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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 lighting 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…
17 thoughts on “History”
I enjoyed reading the history.My family was not Catholic but from 1958-1962 we live in the house at 4111 106th Terr. across from the rectory.I had many childhood friends who attended the school.I remember the many festivals that were held at the school.Reading the history brought back many memories.
Some of the best years of my life were spent at St. Catherines. The sisters were wonderful and I will never forget them-a couple of years ago I located St. Mary Charles Marie and Sister Mary James Ella-I had to thank them and tell them what a wonderful effect they had on my life-however it was alittle sad to find out they no longer wore those oh so glorious habits and they no longer used the names I was so fond of but had taken their original names back. I feel so sorry that most of the children of this generation will never experience the wonder that many of us experienced at St. Catherine’s. Monsignor Ruysser and the sister’s made us feel like we could accomplish anything and we believed them because-well just because……Maybe those in charge will realize what a gift they let go and once again children will seek out and recognize the sisters as the very special brides of Christ.
I attended St. Catherine’s for all eight years of my elementary education from 1954 to 1962. I remember all of the building expansion from the four room school with dirt playground to the building of the sisters’ convent. Most of all I remember the wonderful faculty and priests who, as Cathleen said, taught you to believe in yourself and in the great faith handed down to us from our parents and the efforts of the first parish families. The Cortervilles (sp?) ran the bus service. The Ceules had their farm. We competed to be altar boys under Sr. Mary Charles Marie’s instruction. It was a golden time and the parish has an incredibly blessed and rich history of which I am grateful to be a part.
I attended St. Catherine’s from 1948 and graduated in 1957. The Athletic Banquet the evening of May 20 was our last day at school because of the tornado. Stan Cramer and I saw it coming after we rolled up the windows on his Dad’s car and we warned everybody. We were glad it missed us but many were less fortunate.
We all learned a lot from the Sisters and Father Ruysser. I will always be grateful for a Catholic education and the values associated with our faith. It was a great school with so many wonderful memories.
I attended St. Catherine’s grades 1-8, 1959-1967, when the parking lot was our playground. I have many fond memories from those years and have maintained life-long friendships with a couple of my classmates. We were part of a large portion of St. Catherine’s graduates who continued on to O’Hara to be the 3rd graduating class. I am sorry to know that it was necessary to close the school. It was 2 of my teachers at St. Catherine’s, Mrs. Evjen and Mrs. Menshouse, who inspired me to later become a teacher, the profession I just retired from after 37 years.
Hi Rhea. It’s Judee Schumacher Pronovost who used to share your bus stop. We lived on 108th Terrace and moved to California in August of 1962 where I continued in Catholic school and later became a teacher at St. Anthony’s, Gardena. Nice to see a post from you.
I too attented St. Catherine’s. The same classes, experiences and and friendships. I remember the tornado in 1967–it was an immediate end of school and being among classmates of seven years. Never to be forgotten.
I served daily mass for Father Russell for many years in the early 50’s. Graduated from grade school in ’54. My Dad Ralph helped with remodeling the inside of the convent for the sister’s and in those early 50’s Mom would drive the Sisters for their shopping
I was Baptised at Christ The King Church. Firat comunion & Conformation at St. Cathy’s By then “Bishop Cody.” We moved to Stratford Estates and in 1956, began 1st. grade through 8th. at St. Catherines. Back then there were no Saturday Mass’s. So in the gym/Church, we had 6,7,8,9,10,11,12, & 5: pm Mass’s. Rt. Rev. Monsgr. Ruysser had two other Priest to help. The nun’s were not just our teachers, but came to our house for T-Bone’s, Baked Potato’s & salid once a year. My folks, John Kemper Storms Sr. & Marilyn A. Storms were the school’s girls Volly Ball & Softball coaches. I won’t go into all I did before I became a religious Brother and taught in a boy’s school in MN. I became ill and had to retire to a warmer State. I am now 71 and living 60 mi. N/E of New Orleans. I went through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Still here, slower though, with one leg & in a power-chair. One other thing. Sr. Mary Charles Marie was my 5th grade teacher. But “she and my mother went to Glennon girls Catholic High school in N/E KC.” I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they phoned each other.
Loved discovering this site and reading this wonderful history and the comments of students who went to school there! My brother Mike Mussetto and I (Nancy) attended school there from 1956 to 1959. My mother, Mrs. Argatha Mussetto taught grade school there and all three of us would walk to school each day from our home at 3706 East 106th Street. My dad was a young Captain in the Air Force and was assigned to Richards Gebaur Air Force Base. Before buying the house near St Catherine’s, my parents were planning on buying another home nearby. During that tornado, that home was leveled to the ground! We considered ourselves so very fortunate to have escaped that tragedy. I recall that my best friend was Frances Harrison. I seem to recall a young boy named Steve and another close friend named Vicky Harmon, but unfortunately I cannot recall the names of others.
Today I turn 70. Looking back on the importance of St. Catherines in my life makes me smile.i attended school there in 1st and 2nd grades. The plaid uniforms, wearing Chapel veils in church were all a part of the experience. As the oldest in a family of 7 children, a number of my siblings were baptized there. My First Communion in a pretty white dress and veil. All 5 of us wore it for our big day. My family had a series of pictures of our large Communion class photos. Later one of my daughters was also baptized there. Throughout it all, the stained glass window of Christ has shown down on us giving us strength and hope. The music filling our hearts with strength. St. Catherines has always been there for me as a part of my life which will not soon be forgotten. After 70 years, you will never be replaced in my heart. I love you and will miss you terribly. The pain of losing you will fade, because with God, all things are possible.
I have a lot of memories at St Catherine’s I was baptized there in December of 1984. I had parish school of Religion from Kindergarten through fifth grade because I started off in public school. I made my first communion there in May of 1993. From Sixth to eighth grade I went to Our Lady of Peace School or OLOP as it was called on the campus of St Catherine’s graduating in the class of 1999. I was confirmed there in 2001 when I was 17. I grew up in the parish and my dad was buried out of the parish in2014. I was married to the love of my life at St Catherine’s on June 11 2022. I had a picture taken in the grotto for my first communion and last year had wedding pictures taken in the grotto as well in addition to my other wedding pictures.
Truly, it was a special time for all of us that attended grade school and Mass.
I think we all miss the Sisters and Father Ruysser and Father Lynch. I hope that recent revival in the east spreads to other young people and that many will again value Catholic education. I know I learned a lot at Saint Catherine’s.
My family moved to St Catherine’s in 1955. All seven of the kids kids graduated from the grade school from 1957 thru 1979.Mom & dad were very active in the church , that was back when they had a ladies auxiliary for every male organization , e.g. , Holy Name Society. Somebody mentioned May 20 th 1957; I was at the banquet . I put in a little magic show during dinner. I always regretted not getting to eat my strawberry shortcake before we headed to the SW corner of the church basement and father Ruysser led us in the rosary. No more school that year. I lost a fellow cub scout baseball player who lived in Ruskin ; last name Yost..
We started at the second church on Grandview Rd.
The pews had doors. I remember , as an altar boy, serving morning mass at 6:15 for the nuns, ( You got that job if you were outta line in school ; I had it a lot) Mom and dad weren’t too happy about getting up at 5:00AM to get me there .I fell asleep kneeling at the bottom of the altar more than once . The first pew was close enough to the bottom of the altar that the nuns could easily tug on my cassock and wake me.
I loved all the parish activities;l. The education was excellent ; history may have been a little stilted ; it was for sure ,
Great memories, good relationships,
Good to see your thoughts. I had forgotten your skit at our athletic banquet on May 20. I graduated that year. I remember also you and your sister Mary Agnes from CYO.
What does Saint Catherine’s and Our Lady of Peace mean to my family? Though it is very sad that the church and the school have closed. The memory of them both will not be forgotten. My family moved in here in 1988 and all 5 of my children attended school there. After their mother died in a car wreck in 2005 the Our Lady of Peace school teachers brought dinner to us as a family once a week every Sunday night. With plenty of leftovers through the week. They were so very nice. Many parents helped us with rides to practices and games. The area was like living in Mayberry from TV, a truly loving & caring community. We’ve had many sacraments performed at the church and many fun times there as well. To all our friends we say thank you. May God bless you all as members of St Catherine’s.
With our love,
Chris, Adam, David, Eric, Luke & Jessica Korth.
You all are in my prayers today. I worked at St. Catherine’s from 1983 to 1991. It was my first parish ministry position, moving from teaching, and I learned so much from you and from my fellow staff members. The friendliness of the parish amazed me, coming from a rural area and expecting “city people” to be different. Good things happened there — we have to keep that goodness in our hearts when the holy ground is no longer ours.
Sr. Mary Jo Polak, OSB