By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY – Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on Avenida Cesar E. Chavez holds an important place in the Hispanic community’s heart. To them, the shrine represents the struggle of the Mexican people in their homeland and in this country and their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Shrine includes a small grotto installed by Augustinian Father Damien Gobeo atop the priest’s garage whose statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe has watched over 23rd Street, now Avenida Cesar Chavez, for 65 years. Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine Association wants to move the grotto to the priest’s residence’s front yard, restore and embellish it and make it accessible to the community for rest, prayer and meditation.
Local architect Raphael Garcia drew up a design for the new grotto and estimated the project’s costs at around $50,000. The Shrine Association has obtained a matching grant; to receive it they need to raise $25,000. To date, $15,000 has been raised.
The Shrine was the result of a 1990’s diocesan planning effort consolidating Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart parishes. The new parish site was to be at Sacred Heart under the name Sacred Heart Guadalupe Parish, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was to close in Feb. 1991.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was established in 1914, when two refugee priests fleeing the persecution of Catholics in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution arrived in Kansas City. They asked to serve “La Colonia,” the Mexican community on the west side bluffs which was growing rapidly as waves of immigrants looking for work or fleeing the revolution, but all wanting better lives for their families traveled north on the Santa Fe Trail. Many stopped in Kansas City.
The fledgling parish had no church, so Sacred Heart Parish invited the priests to celebrate Mass there.
In 1919, the purchase of the Swedish Lutheran church at the corner of 23rd Street and Madison was completed, and by simply replacing the Lutheran cross with the Catholic crucifix, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was ready for the celebration of Mass.
Time passed and the church became more intertwined in the neighborhood’s Hispanic culture, until the two were inseparable. A large portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe above the central altar was painted by a local artist. Four of the ten stained glass windows depict the apparitions of Mary to St. Juan Diego in the mid-1500s, the walls of the church are painted a sky blue, and the candle holders, tabernacle and other altar furnishings were reminiscent of the parishioners’ native culture.
Over the years, parish demographics changed as the city changed: the building of Southwest Trafficway and I-35 resulted in the demolition of homes and businesses, causing families to move elsewhere. They retained an emotional tie to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, however, and returned for Mass, especially for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; many families continued to enroll their children in Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
By the 1980s however, the fiscal situations of some of the older parishes, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, caused the diocesan planning committee to consider consolidations. When the decision was made to consolidate Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart parishes, several supporters of Our Lady of Guadalupe formed the Shrine Association and submitted a proposal to Bishop John J. Sullivan asking him to preserve the church as a Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The maintenance and care of the shrine would be the responsibility of the association, headed by Ramona Arroyo, Teresa Sauceda and George Morales. Bishop Sullivan agreed to the proposal, and leased the shrine to the Shrine Association. For more than 20 years, the Shrine Association has fulfilled their end of that bargain.
For a number of years, the Shrine was open only for special Marian celebrations, such as the Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe in early December and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12. Recently, under the pastorate of Father Darvin Salazar, the Shrine is now open daily.
Moving the grotto from Father Salazar’s garage roof to the residence’s front yard will better connect the Shrine and the grotto with the community, and passersby will be able to see the statue of Mary surrounded by flowers and plantings. The retaining wall at the edge of the sidewalk is built of the same stone as the Shrine, and divided into four sections. The architectural drawing of the completed grotto shows a painting in each section. Ramona Arroyo explained that the paintings would duplicate the shrine’s four stained glass windows portraying the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego on the hill in Tepeyac, Mexico.
Ramona Arroyo and Teresa Sauceda said several events were planned to raise funds for the grotto improvements, as well as tuck pointing on the front of the Shrine. A brick wall is planned for the rear of the new grotto, to give resident priests some privacy. The Shrine Association is offering the bricks as memorials to donors, called “Ladrillos for a Lifetime,” a way to become a permanent part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. For a donation of $500, 1,000 or more, a brick would be engraved with the donor’s name, the name of the person(s) they wish to honor and a special message of the donor’s choice.
They have many other ideas including Tamale parties, selling homemade tamales, similar to the Fiestas held in times of need from the 1920s through the 1980s. And as their parents, grandparents and even great grandparents, they do it for love, of their heritage and for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
To donate a brick, learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, or order homemade tamales, visit www.sacredheartguadalupe.org or call (816) 701-9222.