By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It only looks new. Inside, it is the same Notre Dame de Sion High School, providing the same global-thinking Notre Dame de Sion education that it has brought to Kansas City for 99 years.
And nobody knows that better than Sion Sister Stephanie Schmidts, one of five Sion sisters who came to Kansas City Aug. 24 to celebrate the blessing of the school’s new chapel.
The chapel is just the latest of some $10 million worth of improvements — with some still on the drawing board — that has transformed the lower school on Locust Street in midtown and the high school on Wornall Road in south Kansas City into schools for the 21st century.
It is all part of the “Building on Excellence” campaign that began in 2003.
“It is still a Sion school,” said Sister Stephanie. “The only thing different is that it is now under lay leadership. But they did it. They keep the same mission of the school.”
Sister Stephanie was in Kansas City as the Sion sisters’ representative to the school when lay leaders stepped up after the sisters announced that they could no longer lead the school.
Those leaders presented a plan to the late Bishop John J. Sullivan, who quickly approved it. Instead of closing, the two local Sion schools wrote a new chapter in their history, Sister Stephanie said.
Sister Stephanie saw much of that history first-hand. She began teaching at the elementary school in 1954, and was principal in the early 1960s when the decision was made to build a new Sion High School in south Kansas City.
“The board recognized that the city was moving south, and we needed to separate the high school from the grade school,” she said.
Sister Stephanie moved to the high school in 1965, then served as principal from 1970-83. She remained as sisters’ representative until the lay leaders took charge, she said.
Sister Stephanie joined other Sion sisters, most with ties, memories and their own personal histories with the Kansas City schools, at the chapel dedication.
They were Sisters Mary Ellen Coombe, Audrey Doetzel, Marge Boyle, and Audrey Gerwing.
In his homily at the dedication Mass, Bishop Robert W. Finn praised the special mission of Notre Dame de Sion High School which springs from the Sisters of Sion’s “threefold commitment to the church, to the Jewish people, and to a world of justice, peace and love.”
“Today, Notre Dame de Sion, one of 17 Sion schools worldwide, is Kansas City’s international school and provides students of all faiths and cultures a place where they can succeed in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” Bishop Finn said.
“What does it mean to be a child of Israel?” he asked. “In part, it means that we have become aware of a call from God to be in relationship with him first, as God the Father, and then to acknowledge an irrevocable covenant and the faithful obedience and love that is part of respecting and living out that agreement.”
Bishop Finn also noted that being faithful to God “means being good stewards of his gifts. It means respecting the inviolable value of human life at all its stages and the dignity of every human person.”
“To acknowledge the special grace of Judaism is to recognize that God’s mysterious plan unfolds over time, and often we must wait to fully comprehend his purposes,” he said.
“But nothing, in the end, can impede the power of his mercy and love.”
Speaking to donors and invited guests who filled the small, new chapel, Bishop Finn said it is also fitting that the chapel, as well as the school, honors Mary, Notre Dame de Sion.
“What a model she is to us all, but especially to the young women studying here,” he said.
“Mary is the highest honor of the human race, the most grace-filled and wonderful human person ever created by God,” he said.
“We entrust ourselves to her, asking that she keep us always on a safe and sure path to her son.”