By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Sunday, March 6, dawned sunny and warm, heralding the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of St. Gabriel Archangel Parish. Current and former parishioners gathered for the Mass and reception to share in the revelry.
Bishop James Johnston was the principal celebrant, concelebrated by Father Joe Sharbel, pastor, and former pastors of the parish, including Benedictine Fathers Denis Dougherty, Karl Barmann and Aiden McSorley, and Fathers Tom Weiderholt, Justin Hoye, and Sandy Sinclair.
In his homily to the packed church, Bishop Johnston said it was a special privilege to visit the parish for “the very first time” during this anniversary, for which Father Sharbel had packed so much into: the anniversary celebration, the Second Scrutiny of the Elect, and the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
The bishop gave a short history of St. Gabriel’s. The parish was established March 1, 1956, as St. Michael the Archangel, a parish of the Diocese of St. Joseph. “All that changed,” when not quite six months later, the dioceses of St. Joseph and Kansas City were merged, becoming the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. A parish named St. Michael the Archangel had been established in Kansas City in 1905; the merger created two parishes with the same name in the new diocese.
He said, “I found that one of the most interesting bits of (this) parish history is that the first gathering of the parish for Sunday Mass was at the Winnwood Roller Rink, Hopefully the servers and ushers did not have to carry out their duties on skates!”
A combination church and school was constructed in 1956; the school opened that September, with three lay faculty under Father Link’s leadership. Then in 1957, the Benedictine Sisters of Fort Smith, Ar., accepted the school as a mission.
On May 1, 1959, Bishop John Cody renamed the young parish St. Gabriel Archangel. Father Linus Link, the founding pastor, had begun with about 70 families. By 1959, the parish had grown; the census found 1,110 adults, and 960 children registered. That same summer, ground was broken for a new church, designed to be used eventually as a gymnasium. The church was dedicated early in 1960. The new church allowed the school to incorporate the space into new classrooms.
By 1967, the school building housed 16 classrooms, an activity room, music room and library. The faculty numbered 18: nine Benedictine Sisters and nine lay teachers.
Growth continued —by 1978 the parish census counted 750 families. Several years later, in 1986, the parish was entrusted to Conception Abbey’s Benedictine community. Father Denis Dougherty was assigned pastor.
The parish voted in 1988 to keep the church, adding stained glass windows, a new organ and, in 1991, completed a multipurpose building, housing a vestibule, meeting room and serving kitchen and the gymnasium.
Also under Father Dougherty’s leadership, the church’s gathering space was enlarged and a bell tower with a carillon was added, along with a new office building and courtyard, all in 1995.
The second Benedictine pastor, Father Karl Barmann, was appointed in 1999. One of his first acts as pastor was to have three new bells installed in the bell tower. The parish named the bells, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The school building was air conditioned that spring and later that year a new garage and storage facility was built. By 2005, other improvements and repairs had been made through a Capital Campaign, including replacing all the older windows in the school, Early Childhood Center and activity room, and installing a chair lift for handicap accessibility.
St. Gabriel Archangel Parish celebrated its 50th anniversary in March 2006, with a Mass, a parish picnic and a dinner/dance over a period of several months.
Conception Abbey notified Bishop Robert Finn on July 1, 2007, that it was no longer able to provide priests to staff the parish. He appointed Father Alexander (Sandy) Sinclair pastor and Father Justin Hoye associate pastor.
A year later, St. Raphael Parish in the Gracemor neighborhood was closed by and the territory formerly belonging to St. Raphael’s was incorporated into St. Gabriel’s.
Father Joseph Sharbel was appointed pastor of St. Gabriel Archangel parish July 1, 2009.
As Jesus, Mary and Joseph rang out from the bell tower, Bishop Johnston commented in his homily that “Father Dennis Dougherty is currently pastor of St. Joseph Church in Springfield, Mo., where I served as bishop before I came here.”
After thanking Father Sharbel for his care as shepherd and pastor of the parish and school, the bishop spoke about the Rite of Scrutiny for the elect who are preparing to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation at Easter.
“Helping us all today … parishioners, clergy, catechumens and candidates, are the readings for this Sunday — they are beautiful, full of wisdom and food for the soul.” Bishop Johnston focused on the Gospel reading about the man born blind. “In a real way, we each are that man,” he said.
He explained, “All of us were born spiritually blind and in darkness. It was our baptism alone, and the faith it gave us, that has made us able to see, and by stages to come fully into the beautiful light of Jesus Christ.” Spiritual “blindness affects the whole human race.”
The Gospel prescribed the solution to the man’s blindness, “Go and wash.” The bishop continued, “This is what Baptism is. It is the washing that enables us to see.”
But, vision comes in stages; it’s a journey. The washing, Baptism, enabled the man to see, Bishop Johnston said, but he did not yet actually see Jesus. A lot of Christians know Jesus intellectually, but don’t have a deep friendship with him as a disciple. Jesus remains a distant figure.
Our vision can improve, he said, through challenges and hardships, resistance to our faith from others, or personal internal doubts. The man born blind’s vision improved, taking him “from sight to insight.”
The final stage of the man’s journey was vision. His vision finally clear, he saw Jesus as “the one who is God.” The bishop asked the congregation, “Where are you on that journey?”
Similarly, Father Sharbel, in an anniversary letter, spoke of the road the parish has traveled during the past 60 years and the road ahead.
“We stand, not only on the shoulders of our founding parishioners but also on the shoulders of many more … who carved out this diocesan church of which we are a part … The road to this time has not been an easy one, neatly laid out … The future will be the same. It will be determined by the faith that each parishioner possesses to move our parish community forward according to God’s Holy Spirit. I urge each of you to pray that this community may continue to strive to be a beacon of hope for the lost and forsaken, the poor and marginalized, the newcomer and the young and upcoming. May we be for all who enter these doors a place to find God.”
Following Mass, a reception was held in the Activity Room.