By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Father Gregory Lockwood, pastoral administrator of Christ the King Parish, made a sad and saddening announcement in early April. Christ the King School, for more than 60 years an anchor on the southwest side of Waldo, would close at the end of this school year. There simply weren’t enough students enrolled for the following year to enable the school to remain open.
Christ the King Parish was founded September 1938. When founding pastor Father Thomas J. Connelly took a census of the Catholic families living within the proposed boundaries of the new parish, he found 17. It was a beginning.
Within a few weeks, the parish was moved from the southeastern Waldo area to the southwestern side and it began to grow.
Three years later, in 1941, about 75 families made up the parish roster. That year the church, which had been dedicated just two years earlier, burned to the ground. The property was located outside the city limits at the time and there were no fire fighting facilities. The parish built a new church identical to the former one, which Kansas City diocesan Bishop Edwin V. O’Hara rededicated in December 1943.
During the dedication ceremony, Bishop O’Hara encouraged parishioners to plan for a school. He foretold that, partly because it straddled Wornall Road, the main auto and street car route to downtown, the Waldo area was likely to grow rapidly. The parish took his advice.
In the fall of 1945 the church basement was divided into three classrooms. Christ the King School opened with 46 children enrolled. Southwest of the church, brick by brick, a new, four-classroom school building was rising. By the fall of 1946 the new school was ready for students, teachers and the sounds of learning. The building had cost the parish $68,000.
Within a few short years, Bishop O’Hara’s forecast was proven correct. In 1950 there were 325 families in the parish. Waldo and Christ the King Parish continued to grow.
When Msgr. Vincent Kearney was named pastor of the parish in 1958, there were 2,029 Catholic children in the parish (925 enrolled in the school) and 2,457 adult Catholics. More classrooms and other additions were made to the school to accommodate the growing number of students. By March 1965, a gym and a cafeteria had been added to the school.
Students studied and got involved in sports, playing intramural basketball and volleyball. As time passed, the intramural sports became part of a parochial school league and Christ the King’s student athletes competed against other Catholic schools in the diocese. The school was well regarded academically, spiritually and athletically, throughout the Kansas City Catholic community and beyond.
Then, over the next two decades, the neighborhood began to change. Residents were growing older, and fewer children were born. Young people were relocating to other parts of the city or moving out of it. When Father Bill Bauman became pastor of Christ the King in 1984, he found 2,280 registered parishioners and 385 students in the school.
Father John Weiss was named pastor in 1993. He rapidly initiated several much-needed renovations in the school building, including new restrooms for the gym, the addition of a computer lab in the school basement and the remodeling of the cafeteria to accommodate a hot lunch program.
Father David Holloway became pastor in July 2004. One of the first things on his “to do” list was to air condition the school. He initiated “Cool The Kids,” a successful fund raising campaign later that year. Air conditioning was installed in the school and the electrical service upgraded during the summer of 2005.
In 2007, as interest in Catholic education increased, a study was begun on all the Catholic schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. The Southwest Pod, comprised of St. Elizabeth, Christ the King, St. Peter and St. Thomas More schools, in 2009 formed a task force to develop a strategic plan for sustainability, health and growth. In conjunction with the task force, Father Holloway contracted with Meitler, a Milwaukee marketing firm, to create a marketing and development plan for Christ the King School. The marketing plan they developed focused on increasing enrollment and visibility in south Kansas City, as well as increasing fiscal stability in the school, targeting goals for the coming two years.
Father Greg Lockwood became Parochial Administrator in July 2011. Enrollment had continued to decrease, and by the time he arrived at the parish, 102 students were enrolled in the Kindergarten through 8th grade. A year later 91 students were enrolled.
Enrollment, finances and demographics all contributed to the situation, “a situation that kept me awake nights since January,” Father Lockwood said. “The overall demographics were terrible. Our school system was built to support large families and we don’t have those much any more. In 1950, 975 kids were enrolled in Christ the King School, in 2005, there were 175 students. In 2011 there were 102, and we only had 91 this year.”
He finally came to the conclusion that the school would have to close.
“It’s a fearful thing for a pastor to even have to consider,” he said later. “There are no seminary classes that teach you how to do this. Our families now have to look for other schools for their children, maybe even other jobs to help with costs. Our teachers need to look for other teaching jobs or maybe have to completely change. We also have scouts, servers. This is a total change and a lot of people are suffering as a result. As pastor, all those families are my family, and I love them, mad at me or not!”
Families are now touring neighboring schools. Teachers are networking, looking for new teaching positions or other work. Father Lockwood is concerned about the kids and the teachers, he said. He understands their anger, their disappointment, their sorrow and their worries about the school closing: teachers having to look for jobs that might not be available, parents having to find different schools for their children and the kids who will have to start over again in a new academic and social environment.
“The Christ the King family is hurting, all of us,” he said. “We just have to remember and depend on the fact that Christ is in the middle of this, and he will take care of us.”
In a letter to the parishioners, school families and staff members, Father Lockwood wrote, “For 68 years, Christ the King parish has provided parish school Catholic education to our children, and those from our local community interested in having their children educated in a safe environment where virtue and knowledge have always gone hand-in-hand. This is a heritage to be celebrated and honored, as the hard work of our parents, teachers and staff have made this reality what it is. I meet graduates of our parish school each week out in our town who are proud and grateful that they attended Christ the King.”
He wanted the parish, the school families and the faculty and staff to know that he thought “our school families are great people, our kids are the best, our staff second to none,” all factors, he said, that made the reality of having to close the school “all the harder.”
What is the legacy of a small Catholic grade school, sandwiched between larger schools? “The generosity and thorough decency of the people of Christ the King willed this school to be open year after year, for many years after the neighborhood community expected it to close. This is something to be proud of and to remember,” Father Lockwood said. “The parish with few advantages, always the little sister, made a great contribution to our Church and our community. Our graduates are everywhere in Kansas City and across the country, and our community, city and country are better for it.”
He assured the families and teachers that the parish and the diocesan School Office and Human Resource offices would work with the people of Christ the King School who needed to find other schools or jobs.
He asked the parish and school families to pray for each other and for him, and to remember “the thousands of graduates, great Catholic people and a Church and world better because of them,” because of Christ the King School’s 68-year history.