By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Certainly they came to celebrate the 100th “birthday” of a Kansas City landmark as gorgeous today as it was a century ago.
But the crowd that nearly filled the ornate church more recognized by the religious order that serves it than by its official name didn’t come just to celebrate the past.
“Today is a wonderful day. It kicks off the next 100 years,” said Redemptorist Father Brian Johnson, pastor of Redemptorist Parish, formally known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, at the end of the Mass of celebration and thanksgiving for the first 100 years.
Father Johnson was among a dozen of the parish’s former pastors and priests who concelebrated with Bishop Robert W. Finn the milestone Mass on May 12 — exactly 100 years to the day when Kansas City’s second Bishop Thomas Lillis dedicated the brand-new limestone church at Linwood Boulevard and Broadway that would quickly become a city landmark.
Father Johnson remembered the awe he felt when he came to a Redemptorist retreat in Kansas City, not long after the church’s extensive renovation in 2000 — the white marble of the church’s three altars, the blue ceiling, the high stained glass windows.
The church “is a treasure that people for 100 years have shared here,” Father Johnson said. “It has enriched us with the spirit of God as we go out into the world to bring Jesus to the people in our midst.
“Let us keep this parish a strong source of life and service, and positive proof that Jesus is alive and among us,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Finn noted how closely tied the parish has always been to the charism of the Redemptorist order priests and brothers that have served it, and continue to serve it, through its entire history.
“Your ministry of sacramental reconciliation is exemplary, and your outreach to the poor, the elderly and the immigrant engages many of the faithful throughout our area in a dynamic apostolic service,” he said.
Bishop Finn noted that the parish’s ministry of educating the young continues in its sponsorship of Our Lady of the Angels elementary school, and its housing of Cristo Rey High School.
But the bishop said that the Redemptorists would quickly agree that the triumph of 100 years of dynamic service to Kansas City isn’t the work of people, but the work of God through his people, both past and present.
“‘It was not you who chose me,’ Jesus reminds us, ‘but I who chose you,’” Bishop Finn said.
“We are very thankful for those holy souls who have gone before us. What sacrifices they made. What generosity and faith they exercised,” he said.
“Those who built this edifice 100 years ago and those who today are providing for its maintenance and care as well as supporting the continuing apostolates of the parish have said ‘yes’ to God who chose them,” Bishop Finn said.
“Truly, dear friends, we ultimately rejoice not so much in a work of priests or parishioners, but in a work of God, a triumph of Jesus Christ, the redeemer among his people,” he said.
“Yes, God has loved us first,” the bishop said, “and this glorious house is a shrine to your love for God.”
Bishop Finn noted that Kansas City’s famous “pioneer priest,” Father Bernard Donnelly first invited Redemptorist to Kansas City in 1876, four years before the Diocese of Kansas City was established.
They established a house in 1877, broke ground for the landmark church in 1907, and had it ready for dedication though not quite finished on May 12, 1912.
Bishop Lillis consecrated the building that day, Bishop Finn said. But the act of consecration did not end 100 years ago.
“In another way, the church has been made holy over the course of the last 100 years by the life and faith of the people — the living stones of Christ’s church,” he said.
“Here you have brought your babies for Baptism. Children have approached First Communion and been confirmed in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“Husbands and wives have pledged the gift of themselves on their wedding day. Here you have brought your loved ones who have died to be commended to the Lord of Mercies,” Bishop Finn said.
“All these moments are instances of the life-breath of the Holy Spirit among the people of God,” he said.
“Thanks to the responsible stewardship of the intervening genrations, this church, anointed and consecrated to God a century ago, is still beautiful,” Bishop Finn said.
“It inspires prayer and right worship in spirit and in truth,” he said.
“Let us never stop doing good in the name of Jesus,” Bishop Finn said.
“Let us never stop asking Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help, to shelter us under her mantle and to keep us on a right path to her son,” he said.
“Let us never fail to lift high before the world our Most Holy Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and to bear witness to the truth that he has first loved us and offered himself as expiation for our sins,” he said.
“Congratulations, ad multos annos, parishioners and friends of Redemptorist,” Bishop Finn said.