By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — In just 50 years, St. John Francis Regis Parish has made its mark on the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Founded in 1964, along with the adjacent Archbishop O’Hara High School, it has been served by some of the diocese’s finest priests.
On Sept. 28, it celebrated another milestone along with its golden anniversary — the dedication of a $300,000, debt-free, gift of today’s people to the future of a new entrance with an elevator that will take the less able upstairs to the parish hall that once served as the parish church.
Some of those priests who served the parish, either as pastors or associates, came to celebrate with the parish. They included Father Patrick Rush, former diocesan vicar general and now pastor of Visitation Parish in Kansas City; Father John Bolderson, now pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Blue Springs; Father Tom Holder, now pastor of Presentation of Our Lady Parish in Lee’s Summit; and Father James Hart, now retired after years of service including as pastor of Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview and St. Therese Parish in Parkville.
But to really understand the history of St. John Francis Regis Parish, you have to understand paint, said Father Paul Turner, pastor of the parish when it constructed its unique monastic-style worship space in 1998 in which the people face each other and the altar squarely between them.
The very first Mass that the parish celebrated, before it built its school with the adjacent all-purpose space that served as a worship space for three decades, was in a paint store in the nearby Loma Vista shopping center.
Not long after that, a young seminarian named Paul Turner landed a summer job at Midland Tru-Value Hardware, owned by a Serra Club member.
“We sold, among other things, paint,” Father Turner recalled.
“Let me tell you, I knew nothing about hardware when I got hired there, and I learned practically nothing more,” he said. “I was one of his stupidest employees ever.”
Then one day the seminarian had a brilliant idea.
“I looked over cans of spray paint arranged by color on three shelves at the end of one aisle. Each can carried an order number,” Father Turner said.
“On my own initiative, I rearranged the paint according to its number, unaware that a more effective way to sell paint was by color,” Father Turner said. “I showed my boss what I had done, and the next day he had someone else rearrange the paint the way it was before. If you are going to work in a paint shop, you’d better know how to sell paint.”
Thus it was with St. John Francis Regis Parish, he said.
“Fifty years ago, St. John Francis Regis Parish opened for business inside a paint shop,” he said.
“Since that time, a series of priests walked in here and rearranged the cans,” Father Turner said. “Sometimes we made things better. Sometimes we didn’t. But the parish has continued on in spite of us.”
But Father Turner said the priests weren’t the only ones to “come and go” over the years in a neighborhood that has become highly fluid again, as people move in and out.
“Some of the original members of the paint shop cathedral are still with us. God bless you for your faithfulness to this community,” he said.
“Some families first moved to this neighborhood because of its opportunities and conveniences. Others came here to abandon their previous neighborhood out of prejudice and fear,” Father Turner said.
“Fifty years later, the population still shifts for similar reasons,” he said.
“If ever there was a time in American history when a Catholic community needed to bring the light of the Gospel to the city, it’s now,” Father Turner said.
“If ever there is a place where ethnic diversity can strengthen a community, it’s here,” he said.
“If ever there’s a people who can make a difference in the world, it’s you,” Father Turner told the people of St. John Francis Regis Parish.
The parish was always innovative, he said.
It was the first to have a diocesan high school and a parish elementary school next door. And it committed early to developing and nurturing a foundation of strong lay leadership that “breathed life and commitment here,” Father Turner said.
And he noted that Christian Brother William Woeger, a key consultant in the design of the parish church, is now the liturgical consultant for the Diocese of Orange, Calif, as it redesigns the famous landmark Crystal Cathedral into the Catholic cathedral for that diocese.
“Go online and look at the plans,” Father Turner said. “The altar will be in the middle with seating on opposite sides. One of our country’s best-known church buildings is going to look like a larger version of St. Regis.”
But the real story of St. John Francis Regis Parish is the effect it has had on the people who called it their spiritual home.
“If you’re like me, you moved here thinking you could do something, and this community convinced you to do something better,” Father Turner said.
“God invites us to change for the better, to change even some of our most hardwired opinions,” he said.
“Rearranging the paint shop is not always the best plan. But letting the paint shop rearrange you is,” he said.
“Looking down from heaven upon this very holy place with its vibrant colors on display, God must be very proud,” Father Turner said.
“St. Regis, today you are painted one color. Gold,” he said.