By Sara Kraft
ST. JOSEPH — “(An anniversary) is a good opportunity to renew our commitment to live out our parish mission to encounter Jesus Christ and bring Him to all through vibrant liturgy, lifelong Christian formation, and social outreach,” explained St. Francis Xavier Parish Pastor Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S.
St. Francis Xavier Parish is a pillar in the St. Joseph community, and continues to spread the Gospel throughout its 125 years of existence. The parish was formally organized on September 17, 1890. Bishop John Joseph Hogan (of the Diocese of St. Joseph, which later merged to become part of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph) tasked the Society of the Precious Blood of Carthagena, Ohio to build and maintain St. Francis Xavier Parish on what was then the eastern edge of St. Joseph. In 1891, the original school, church, and rectory were dedicated. Forty families were in the parish. The present rectory was added in 1906 with an addition in 1994. The current church was dedicated in February 1909.
Despite the financial challenges of the Great Depression, a new school building was built in 1934 and was later expanded in 1961. A new convent was completed in 1949. The interior of the church underwent a major, contemporary remodeling in 1971.
The House of Bread Food Pantry was launched in 1981 and is now one of the largest food pantries in the city, serving hundreds of families each month. The idea originated with Deacon (now Father) Joseph Nassal, C.PP.S. “When God said ‘feed the hungry,’ we certainly did,” stated former House of Bread Coordinator, 95 year old Marie Lederer, St. Francis Xavier parishioner for fifty years.
“St. Francis Xavier Parish is tasked to help the people and they are doing it. We are tasked to save souls and they are doing it. We are tasked to spread the Gospel and they are doing it beautifully,” stated Marie.
A Parish Center was added in 1988 to provide much needed space. The lower level contained the growing House of Bread Food Pantry, the Sewing Group, and Scout meeting spaces. In 1997, discussion began regarding renovating the church to its pre-Vatican II appearance and construction of an adjoining gathering space. One of the biggest concerns was replacing the original craftsmanship and artwork. However, long-term parishioners had saved many beloved parts of the 1909 interior in their homes and brought back items such as the altars, communion rails, and statues. The formal re-dedication occurred December 16, 2001. The renovation restored much of the church’s original appearance.
“St. Francis Xavier Parish has always been our family,” stated Jeanne (Crotty) Modlin, part of five generations at St. Francis, spanning her grandparents to her grandchildren. “It’s just always been home and will always be home.”
In 2007, the Parish Center lower level was remodeled to accommodate the Early Childhood Center. The former convent building became home to the House of Bread Food Pantry, the Sewing Group, and Scout meeting place. In 2013, the Early Childhood Center was renamed the St. Francis Xavier Fox-Liles Early Childhood Center after two long-time teachers who had passed away.
Starting in August 2015, St. Francis Xavier Parish has celebrated at least one event monthly as part of their year-long 125th anniversary celebration. Over the years, Fr. Ron has witnessed St. Francis Xavier parishioners being “very generous in getting involved in helping people in so many areas of charity and justice issues in the city.” It was natural for St. Francis Xavier parishioners to use this opportunity to reach out to the greater community. In February, St. Francis Xavier Parish hosted Vespers and a catered dinner for local priests and local Protestant ministers, especially to neighboring Wyatt Park churches and ministers. In October, Northwest Missouri priests and religious were invited for Vespers and food.
Several events of the year-long celebration specifically focused on spreading the Gospel. In March, St. Francis Xavier Parish hosted Jeff Cavins, who presented The Great Adventure: A Journey through the Bible. His presentation sought to help people understand the “big picture” of God’s plan in Scripture and help them apply it to their own lives. Area churches were invited to this event.
A 5K run/walk geared for all ages, a kick-off Mass and BBQ, and special celebrations for the Feast of St. Gaspar, Feast of All Saints, Feast of St. Francis Xavier, and May Crowning helped parishioners and school families instill pride in their Catholic faith. Additionally, Catholic Schools Week brought alumni back to the parish and a special Homecoming for parishioners and those who have moved away was celebrated in May. “We wished to draw back our inactive Catholics and instill pride in our Catholic Faith. We wished to let the St. Joseph Community know that we are here and the important impact we have on this community,” explained Fr. Ron.
Finally, the closing of the year-long celebration was celebrated with Mass celebrated by Bishop James V. Johnson, Jr. followed by a parish dinner and carnival. To make it 125 years, a parish needs a “strong faith,” explained Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. “As a lot can happen in 125 years in a person’s life and a city’s life. You also need good leadership from both clergy and laity.” Bishop Johnston thanked the Precious Blood Fathers for their faithful service for the past 125 years.
St. Francis Xavier Parish can spiritually continue to serve the people of St. Joseph and beyond. They can “begin by faith-filled prayer, regular reception of the sacraments, and an intentional effort to go out beyond their parish boundaries and relationships,” challenged Bishop Johnston.