St. Elizabeth Parish celebrates 100 years of faith in Waldo

Bishop James V. Johnston approaches the sanctuary to celebrate the Centennial Mass at St. Elizabeth’s Church, Sept. 9. The Mass commemorated the first Mass in the new parish, celebrated by Father Edward J. Hayes in a rented Waldo storefront for 150 people on Sept. 9, 1917. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — It’s September 1917, in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City. To get to Mass, most families had to walk or ride several miles on Sunday, women juggling children and calf-length skirts. Or they waited for a traveling priest. Now that trip will be just a few blocks, since Bishop Lillis established a new parish: St. Elizabeth’s!

Those attending St. Elizabeth Parish’s centennial Mass and celebration Sept. 9 were asked to park in the neighborhood and walk to church, to get a taste of what life was like 100 years ago. They also reminisced on parish life and viewed displays on the past and ongoing effects of “One hundred years of meeting Christ here and being changed by Him,” as Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. said during the Mass.

Back in 1841, Dr. David Waldo of Gasconade County, purchased 1,000 acres in Jackson County (what is now Gregory to 91st Street and State Line to Holmes). By mid-century, the acreage was commonly known as Waldo. In 1860 a rail line was established from Westport southeast to Dodson with a main stop in Waldo. It was converted to street cars in 1907. Kansas City annexed Waldo in 1909, extending the city limits to 77th Street, but Waldo remained.

In August 1917, Bishop Thomas Lillis (1913 – 38) established his first parish, three months after a meeting of 41 Waldo area Catholics convinced him of their interest. Father Edward J. Hayes was named founding pastor of St. Elizabeth’s, honoring St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The first Mass was celebrated for about 150 people Sept. 9, 1917, in a rented storefront near 75th and Wornall Road.

Visitation Parish had been established by Bishop John J. Hogan in 1909, and had a room where Father Hayes could live. He moved to Waldo in 1919.

In her will, Ellen Soden had bequeathed $30,000 (approx. $566,000 today) toward the construction of a church. Waldo had no zoning restrictions in 1917. The first site selected was later zoned for business and a railroad switching yard. The Henry Soden family donated $10,000 (approx. $188,000 today) toward the purchase of land between Main and Baltimore, 74th – 75th streets, for the church. In August 1921, the parish contracted with Long Construction Company to build a church seating 460 people. The parish was responsible for street paving and sewers.

The mission-designed stone exterior was completed except for the towers by Fall 1922. Two classrooms were built at its rear; school opened with 52 students taught by two Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Seven students graduated in 1924.

The church was used although the interior was unfinished. Fr. Hayes resigned the pastorate in 1924 and was succeeded by Father Peter R. Kennedy. There were about 60 families in the parish.

Fr. Kennedy’s first months at St. Elizabeth’s were rough. Unable to find a place to live in the neighborhood, he lived in the vestry or the front vestibule, depending on the storyteller. He was hospitalized that October for exposure and overwork. He began building a rectory that year, and moved in when it was completed in 1930.

Fr. Kennedy’s leadership attracted many new families to the parish. A stone school building was begun in 1927, and its second floor completed in 1934. There was no convent yet, so the Sisters lived at St. Teresa’s Academy.

The mission style stone church, dedicated in 1935 was beloved by the parish until they outgrew it. The current church, which seats 832, was dedicated in 1961. (photo courtesy of Diocesan Archives)

It took 10 years, but the church was finished — two copper-capped towers added, the interior plastered and painted, stained glass windows and pews installed 1928 – 1932 — and Bishop Lillis dedicated both church and school in 1935. Bells were installed in one tower and altar boys assigned to ring them by pulling on a long rope. Imagine the temptation to swing on that rope!

Parish growth continued. In 1948, land was purchased to build St. Elizabeth Memorial Hall, which, when dedicated in 1949, honored parishioners who had fought in World War II, especially those who had died.

Father Kennedy was elevated to Papal Chamberlain in 1948 and Domestic Prelate in 1954, now Msgr. Kennedy.

The 1950s convinced parishioners that they needed a larger church. When Msgr. Kennedy retired due to failing health in 1957, succeeded by Diocesan Vicar General Msgr. Richard J. Shumacher, six Masses were held in the church and two in the school basement every Sunday.

The parish had grown from 50 families with one priest, to 1,200 families served by four priests in 42 years. So, in 1959 Archbishop John P. Cody, Bishop of Kansas City- St. Joseph, directed Msgr. Schumacher to build a new church. The last Mass was celebrated in the old church Feb. 28, 1960 and demolition began the following day. Construction on the new church began in July and Archbishop Cody laid the cornerstone Dec. 18.

In Nov. 1960, Bill and Elinor DeLay and their 5-year-old daughter, Marty, moved into the parish. During construction, Masses were held in the school gym, located in Memorial Hall. In Sept. 1961, I started first grade in the 4 year old school annex at 75th and Walnut, one of 50 students in Sister Sheila Ann’s class. Sister Dorothy Michael taught the other first grade.

The new church was dedicated Sept. 24, 1961, by Archbishop Cody. He was assisted by Father John M. Hartigan and Father John J. Stack. Following the dedication, Msgr. Schumacher celebrated a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving with Father Alexander F. McGuire as Deacon, Father Michael Gillgannon as Subdeacon and Father Robert B. Byrne as Archpriest. Msgr. Ernest J. Fiedler and Father Robert N. Deming served as Masters of Ceremonies. Archbishop Cody was the homilist.

In his letter of greeting to Msgr. Schumacher for that day, Archbishop Cody wrote, “The apostolic priests, the dedicated religious, and the faithful laity who over the years have brought about this achievement are deserving of … felicitations as we dedicate the … fruit of their piety and apostolic zeal, the new St. Elizabeth’s Church … that will stand as a tribute to all parishioners present and past.“

The dedication Mass lasted several hours. At first I was entranced by the pomp, the music, gorgeous vestments, flowers and the number of priests on the altar. It seemed like royalty. But I had just turned six, and Mass was long. I remember waking up, stretched out on a pew, my head pillowed on my mother’s jacket.

The church, built by Schweiger Construction Company, would seat 832. The exterior combines locally quarried rubble stone and Indiana limestone. The woodwork, doors and pews are oak. The church has a very modern, soaring feel to it.

The next few years passed. Every Friday at 11 a.m., the entire school attended Mass, in Latin. The main Sunday Mass, also in Latin, was crowded.

In 1965, Vatican II closed. Around the globe, Catholics were trying to get used to the liturgical changes, the language and the music.
In 1971, much of the church basement was transformed into an open-space classroom for grades 1 – 3. That same year the church was remodeled and painted.

Also in 1971, parishioner Don Schmit became a member of the first diaconate class in the Diocese following the 1967 restoration of the permanent diaconate. Ordained a Deacon in 1973, he served St. Elizabeth’s until his death in 2014.

In 1972, former seventh grade teacher Annabel McInerney became the first lay principal of the school. She would serve until 1977. The current principal, Pat Kollasch, was hired in 2010.

The year 1974 saw the last sister leave the school. The convent was later rented to the Capuchin Province of Mid-America for their regional headquarters. They would stay until 1984.

The church underwent several renovations during the 1970s — the Baptistry was converted to a chapel for the Blessed Sacrament and a confessional removed for a baptistry; both made possible through parishioner Ann Dunham’s estate.

When Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized in 1975, St. Elizabeth’s was permitted to honor both St. Elizabeths as patronal saints.

In 1981, Father Richard Carney became pastor. The next year saw renovations made in the school, including new windows, heating system and paint.

Summer, 1983: Father Carney contracted for the church to be repainted. New statuary would be installed in the church that fall, and he wanted the painting done before the installations.

Sept. 15, 1983, the night of my wedding rehearsal. I entered the church, and was shocked to find drop cloths hanging from the choir loft, scaffolding lining the walls, and tarps on the carpet. Father Carney had forgotten the wedding when he scheduled the painting! In our wedding pictures, drop cloths drape the choir loft, and scaffolding looms near the rear of the church.

Not long after, a fiberglass sculpture of the Risen Christ was installed behind the altar. A new statue of the Blessed Mother was mounted at the west entrance along with statues of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Vianney, crafted by the Italian art studio, Demetz.

In 1984 the Capuchins left. The first floor of the former convent became the parish ministry center and the second floor rented office space.
In 1986, Msgr. Kennedy Memorial Hall was renovated. Bleachers were installed in the gym. In the lower level, renamed Heritage Hall, a kitchen, meeting rooms and a hallway for parish memorabilia were added and two stained glass windows from the original church installed.
In 1999, St. Elizabeth School became the first school in the diocese to receive the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award.

The $5 million “Miracle on 75th Street” Capital Campaign of 1999 was successful and improvements to the church and school were completed by 2001.

A lot happened in 2001. The church basement became the parish hall, named Seton Hall. The church interior was painted and pews refinished; an elevator installed and handicap accessibility improved. The chapel was remodeled for the tabernacle. The baptismal font and basin replaced a confessional, and the church’s sound system was upgraded. A reconciliation room was added.

The school was enlarged by an addition joining it with Memorial Hall, adding class and resource rooms for grades 1 – 8. Heritage Hall was remodeled as the school cafeteria. The annex at 75th and Walnut became the Early Childhood Center. The parish ministry center now has offices, classrooms and a conference room. Signage and landscaping were updated and upgraded.

The renovated church and school were dedicated Sept. 29. Deacon Mike McLean began serving the parish.

Bishop Johnston accepts the gifts from Frank and Paula Slocumb and daughter Sophie during the Offertory. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

The Risen Christ behind the altar since 1983 moved to the choir loft in 2005, succeeded by a cross created by Byrne Custom Woodworking. The corpus is of hand-carved linden wood by the Italian Pante Art Studio. An icon of Christ’s baptism was installed over the baptismal font.

Christ Renews His Parish was established at St. Elizabeth’s by Father Terry Bruce in 2010.

Kansas Citians love BBQ and in 2011, St. Elizabeth’s Smokin’ in Waldo competition was begun.

Since 2013, Kerm and Ellen Fendler have led delegations to El Salvador, learning about the people and establishing personal relationships. Today individuals and parish groups fund scholarships for 57 Romero Community students.

St. Elizabeth’s is the parish home to 945 families. Over 600 past and present parishioners gathered for the centennial Mass Sept. 9. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., and concelebrated by Fathers Greg Haskamp, pastor, Terry Bruce (pastor 2006-13), associate pastors Ken Criqui (1962-67), Joe Cisetti (1991-93), Paul Turner (1979-82) and Father Charles Rowe, Vicar General, ordained at St. Elizabeth in 1999. They were assisted by Deacons Ralph Wehner and Mike McLean.

At the close of Mass, the congregation sang the Hymn to St. Elizabeth, an old German folk tune with centennial lyrics written by a group of parishioners.

After Mass, Bishop Johnston led the priests and congregation in procession to the future — the parking lot where the party began. “A Taste of St. Elizabeth” featured local restaurants including Lidia’s Kansas City, Waldo Pizza, KC Hopps and Strouds, Woodyard BBQ and the District Pour House and Kitchen. Music played and people strolled around, greeting friends and folks they hadn’t seen in a while.

Fr. Haskamp said later, “It is empowering to be 100 years old. To say … this parish community has survived … thrived for 100 years is a powerful statement … such a great celebration last weekend! The dynamic spirit of this community was everywhere … hope to carry this joyful spirit … into the future.”

The Children’s Choir sang just before Mass started, setting the mood of celebratory solemnity. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)




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October 31, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph