By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — St. Symington.
No, the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t canonized the legendary U.S. senator from Missouri.
“St. Symington” was the playful nickname that the founding members of St. Matthew Apostle Parish gave to their first worship space — the gymnasium of Symington Elementary School, loaned to the fledgling parish by the Hickman Mills Public School District.
That first Mass at “St. Symington” was celebrated July 5, 1964, just four days after Bishop Charles H. Helmsing formally established St. Matthew Apostle Parish on land along Longview Road that the diocese had purchased six years earlier.
Those were booming times for southeast Kansas City, as parishioners flocked from the city to the new suburbs.
It took only two years at St. Symington before St. Matthew parishioners could sacrifice and build their own building, dedicated on Oct. 16, 1966.
Though times have changed since then, Bishop Robert W. Finn said that one thing hasn’t — the strong witness to faith coming out of St. Matthew Apostle Parish.
That was evident to the bishop nearly 40 years to the day after Bishop Helmsing dedicated the first church. On Oct. 29, 2006, Bishop Finn reconsecrated the newly remodeled and renovated parish church.
“I have been back other times since then, and today for this Mass marking your golden jubilee, 50 years as a parish serving the needs of God’s people in south Kansas City,” he said. “I am honored to be part of your parish history.”
And how appropriate the Gospel that day, from the Apostle Matthew: Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, Bishop Finn remarked.
“The purpose of the parish, and certainly this parish of St. Matthew, is to help us as Catholics learn and live these commands,” Bishop Finn said.
“Here in our parishes the work of the church unfolds for us,” he said.
“Here in the parish the church gives us the sacraments. Here we are baptized and we begin to live God’s life with supernatural grace. We could not really love God fully and love our neighbor in imitation of Christ except by God’s grace,” Bishop Finn said.
“Every day on this altar is celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-presentation of what took place on Calvary,” he said.
“The death and resurrection of Jesus is the action of love which makes the Gospel real, which inspires us to love God and neighbor,” Bishop Finn said.
“And this parish was established to make the Mass present and available in the neighborhood. The parish was established to bring the Eucharist,” he said.
Inspired by the Eucharist, the people of St. Matthew Apostle have taken the love of Christ outside the church walls, as they must, Bishop Finn said.
“God’s command to love doesn’t just begin and end here at Mass,” he said.
“For these 50 years, the parishioners of St. Matthew have been strengthened and inspired to take care of the poor, the sick, the elderly, to educate our children in faith, to share the Gospel of Jesus,” Bishop Finn said.
“The works of your parish, your societies and organizations have been a wonderful source of love for others,” he said.
“The church is rightly proud of what people do through St. Matthew Parish for the well-being of others,” the bishop said.
“Here at St. Matthew, you help people in this community and throughout the world,” he said.
But a parish is even more than that, Bishop Finn said.
“Here in this parish church, your children receive First Communion. Here they are Confirmed. Here couples come to be married. Here you bring your beloved dead to be commended to God’s mercy,” he said.
“All these things, for the love of God and for the love of neighbor,” Bishop Finn said. “For 50 years of grace, we give thanks.”
Bishop Finn also told parishioners that they will never forget the example of their patron saint, who immediately rose from his tax collector’s table when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
“How we wish that as we experience Jesus’ call, his invitation to love, that we would follow him immediately, put aside everything and carry out his command of love,” Bishop Finn said.
“That would show that God had our whole soul, that we had given him all our heart and all our mind,” he said.
“On this anniversary, we ask God to help us want to follow him immediately and to not let anything selfish get in the way,” Bishop Finn said.