Blessing of St. Peter’s narthex and school renovation

Bishop Johnston, trailed by an altar server carrying the silver aspersorium, deacons, priests and the Sisters of Mercy in attendance, wends his way through the new hallways of the North School Building , blessing classrooms and lockers, walls, windows and floors. (photo courtesy of Peter LaFond)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — St. Peter’s new glass and limestone narthex fills the space between the church and school, joining and making them one. And, as Bishop James Johnston noted in remarks during a blessing ceremony March 28, the structure brings together “two buildings so rich in history.”

St. Peter’s was founded when Bishop Thomas Lillis established two parishes near what was then Kansas City’s southern city limits. To fulfill a promise made in 1921 when Sts. Peter and Paul Church downtown was closed, he announced that the new parishes would be named St. Peter and St. Paul. Part of that promise was kept: in Nov. 1925, he established a parish at Meyer Boulevard and Holmes Road, with then-Father James Neely Vincent McKay as founding pastor, named St. Peter. The other parish, founded one month earlier, was named St. Therese of the Little Flower, honoring the recent canonization of St. Therese of Liseux.

In a multi-purpose building constructed of native limestone, housing church, school and convent, St. Peter’s School opened in 1929 for grades 1-5. By 1931, the school had all eight grades, taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Several of the Sisters returned to St. Peter’s for the blessing ceremony, including Sisters Jeanne Christensen, Johanna Burnell and Jeanne O’Rourke. St. Peter’s grew quickly and by the early 1940’s the parish had outgrown two church buildings. Early in 1941, Monsignor McKay met with members of the Holy Name Society and persuaded them to launch a fundraising campaign to build a new church. Built of limestone quarried in Carthage, Mo., the church, of a modified English Gothic style like the school, later won Kansas City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awards for outstanding institutional architecture. The church was dedicated Sept. 8, 1946.

Father Stephen Cook, JCL, pastor of St. Peter and St. Therese parishes, recalled, “A campus master plan [had] developed over a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012. We were in phase 1 of the diocesan ‘Forward in Faith’ campaign in 2013, so we could not proceed with our own capital plans. We approached the diocese in late 2015 to confirm that we could begin our own efforts when our 3-year ‘Forward In Faith’ campaign wrapped up in summer 2016.”

The school had been expanded and renovated several times over the years, and the recent renovation of the North building was also blessed by Bishop Johnston March 28.

In July 2016, Father Cook announced that the Bishop had approved “Upon This Rock,” a 3-year, $6.2 million capital campaign, to renovate the North School Building and retire the parking lot debt. Development Director Karen Conley said that that summer, the parish began a quiet campaign seeking lead donors. In Sept. 2016, a broad campaign, reaching out to parishioners, alumni and friends, was launched.

Looking back, Conley said, “The parking lot was an early phase, largely completed in 2016, but last of the money was raised with Upon This Rock Campaign. The renovation of the north school building was, then, the bulk of the funding. The projected cost to renovate the school was $5.9 million, so that was our campaign goal. If we could reach that goal, we planned to borrow $1 million to construct the narthex.”

“The narthex was not part of the campus master plan but it was an idea that had been discussed for some time, as far back as the Anchor Campaign in the late 1990s. We thought it was a great way to connect the church and school, and to provide a much-needed multi-purpose space for the parish.”

Father Cook noted that, “We have reached but not exceeded our $6.2 million campaign goal. This covered the parking lot debt retirement, and 100 percent of the school renovation. None of the Upon This Rock original funds go toward the narthex.”

In his remarks following the Gospel reading—Matthew 5:13-16—Bishop Johnston likened the narthex joining the church and the school to a lamp. “It not only lets light in but also lets light out.”

He congratulated the parish through those present for the amazing accomplishment.

“I’m very, very proud of what you have accomplished in such a short amount of time,” he said.

Conley added that in the few months since the narthex was completed, “We used it for adoration after the Holy Thursday evening Mass, and it was lovely. Intimate and open at the same time. Being close to the church was ideal, too. Our little dedication service and the Holy Thursday adoration really opened my eyes to how nice it will be for small ceremonies.”

“Our Knights,” she continued, “are having a poker tournament in there later this month! We had a long-time parishioner couple, Nancy and Jim Caccamo, renew their vows – in the church – held a small reception afterwards in the narthex.

Except for our parish New Year’s Eve party, it was the first official function in the narthex.”

When asked what he thought of the space, Father Cook said, “The narthex is a lovely space for both the faith community and the neighborhood community. It’s both a sacred space and space for church and school activities.”

When the lights went on as the sky darkened, murmurs of “Oh!” could be heard. The space lights up and completes the Meyer Boulevard side of the parish campus.

Seen from the foot of the stairs at night, the narthex’s interior lights up the exterior of both church and school. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)


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November 01, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph