By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY – Although many parish elementary schools have, over the years, been forced to close for one reason or another, there are several that have educated children for a century or more, and plan to continue for many more years.
Our Lady of Guadalupe School, founded in 1915, is proud that there are families whose grandparents attended the school and succeeding generations that have followed suit.
Genevieve (Genny) Paredes Montes, Loretta Robles Fiero, Irene Fiero Munoz, Monica Bustamante Arroyo and Margaretta (Margie) Arroyo Rodriguez, along with some of their children and grandchildren, got together Jan. 14 to remember their childhoods, the school and parish and a few lessons of life.
Around 1900, the call for laborers to help build the railroads around Kansas City had attracted Mexican nationals to the area. Many of the men had been working on the Santa Fe railroads near El Paso, Texas, so it was a natural move for them. Others, lured by the meat packing houses, found their way to Kansas City, and by 1910, La Colonia had begun to form around 23rd Street (now Avenida Cesar Chavez) and Madison Avenue on the West side.
As more and more families arrived, they displaced the Irish families living along the river bluffs. The Irish moved south towards the city’s outskirts. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 caused many people to flee their homeland for the U.S., and Kansas City. A third wave of Mexican families arrived between 1910 and 1914, hoping to find work on the construction gangs building the new Union Station. Then with the outbreak of World War I, war-related jobs brought more families to the city.
By 1914, the Hispanic population on the Westside was large enough to warrant the establishment of a Catholic parish for them. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was established in 1914, and drew Spanish-speaking folks from all over Kansas City. Mass in its first years was celebrated at Sacred Heart Church, founded nearby in 1887 to serve the Irish families who had moved to the city.
Our Lady of Guadalupe School was founded the following year in two leased storerooms at 21st Street and Belleview. Two Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Sister Rose and Sister Cyril had charge of about 110 students.
The year 1919 was a banner year for the parish. The parish was able to purchase the former Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Emmanuel church on the corner of 23rd and Madison. Parishioners quickly transformed it into a Catholic church, and moved the school into the lower level.
“My father was born in 1919,” Loretta Robles Fiero said. “All of his brothers and sisters went to Our Lady of Guadalupe School.” The school’s records date to 1919, so there’s a possibility her father also attended the school. Her mother, Mary Hernandez Robles, attended Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
In 1925 property was purchased on Madison from the Mary Troost estate with the intention of building a school. The first Fiesta was held in 1926 as a fund raiser for the school. In 1927, a city-wide campaign was begun to raise more funds to build the school. The new Our Lady of Guadalupe School was dedicated in Aug. that year.
“My mother, Mary Bernal Paredes, was born in 1923,” said Genny Paredes Montes. “She was the oldest of 10, and my grandparents sent all 10 children to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mom would have started school about 1928, in the new school building. She would have graduated about 1935, since there was no 8th grade back then.” Mary sent her six children to the school.
“My grandparents moved here, to this neighborhood, in the 20s,” recalled Monica Bustamante Arroyo, “because of the railroad. They sent their daughter, my mom, Mary Lopez Bustamante, her sister Paula and their brother to Our Lady of Guadalupe School. There were 13 of us Bustamante kids, and 11 of us graduated from the school. Let’s see, Alex, Alexis, Debbie, me, Michael, Julius and Judy, Francis, Maria, Peter and Dez. I don’t know why Mom named him Dismas; everybody called him Dez.”
John Munoz is a second generation Our Lady of Guadalupe alumnus. His wife, Irene, did not attend the school, but since her marriage, has embraced both parish and school wholeheartedly. She spoke for John as he had to work, telling how his parents, Ramon and Tillie Madrigal Munoz, and all their brothers and sisters graduated from the school. His parents in turn enrolled all 10 of their children in the school.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe is our neighborhood school,” Irene said.
Margie Arroyo Rodriguez graduated from the school, as did her brothers and sisters. Her brother Arthur married Monica Bustamante. The children and grandchildren all graduated from the school.
So many memories. “We used to have daily Mass,” Genny said. “Now the children go to Mass every Friday. It’s still an all school Mass. We’d all go to confession on Friday afternoons.”
Monica added, “Remember how we had to fast before Mass, before communion? We couldn’t eat breakfast and we’d be starving. The Sisters would open the parish hall beneath the church after Mass and feed us. I remember confession on Fridays. Mom would send us on Saturdays too. And when we were kids, we couldn’t eat meat on Fridays, all year long, not just during Lent like it is now.”
Genny grimaced. “Oh, fried fish …”
“Back then,” Margie said, “the back doors to the school were unlocked during the day. We would open them and run home for lunch. We lived behind the school on the next street.”
Genny remembered, “A lot of us lived near the school. When our grandmothers moved here, they found homes in the neighborhood, near the church. Now kids come here from many other parts of the city. Living so close to church gave us no excuses for missing Mass on Sundays. If we were too sick or something to attend Mass, we were too sick or something to do anything else!”
The Sisters of St. Joseph taught at Our Lady of Guadalupe from 1915 to 1980. In 1966, Cathedral, Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe schools were consolidated under the name Our Lady of the Americas. Students were divided between two campuses: grades 1-4 were at Sacred Heart, taught by the Sisters of Loretto (who resigned from the Westside parish in 1981); grades 5-8 were at Our Lady of Guadalupe, taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was rather like having an upper and a lower school.
“Remember when the 7th grade boys basketball team won the City Championship? It was in the 1980s.” Monica asked. “There were only 4 or 5 boys on the team, but they won!”
Our Lady of Guadalupe dropped grades 7 and 8 in 1992. Today students attend the school through 6th grade, then go to Our Lady of Angels for seventh and eighth.
“The Sisters really taught us,” Loretta said. “The nuns and priests were strict, but they wanted us to succeed. They didn’t let us give up. There was no laziness. We were accountable inside and outside the school.”
Almost in unison, the women asked each other, “Remember the priest handing out report cards?”
Genny nodded. “He’d call your name and you’d have to walk up to the teacher’s desk. He’d open your report card and look at each mark without saying anything, then hand it to you. You’d want to sink into the floor sometimes!”
There were rewards along with the strictness.
Monica: “Sister got a hold of a big cardboard box and cut out a TV set on one side. We used to sit inside the box and read to our classmates through the pretend TV!”
Genny: “Sister let me ring the big hand bell after morning prayers to send everybody back to class. I had wanted to do that for so long. I still remember ringing that bell.”
Irene: “John always says that it was a big privilege to become an altar boy. He could hardly wait until he was old enough to become one.”
The students tried to be good, because John said, discipline could be embarrassing.
Rulers and yardsticks were sometimes used to rap fingers, or the backs of legs. “That would never be allowed today,” Genny said. “But we survived.”
Accountability, discipline, consistency, all tempered by love.
“You know,” Margie said, “nobody bullied anybody. If you didn’t understand something, other kids would step up to help.”
Some teachers went the extra mile to instill a love of learning in their students.
John Munoz credits Franciscan Brother Michael Sobel for preparing him and his classmates to take the admittance/placement test at Rockhurst High School, Irene said. “The boys in John’s class were ready for the tests, and were admitted to Rockhurst without having to go to summer school first. And you know, all the boys in his class from Our Lady of Guadalupe went to college and now have successful careers.”
Monica credited her son’s second grade teacher, a Miss Foley, for instilling in him a love of reading. “Evenings and weekends, we’d all lay on the bed reading. But he was always reading, long after he was supposed to be asleep! Now he’s in college, and still reading!”
Monica also recalled how good the school kitchen always smelled. “We weren’t allowed in there, but you could smell the cooking all through the school. It made us all hungry.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe School became one school again in the late 1990s, with Pre-kindergarten through sixth grade being taught at the school. Kirra Mansell, Genny’s granddaughter, is in Kindergarten; Gianni May, Loretta’s granddaughter, in is Pre-kindergarten; Joaquin (grade 5) Josh (grade 4), Olivia, (grade 3) and Paulie Munoz (kindergarten), grandchildren of Loretta Fiero and John and Irene Munoz; Santiago, (Xavier), Monica’s grandson, is in first grade, and John Paul Julian Rodriguez, Margie’s grandson, is in second grade.
“Our grandparents and parents sacrificed a lot to send us to Catholic school,” Loretta said, as the others nodded. “We were advanced in our learning and in respect for our elders, our responsibilities and dreams. The nuns gave us tools to succeed in life.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and School have survived consolidation, closure of the church and its interim status as an oratory. Today Sacred Heart-Guadalupe is one parish with two locations, Sacred Heart Church, 2601 Madison Ave., and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, next door to Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
“This is a community, a close-knit family,” Irene said.
Monica added, “It’s a commitment, a commitment to education, to faith. We have to set priorities. But the return is priceless. It’s true; you get out of it what you put into it.”
Virginia Robles Ramirez, a relative of Loretta’s, said, “Our Lady of Guadalupe School taught me that our faith instilled a foundation in us. Daily Mass, getting involved in both the parish and the school has given us a cornerstone we build on in our lives.”
Loretta agreed. “We also learned that hard work and an attitude of give and take, shows how much we care. Our children watch us and learn; it becomes second nature.”
Irene said, “The neighborhood school and church gives us stability.”
Virginia nodded. “It’s an anchor.”
Loretta added, “When you come here, you feel like you’ve come home.”
Virginia said the school’s alumni are “a dedicated group. We want to leave a 21st century legacy to those who come after us. We have been fortunate, have been blessed to continue, and if we don’t continue the parish and the school, who will?”
Maria Sanchez-Chastain, school secretary, said one part of the legacy was to begin Jan.21. In conjunction with Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., Our Lady of Guadalupe School will offer English as a Second Language classes to school parents who speak little or no English. Along with the ESL classes, GED exam preparation will also be offered. Two of the volunteer instructors are Irene Munoz and Virginia Ramirez.
Maria said, “This is a family, it’s stability, continuity, involvement and hard work. “
There is a lot of continuity in the neighborhood, among the alumni of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Irene said she and John live in the house he grew up in. And Monica’s mother still has the same telephone number she had in the 1930s.
This is Our Lady of Guadalupe School, past, present and looking ahead to the future.