By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — New beginnings, new chapters, new years — always full of promise and hope. In fact, hope is the promise of the new school in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Our Lady of Hope, dedicated and blessed Sept. 11.
Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., celebrated Mass at Guardian Angels Church, concelebrated by Jesuit Fathers Bob Hagan, Parochial Vicar and Sacramental Minister of the parish, and Terence Baum, president of Rockhurst High School, with assistance by Deacon Tyrone Gutierrez, OSF, Pastoral Administrator, a Guardian Angels School alumnus.
In his homily, Bishop Johnston said the opening of Our Lady of Hope School was “truly the beginning of a new chapter, not only for this parish, but also for the broader community and those children and families which will be afforded the opportunity to benefit from the gift of a Catholic School education.”
Our Lady of Hope’s student body is comprised of students of Our Lady of the Angels School, which had occupied the building since 2006, and students of Our Lady of Guadalupe School, which closed at the end of the 2015/16 school year. Both schools were part of the diocesan Bright Futures Fund, as is Our Lady of Hope School.
It was dedicated exactly 106 years after Guardian Angels School first opened. The dedication honored Lamar and Rita Hunt and the Hunt family. A plaque was presented to Lamar Hunt, Jr., inscribed, “Their generosity will be remembered forever by all who learn, teach, pray and gather inside these walls.” The plaque and a photograph of the Hunt family will be mounted in the school’s entry hall.
Back in 1909, the old Santa Fe Trail, (43rd Street) now Westport Road, was still mostly unpaved, but many German families were moving south from the downtown area. About 40 Catholic families lived near the old trail. Most spoke German and observed German traditions and customs. A new parish, Schutz Angel Kirche, Guardian Angel Church, was founded that year. Father Karl Joseph Haeckler was appointed its first pastor. It was only a few months until a brick building had been constructed for $40,000 on the corner of 43rd and Mercier, with a chapel on the second floor, two classrooms and living quarters on the first floor.
On Sept 11, 1910, the school opened with 40 students taught by two Sisters of St. Benedict of Atchison, Kan., Sisters Mary Florina and Mary Zitta. Their furnishings were simple. Orange crates served as washstands and a wooden box with two shelves as a closet. The kitchen table was a board supported by two sawhorses. Parishioners attending Mass on the second floor complained of smelling the food the Sisters were preparing for Sunday dinner, so they did their cooking on Saturdays. Cows were said to graze under the school windows.
The Gospel was the Parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the Prodigal Son, which Bishop Johnston said was his favorite Bible passage. We all know the story of the Prodigal Son: the rich man had two sons, the older who stayed at home to assist his father and the younger who asked for his share of the inheritance, traveled to a distant land and wasted away every penny. Then a famine hit the country. When he was starving in a pig-sty, longing for the pods fed to the pigs, he decided to return home and ask forgiveness and to work for his father. His father didn’t allow it, he dressed his son in fine clothes and jewelry and had the fatted calf slaughtered for a celebratory feast. The older son was angry, but his father explained that everything he had was the son’s, so celebrate with him that the son who was lost was found. The younger son was prodigal, recklessly extravagant and wasteful, ending in a pig-sty. “But you know,” the bishop said, “there is a sense in which we could say the father … is a prodigal too. The father is recklessly extravagant in his offer of mercy, in his love for his son. … The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son tell us an important truth about God: He doesn’t want anyone to be lost … God wants us all home, in the family, in his family the church, and finally with him forever in heaven. We were made to be members of the household.”
In 1940, property on the west side of the church on Terrace was purchased for a playground. The pastor, Father Charles J. Strasburger, wanted to build a new school, but it didn’t seem practical in the midst of a depression. So he quietly established a building fund which by 1953, when he died of a heart attack, had grown to $170,000.
His successor, Father Robert E. Walton, purchased five homes and a 50’ lot on the west side of Mercier for a new school and convent. The school, completed in 1955 at a cost of $200,000, opened that September with 290 students. The Benedictine Sisters taught at Guardian Angels School until 1988.
On Sept. 6, 1991, it was announced that Guardian Angels and Redemptorist Schools would be consolidated and located at Broadway and Linwood Boulevards. The new school was named Our Lady of the Angels.
Renters were found for the Guardian Angels school building. Plaza Academy, an alternative high school serving about 35 students, occupied the second floor. AAU Basketball rented the gymnasium for training, practices and tournaments. The parish used the first floor for children’s religious education classes and various adult programs and meetings. The cafeteria remained available for parish use and special occasion rental. The rental income allowed the parish to meet the costs of keeping the building functional and operating.
In March 2006, Our Lady of the Angels Grade School moved to the Guardian Angels site to make way for Cristo Rey High School. Before students arrived, the building underwent renovations to bring the 1955 building up to 2005 standards, much of it done through donated funds and labor—at no cost to Guardian Angels Parish. The parish air-conditioned the school cafeteria that spring.
By the end of 2015, it had become clear that both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels school buildings were in need of extensive repairs. The Bright Futures Fund Board of Directors decided to renovate the larger of the two school buildings, Our Lady of Angels, to serve students from both schools. Two long-time Bright Futures Fund principals were named to lead the new school, Our Lady of Hope — Holy Cross principal Barb Deane as president and Our Lady of the Angels principal Mary Delac as principal.
Bishop Johnston acknowledged the “benefactors and supporters of the Bright Futures Fund directly and through the Annual Catholic Appeal.” He thanked the Bright Futures Fund Board of Directors and Lamar and Rita Hunt, their family, James Arkel and the Loretto Foundation, “for their generosity … their passion for Jesus Christ and making him known, their passion for the beauty of the Catholic faith and finding ways to share it so that lives can be transformed, and for their passion for helping others in life-changing initiatives.” He also thanked Guardian Angels Parish “in this historic part of Kansas City, for your openness and support for this new incarnation of the school.”
A generous gift from Lamar and Rita Hunt’s Loretto Foundation made the renovations possible. The long list of repairs, improvements and upgrades includes new HVAC, roof, insulation, an upgraded electrical system and new lighting, painting inside and out, updated restrooms and plumbing, asbestos removal and resurfaced classroom floors and second floor hallway, built-in classroom storage and new furnishings, reclaimed unused storage and locker rooms to create art and music classrooms and more. Several upgrades still to be completed include new windows and exterior doors, security and access systems, upgraded server and wireless access, interactive projectors and whiteboards in each classroom and a statue of Our Lady of Wisdom which will be installed in front of the school.
“Our Lady of Hope School is a symbol of … prodigal charity for others,” Bishop Johnston said. “The parables show that God is a merciful father … the Catholic Church is as family of saved sinners who journey together to the Father’s house. St. Paul counted himself among that number … He reminds us that the saints are best thought of as those who embraced God’s mercy rather than those who never needed it. As we receive this prodigal love, let us strive to be prodigal in how we share it.”
After the Mass, the bishop, accompanied by the two Jesuit priests, Deacon Gutierrez and Mary Delac, walked through the building, blessing the doors, classrooms, offices and cafeteria. Then, those who were present for the blessing were given a tour of the school.
Deacon Gutierrez, class of 1971, said he was glad to see the school refurbished and re-used.
Delac said the new year is off to a great start. Enrollment has increased by 50 students who came from Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
Enrollment sits at 195 students, she said, and “the kids are all working together.” Extra staff and resources are helping the students. The students are eagerly awaiting the statue of Our Lady of Wisdom, which should be delivered later this year.