twelve hundred and fifty-five students.
It was with the opening of the fall term, in September 1948, that this new building was opened for use with approximately 80 children coming daily to receive the benefits of a parochial school education.
For nine years, Father Hale served as the pastor of St. Catherine’s, from December 1940, until he was forced to retire in 1949 because of ill health. He had endeared himself to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the vicinity of Hickman Mills, Belton, and Grandview.
Then in February 1949, Bishop O’Hara appointed the Rev. Joseph Ruysser as pastor of the parish. Father Ruysser had been ordained to the priesthood in 1943 and had served as an assistant priest at St. Peter’s parish for six years, his only assignment prior to coming to St. Catherine’s where he served for twenty-seven years. From the time of Father Ruysser’s arrival, St. Catherine’s experienced a steady and almost phenomenal growth. It carried on an almost constant building program with additions to the school, the erection of a rectory, a convent for the Sisters, the Church building adjoined to the school which is now the Parish Hall and gymnasium, and finally, the beautiful Church in which the first Mass was offered on December 8, 1974.
As a means of financing such ambitious financial programs, for many years the parish depended upon and obtained an appreciable amount of help from several, and usually annual, social projects which attracted people from all over the greater Kansas City area. There were auctions at which the items for sale ranged from “white elephants” to pure bred cattle. There were summer carnivals with booths and games, and the chicken dinners which were a real drawing card, although they were a tremendous culinary undertaking for the comparatively small group of workers. During the earliest years the chickens were cooked by the ladies in their individual homes and then brought to the church grounds at staggered times. At one period the chickens were even raised, killed, dressed and cut up by parishioners and then deep fried in huge kettles in the basement kitchen of the school—sometimes this was literally a very hot job. Then came the roast beef dinners which were often considered, more or less, a male undertaking.
The parish has been much stressed in recent years but it has been an integral part of St. Catherine’s history. The close-knit cooperation, everyone working together, under the guidance of enthusiastic and energetic pastors fostered this relationship which has remained as a characteristic of the parish and for which it has been recognized throughout the diocese.
In this spirit and with confidence in the ability to accomplish any financial necessity, early in 1954, it was determined that the increase in the parish size as so many new families were moving to the suburbs, called for the erection of an addition for the school. (The original plot of land to which the church held title was 200 feet in width and 900 feet in length, that is north to south on Grandview Road.) In 1953 the Bowen family, who later developed St. Catherine’s Gardens, donated five acres which adjoined this property. This eventually became the athletic field, Bowen Field. Four classrooms, restrooms, an office, and storage rooms, gymnasium and parish hall all built adjoining the existing building on the south. This time it was Archbishop O’Hara who blessed the addition on Sunday, January 9, 1955, and the mind of the parish turned to the next project.
The next undertaking was to be a rectory. The Sisters in their quarters to the south of the Church and the priests in theirs, to the north, were all living in space which they had outgrown years previously so the decision was made to build a new parish house. Then the entire living space surrounding the church on either side and across the back could be remodeled for the convent. The priests now had their own home which is on the corner of 106th Terrace and Grandview Road.
But, even as this building project was proceeding the size of the parish seemed to increase almost daily. Each Sunday the Masses appeared to become more crowded. New schedules were arranged to provide more Sunday Masses, but, in the spring of 1956, the Church Committee and the pastor decided that the time had come to undertake the building of a new church. It was decided that this church should be built to adjoin the school, along architectural lines which would later allow it to be converted into a gymnasium. The location of the original little church building on Grandview Road was always considered the ideal location for the House of the Lord, but since the Sisters were occupying the larger area of the structure, it could not then be torn down.
A financial campaign for $20,000 (the largest attempted by St. Catherine’s until that time) was launched in March of 1956 and construction work was begun shortly thereafter. Dedicated on December 23, 1956, by the Bishop John Cody of Chicago, the building had a seating capacity of 600 people. On Christmas Day, 1956, the first Mass was offered.
The remainder of 1957 brought continued growth and change to the parish but the event of that year which will always be remembered and most affected parishioners was the tornado which struck in May. The Ruskin Heights area housed a considerable percentage of St. Catherine’s members at that time and many of these, as well as others in neighboring areas found themselves homeless the morning after the tragedy struck. The assistance of all types which was offered and the cooperation of the people in the area, Catholic and non-Catholic, helped to get these victims back on their feet in a minimum of time and had a pronounced effect on the community spirit. Meals were prepared and sentfrom the Church hall for the residents and workers in the area. Clothing, furniture, and money were collected and distributed. For many weeks all forces of the parish rallied to the cause and soon the community had settled back to normal.
Late that same year (1957) the people of the parish were delighted at the news that their pastor had been elevated by Pope Pius XII to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. It was a common feeling that is was a well-deserved honor for one who had labored so hard and with such zeal on behalf of this parish as well as for several diocesan projects.
In 1958 still more classrooms had to be added to the school to accommodate the growing enrollment and this time the direction had to be up and down. The number of class rooms was doubled. Eight rooms were built to form a second floor on the north side of the structure. They were completed in December of that year and dedicated in April of 1959 by Bishop Cody.
The year 1961 saw plans finalized and construction started on a beautiful brick convent for the Sisters who had devoted so much of their lives to St. Catherine’s parish and her children. The Sisters moved into the new home in August 1962, located on 105th Terrace just west of Grandview Road. It was Bishop Charles H. Helmsing who blessed the building in a private ceremony in December.
During 1963 and 1964 more school rooms were constructed in the parish hall, the convent and in the basement of the school building until, at its peak, there were 25 classrooms in use, staffed by twelve Sisters and fourteen lay teachers, and, as noted earlier, attended by 1255 students.
But the people of St. Catherine’s were not content with endeavoring to provide the best in elementary school education for their boys and girls; they have always had a deep concern about the higher education of their young people, too. Since the inception of the Diocesan Expansion Fund, they have pledged and contributed sizeable amounts to these Diocesan funds which, in the south Kansas City area, have been expended to a large extent in the establishment, building, and support of O’Hara High School. Here a large portion of the boys and girls graduating from St. Catherine’s went to their secondary school education, as well as, some to Rockhurst, St. Teresa’s and Hogan.
Then, in the early summer of 1965, Bishop Helmsing announced that he was establishing three new parishes within the territorial limits of St. Catherine’s parish. Such a division had never occurred before in the history of the diocese. These new parishes became St. John Francis Regis, St. Matthew the Apostle, and St. Thomas More Churches. It should be noted further that parts or all of the areas which are now included in the parishes of Coronation of Our Lady in Grandview, St. Sabina in Belton, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Christ the King, Kansas City, were also originally served by St. Catherine’s.
Now the spirit, the determination of the little country church shone forth again—she was not going to revert to being a little church again for very long. Despite the dramatic reduction in size brought about by the boundary changes, the number of families rapidly added up again and it wasn’t very long before her people began to plan anew—this time for the biggest, most ambitious project of all. This time it would be to replace the existing Church with as fitting a church as they could provide and it would be located back on Grandview Road where the original building stood. This would also release the interim Church building to provide recreational facilities for the young people and for all of theparish. Such facilities had long been needed, and, through the years, in conjunction with the diocesan drives, St. Catherine’s had also been developing her own building fund.
This latest and biggest project for the parish, however, was not to be as quickly and as easily accomplished as most of the earlier ones. At first there was a moratorium declared on new building within the diocese and there was nothing to do but to wait and hope. Finally in November of 1972 proposed plans for the new structure were submitted by the architect, John Quinn. Between the years 1966 and 1972 the parishioners had deposited with the Diocese the sum of $380,000.00 for the new church. To show their community spirit the parishioners donated $100,000 to help St. Joseph Church at 16th and Paseo. It was Bishop Helmsing’s decision to submit the question to the members of the parish since they had contributed the funds which would be used for the new church. A vote was taken in June 1973, and the result was a definite “go-ahead” for the new structure.
In August 1973 detailed drawings for the new church building were prepared and a final campaign to raise the needed remaining funds was launched in December of 1973 after a ground breaking ceremony in November. The edifice complete would cost nearly $500,000.
It was in the midst of this trying period also that the Sisters of Charity, B.V.M., beset as had been practically every other religious order with a decline in numbers of their members, regretfully announced that they felt obliged to withdraw from the parish school at the close of the spring term in 1974. This decision had a particularly hard impact on the people and, in an effort to smooth the transition, Bishop Helmsing gave a memorable sermon on Reconciliation in April of 1974.
With the very much regretted departure of the Sisters from the parish school after the close of the spring term in 1974, the former convent stood empty for a while. Then the Greater Kansa City Foundation for Retarded Children rented the facility as a residence for students who were attending school in a building on 100th Street, just east of Grandview Road.
During the summer of 1974 the worshippers in the former Church were delighted to see the beautiful stained glass window of Christ in
the Garden dismantled and moved to the new Church. Now it would help in the move; it had certainly eased the change from the little white chapel and was the principal reminder left of that first structure. But now it gleams in the morning sun as it faces the east for the first time. The Gethsemane window had faced west in the first two parish churches where the people of St. Catherine’s had worshipped.
On December 8, 1974, the new Church, with seating capacity of 850 was opened and the first Mass offered. In June of 1975 the solemn dedication took place with Bishop Helmsing in attendance.
The former church is now St. Catherine’s Hall; in October of 1975 remodeling was completed to provide a gymnasium for the use of the entire parish, certainly a welcome and needed facility for our school and parish children.
Challenging times prevailed in the later 1970’s and early 1980’s. A fire was discovered in the school about 6:00 a.m. on June 29, 1980. It destroyed a storage room and two classrooms and seriously damaged the electrical system. The damage was approximately $75,000. This was the third fire that year in the school. All were suspected to be arson.
So there were two months to clean-up, re-new, paint and whatever else was needed to put St Catherine’s School right for the 1980-81 school year. By this time Father Tom Ward had been named as the new pastor of St. Catherine’s. The spirit of St. Catherine’s rose to meet yet again another challenge. The parish was truly blessed to have Bob Mackay on staff at that time caring for the building and grounds. Between Father Ward, Bob Mackay and other dedicated men of the parish, the school was ready to welcome its students in a timely manner for the 1980-81 school year.
The consolidation of the school was also taking place during this period. The parishes of St. Catherine of Siena, Coronation of Our Lady in Grandview and St. Matthew the Apostle Parish were the first three member parishes involved in the consolidation. Later on St. Sabina Parish in Belton joined in this consolidation effort.
In the very early 1980’s, the residents from the Kansas City Foundation for Retarded Children moved to other accommodations leaving the former convent building empty. It was at this time that the opportunity to remodel this building into parish offices, meeting rooms and one wing dedicated to the priest’s residence took hold. The men of St. Catherine’s put so much of their time and energy into this renovation. They gave this building new life and the people of the parish have enjoyed the extra spaces to use for meetings, funeral dinners, staff offices. The Spirit of St. Catherine certainly rose to the occasion to inspire all who gave so much of themselves in this endeavor. The priest moved in to the new facility in April of 1983 and the parish staff moved all their records, office machines, etc., in May of that same year.
The former rectory was then made available for rental of living space to Sisters who were working in the diocese. This arrangement changed in the late 1980’s as the activity in the Parish Life Center was increasing. The priests did need to reclaim the original rectory in order to provide them privacy. Some remodeling was done on the building and Father John Tulipana, pastor, and Father John Coleman took up residency there.
Sometime in 1990 men of the parish undertook the project of building a prayer garden just south of the entrance to the church. It was dedicated on April 28, 1991 as we gathered as a parish to celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. It was the Shrine of the Holy Family Prayer Garden and is used for those looking for quiet space out of doors, wedding pictures, First Communion pictures. It is a lovely place to come for quiet, for prayer, no matter the season.
In 2007 we renovated our church, making it handicap accessible, installing a baptismal font and new flooring. expanding the music area, commissioning a new crucifix, brightening up the space by adding new lighting, adding glass to the entrance, adding new lghting and opening up the skylight behind the altar.
And in 2009, after 67 years of teaching our children, Our Lady of Peace School closed its doors.
And our history continues by the grace and goodness of God…