Richmond parish celebrates sesquicentennial

Bishop James Johnston Jr. celebrates the celebratory Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Richmond. (Photo courtesy Jim Schmidt)

By The Richmond News
and Marty Denzer

RICHMOND, Mo. — Ray County, organized in 1820, was one of the original 14 counties when Missouri became a state on Jan. 1, 1821, with a population of nearly 1,800. With the Missouri River crossing the state along the county’s southern border, it’s a region of natural beauty and rich bottom land for those choosing agriculture as their way of life. As an 1881 history of Ray County, published by the University of Missouri-Columbia, states, “These bottoms are highly cultivatable, and the soil is deep, fertile and enduring.”

Ray County’s only Catholic parish is also enduring. Immaculate Conception Parish in Richmond celebrated its 150th anniversary in May. Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was the principal celebrant of the Mass, concelebrated by Father Christopher Smith, pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish-Richmond and Immaculate Conception Parish-Lexington. Richmond native Father Donald Farnan, pastor, St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Kansas City, and Fathers Ron Elliott, pastor, St. John LaLande Parish, Blue Springs, and Joe Cisetti, pastor, St. Therese Parish-north, Kansas City, former pastors of Immaculate Conception Parish concelebrated.

In the late 1860s, as the nation was recovering from the Civil War, Scottish, Irish and Mexican miners, hearing of the region’s veins of coal, flocked to Ray County. The farmers welcomed the miners, some of whom purchased farmland, with the hope of dropping mine shafts for coal on their own land.

According to the 1992 diocesan history, “This Far By Faith” by Father Michael Coleman, the parish was founded in 1868 by Father Richard Nagle, who was then organizing “the scattered Catholics in Carrollton into a parish,” and Richmond’s Catholics became a mission of Carrollton’s St. Mary the Virgin parish. That same year, the Diocese of St. Joseph was founded with the Right Reverend John J. Hogan as its first bishop. Immaculate Conception is first mentioned in the Catholic Directory in 1869. According to Michael Johnson, who compiled the parish history in 2008, priests first from Carrollton, later Plattsburg and then Norborne, arrived by train at the Henrietta depot. There they were met by parishioners and taken by horse and buggy to the homes of church members, where Masses would be held.

(photo courtesy of the Diocesan Archives)

The first recorded baptism in the Richmond parish was that of Margaret Cunningham, May 8, 1870, by Father Francis A. O’Reilly, the young pastor at Plattsburg.

The frame church was probably built in the late 1870s, according to the 1877 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Ray County, published by Edwards Brothers, which mentions it as one of seven churches in the county, and an “unidentified newspaper clipping” from 1973, referenced in “This Far By Faith,” which said the church was nearly 100 years old.

With the advent of automobiles and better roads, priests from Norborne and other communities were able to serve Immaculate Conception regularly.

A source for the 1992 diocesan history, George T. Stewart, said his parents came to Ray County from Scotland in the early 1900s to work in the coal mines. He said that both he and his sister were baptized in the church. At the time the history was published, he was 71 years old. When Stewart was a child, the Richmond area mine employed about 1,500 people — Scots, Irish, Mexican, and African-American — many of them newcomers to the area. He said that most of the settled farmers were Southern Baptists originally from the Deep South; the 1881 Ray County History also included Church of Christ and Methodist Episcopal.

Johnson said the church served the neighborhood Mexican migrant farm workers and Scottish, Irish and Mexican miners, and their families. He added that mining was “big in Ray County then. They [the miners and migrant workers] built the church.” One of the men also constructed a miniature log stable for Christmas, which was used for many years. Since about 2003, the stable has been stored in the rectory attic.

According to Shirley O’Dell, Ray County Recorder of Deeds, the land on which the church sits was deeded to (Bishop) John Hogan on May 11, 1877, by Mary Golden. The land, which abutted the site of her home on the north, was “Given in memory of living and deceased members of the Ready, Golden and Hare families” according to the warranty deed. An article in the May 15, 1958 Ray County Herald states, “The land on which the present church stands was deeded to the Bishop at the diocese … by Mary Golden, mother of Miss Winnie Golden, the only person now residing in the parish who was living here when the church was built.” Winifred Golden, “Miss Winnie,” lived in the family home just south of the church until her death, when the lot was conveyed through her and her sister Catherine Golden Hare’s estates to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Immaculate Conception was a mission church during its first eight decades. Catholic children went to Norborne for First Communion and confirmation preparation. Catechism teachers came from Norborne for other religious instruction. A story is told in parish histories that at one time, there were so few boys of the age to be altar servers, the lone girl of that age group also took serving instructions, learned the Latin prayers and how to use the missal.

The church was heated by a pot-bellied stove and the word was that those nearby roasted and those farther away froze during the cold months. The old pump organ was equally temperamental and sometimes could not be played. In 1942, the first remodeling was undertaken by Father Michael Grace, pastor of Sacred Heart-Norborne (now a mission of St. Mary-Carrollton). In 1953, under the direction of Father Andrew McKeon, pastor of Sacred Heart-Norborne, parishioners remodeled the church. It was an extensive remodeling, including an enlarged sacristy to accommodate a new heating system, a new front entry, new windows and a new crucifix, hand-carved in Sweden. During the time it took to complete it, Mass was celebrated at Carter’s Funeral Home not far away.

In 1955, the Richmond mission was raised to a parish. In 1956, the dioceses of Kansas City and St. Joseph were merged into one. In 1958, a house was rented for a rectory, and parishioners and many non-Catholic friends of the parish helped furnish it. Father (later Msgr.) John Huhmann was the first resident pastor, serving Immaculate Conception from 1958 – 60. In 1964, a three-bedroom rectory was built under the direction of Father Richard L. Boland, the first pastor to live there. He served Immaculate Conception from 1960 – 78. During his pastorate, St. John the Baptist Church in Dover became a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish.

A major remodeling of the church was undertaken in 1972, with most of the work done by parishioners under the direction of Fr. Boland. The work included the installation of new lighting and carpeting, altar and ambo built and installed, communion rails removed, new pews and air conditioning installed. A couple employed by Excelsior Springs V.A. Hospital had a special devotion to the Infant of Prague, and when a request of theirs was granted, they gifted the parish with a statue of the Infant, complete with clothing.

The original, narrow entryway to the church was torn off in 1991, and a new wider entry and addition built. A cross ordered from Italy was erected on the church front. A more extensive interior remodeling was undertaken in 2002 under the direction of then-pastor Father Joseph Cisetti. The majority of the work was done by parishioners in about three weeks. A parishioner built new furniture for the sanctuary also.

Then in 2005, parishioners removed the stained-glass windows and bell from the now-closed St. John the Baptist Church in Dover, and reinstalled the windows and bell in Immaculate Conception Church. A comment in the 2008 parish history was, “How fitting that the windows came to Richmond as St. John’s was a mission of Richmond for many years.” The windows and bell were blessed by Bishop Robert Finn in 2006.

The parish boasts of several vocations, fathers Don Farnan and Steven Rogers, pastor, Holy Trinity-Weston and Twelve Apostles- Platte City, and Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Helen Alder. Fr. Farnan, a concelebrant of the 150th anniversary Mass, recalled growing up in Richmond and Immaculate Conception Parish with fondness. “I was born near Richmond,” he wrote in an email, “and baptized at Immaculate Conception.  My 10 siblings and I spent time there while growing up — it was the place that anchored us and helped us find direction in life. My mom spent countless hours on her knees in our tiny parish church, gaining divine assistance and human perseverance. We received the sacraments there: laughed and wept, prayed and played, grappled with issues and argued with God there. It was a safe and sacred place for us. With so many kids, I got left there a few times as a kid after serving Mass — it’s probably why I’m a priest: I was raised, in part, by the pastor till the family recognized my absence and returned to get me.  The Farnan Family have many cherished memories of our home parish and were honored to participate in the sesquicentennial celebration.”

Congratulations to the parishioners of Immaculate Conception in Richmond!

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Monday
December 17, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph