Happy Centennial St. Louis Parish

St. Louis Parish Knights of Peter Claver head the procession of priests, deacons and servers to the sanctuary. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY – St. Louis, King of France Parish was founded in 1919 by Father Louis Curtis Tiernan and named in honor of King Louis IX of France. The centennial celebratory Mass was held Aug. 25, the feast day of St. Louis.

As a precursor to the Mass, parishioners, school alumni and friends gathered Saturday evening Aug. 24, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Independence for a gala dinner. Seated at the head table were Father Carlito Saballo, Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, St. Louis parish pastor; Deacon John Purk, SOLT, and his wife Patty; Deacon Darwin Dupree, St. Monica’s Parish; Sister Megan Mary Thibodeau, General Sister Servant of the Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, Texas, and former KCTV-5 news anchor, personal historian and author Lili Bliss Shank and her husband, Chris.

Fr. Carlito began the blessing before the meal by blessing the “100 years of sharing the faith at St. Louis” Parish. After the blessing, those at the head table were introduced as the guests were served. As the dessert and coffee made their rounds, Lili Shank approached the podium and introduced herself as the great-niece of Father Louis Curtis Tiernan, the founding pastor of St. Louis Parish.

Shank told the story of her great-uncle, whom, for years, she knew only from a black and white photograph on the wall of her childhood home. The photograph was of a man in a white chasuble smiling and shaking hands with another smiling man in a dark suit with several men and women in military uniforms in the background. When she questioned her parents, she learned that the man in the dark suit was Harry Truman, president of the United States 1945 – 1953, and the man in the white chasuble was her great-uncle, Fr. Louis Curtis Tiernan.

Life put researching the priest, whose middle name she shared and his connection to Truman, on hold. Shank graduated from college and worked, in Springfield, Mo., before joining KCTV-5 in 1983. In 2007, after 25 years as reporter and news anchor, she stepped down to pursue becoming a personal historian, establishing “Voices in Time.” Helping others preserve their family histories reminded her of her early interest in the Tiernan-Truman friendship.

In the book, “Harry and Padre,” published in 2016, Shank recounted her research into family letters and photos, newspaper clippings and a packet of 35 letters between Truman and “Padre,” a nickname given the priest by a group of young Irish Catholic who requested the Irish priest serve as their chaplain. Fr. Tiernan, who had been ordained in 1910 for the Diocese of Kansas City, which included the western side of the state south to the Arkansas line, entered active service in Aug. 1917 at Camp Doniphan (Fort Sill) in Oklahoma. Serving as chaplain of the unit later to become famous as “Battery D,” he became friends with young Corporal Harry Truman, a Baptist.

Bishop Johnston presents Virginia Jones with a Lifetime Award from St. Louis Parish for her many years of work on fundraisers and other projects for the parish. Parishioner awards were presented following the Mass Aug. 25 celebrating the parish’s centennial. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

The Vosges Mountains of France saw fierce fighting in 1918, and during that fighting, Fr. Tiernan was nicknamed “Padre” by the Battery D men. The name stuck for the next 42 years, until his death in 1960. Letters from his friend, later Senator then President Truman, always addressed him as “Padre.”

After the war, Fr. Tiernan returned to Kansas City. In 1919, Bishop Thomas Lillis appointed him assistant pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and commissioned him to begin a new parish in the Swope Park area. The new parish was canonically established on July 1, 1919, and later that month named St. Louis, King of France, Parish. There doesn’t seem to be a particular reason why the parish was so named, but perhaps the founding pastor’s first name sparked the idea.

The first Mass, on Aug. 3, 1919, was held in Flacy’s Hall at 56th Street and Swope Parkway. Various items – an oak altar table, candlesticks, statues and a monstrance – were gifted to the new parish; everything else needed for Mass was borrowed from Blessed Sacrament parish.

In Oct. 1919, Fr. Tiernan was allowed to leave his position at Blessed Sacrament and move to St. Louis parish, where two weeks later ground was broken for a church. The frame stucco church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1920.

Over the next five years, St. Louis School was constructed and a convent for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who would teach at the school, was purchased. The parish grew to more than 400 families between 1925 and 1944, when the building on the corner of 60th and Swope Parkway was purchased. Originally built to be a Masonic Lodge, it was unfinished as so many members had been drafted into the armed services in 1941 and could no longer afford to complete it. The parish was able to purchase the building for $20,000.

The former lodge was transformed into St. Louis Church, and its imposing exterior and beautiful sanctuary leave a lasting impression on parishioners and visitors.

Fr. Tiernan had returned to the army in 1928 and was appointed Chief of Chaplains in the European Theater. He said army life appealed to him. “’I tried to be civilized, but I just couldn’t,’” Shank quoted him saying. He was eventually sent to London and assigned to establish a training facility for chaplains in the European Theater. He was credited with the training of 2, 800 chaplains who later served in World War II.

He served in WW II as a chaplain, earning his Colonel’s bars and several noteworthy recognitions, among them the Distinguished Service Medal. And he and Truman re-established their correspondence.

He retired from the army in 1945 and retired from parish ministry in 1948. He died in 1960. But the parish he founded 41 years earlier was thriving.
The Centennial Mass Aug. 25 was celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr., and concelebrated by Fr. Saballo, Fr. Peter Marsalek, SOLT, General Priest Servant and Fr. Carlos Saligumba, previous pastor of St. Louis Parish. The priests were assisted by deacon John Purk, SOLT, and Darwin Dupree. Deacon Ralph Wehner served as Master of Ceremonies. The bishop thanked the SOLT priests who had served the parish for the past 15+ years.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston commented that he had received the letter inviting him to celebrate the Centennial Mass in January 2017, “so I’ve had this on my calendar for nearly three years! Fr. Carlito was planning ahead!”
“It’s rare to meet someone who is 100 years old,” he said. “… It’s even rarer that a parish reaches 100 years. Deacon Purk put it in perspective for me when he told me, ‘This parish has been in existence for 5 percent of the history of the Church.’ I congratulate you, parishioners. You’ve lived through a lot of changes, like Kansas City, like America, and you are here to celebrate 100 years.”

He noted that the parish was “born” in 1919, in a part of Kansas City that was just beginning to have a lot of new homes.

“This parish and school prepared thousands of souls for eternal life. It and you persevered through all the changes and you are still here. Here, thousands have come into the family of God through faith and the sacraments and progressed in the Christian life as pilgrims on the way to heaven.

He continued, “One of the reasons we mark anniversaries like this is to show gratitude. We are grateful for God’s many blessings that have come because of this parish and touched the lives of so many people and families. We thank the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the life of grace that has been received through this parish. There is no better way to thank God than in the sacrament of the Mass, the supreme act of divine worship.”

Harkening back to the First Reading, Isaiah 66:18 -21, the bishop said, “The Lord said, ‘I come to gather nations of every language, they shall come to see my glory.’ The Catholic Church throughout the world is the fulfillment of that promise: it gathers the nations of the world. In its own way, this parish is also an example of that – gathering sons and daughters of God of different backgrounds and languages; and because of the Eucharist, we are brothers and sisters.

He challenged the parishioners to move into the future with love, with zeal, and with faith. The number one priority should be missionary discipleship. To be a missionary disciple, “go for the and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and freely share the things that God has given to you. Freely share the love of God and love of neighbor.”

In the Gospel, Luke 13: 22-30, someone asked Jesus, “Lord will only a few people be saved?” He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Bishop Johnston reminded the assembly that we all need a savior. The narrow gate is Christ. And he said, “We enter into Christ through faith and the sacraments. Christ and his visible body on Earth, the Church, is our lifeboat.”

At the close of Mass, Bishop Johnston read the proclamation honoring the centennial of St. Louis Parish, sent by City Councilman Lee Barnes, Jr. Father Carlito told the parishioners that his six years as pastor had been “beautiful years” and that he “had become a U.S. citizen in Kansas City as pastor of St. Louis parish!” He also presented the annual parish awards to several parishioners, and it was announced that a reception would be held in the parish hall.


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October 20, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph