‘Remember, Renew, Rejoice’: Celebrating 75 years of the Faith

St. Sabina parishioners packed the 850 seat church in Belton August 24 to celebrate the parish’s 75th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Johnston. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Megan Marley

BELTON — Three-fourths of a century has gone by since the first Mass in Belton, held in an old liquor store hall early September 1944 with just 60 attending. The St. Sabina parish community celebrated this anniversary by packing their current 850-person capacity church for a special bilingual Mass with Bishop Johnston and current and former pastors August 24.

During his homily, Bishop Johnston congratulated the parish on their anniversary and challenged them to continue forward in spreading the Gospel.

“We need to challenge ourselves as a parish to get ready for the next 25 years of faith—that’s not something automatic,” he said. “As I look back through the history of our diocese, I read about parishes that were born, that grew, that thrived, but eventually they closed. Sometimes there were obvious reasons for this, but what it showed is that parishes and people cannot live off the past, no matter how great that past may be.”

“I want to encourage you, Fr. Jeff, and all you parishioners of St. Sabina’s, to be a parish of missionary disciples—this should be your number one priority as you move toward your 100th anniversary in 2044,” the bishop continued.

“What motivates us? Love of God, and love of neighbor,” he said. ”If we love God and we love our neighbor, we will want to go forth and share with others the good things that God has done for us.”

“In the Gospel today, Jesus is asked by someone ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’ that’s a good question, that’s an important question.”

“‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I tell you many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough’.”

“We can only be saved by being in Christ and remaining in Christ through faith and the sacraments.”

After Mass, parishioners gathered in the gymnasium for a sit down dinner served by the Knights of Columbus and a slideshow presentation of pictures from over the years. Bishop Johnston, Fathers Jeff Stephan, Chuck Tobin and Joe Matt were special guests, and two elder parishioners from the first years of St. Sabina’s— Maxine Bremer and Joe Pusateri—were recognized.

The parish’s 2019 motto, “Remember, Renew, Rejoice”, is quite apt for it’s bold 75-year tradition.

The church mission at Belton began with its first Mass held September 10, 1944 by Monsignor Thomas Crowell. Early parishioners attended Masses at the defunct liquor store/beer hall on old 71 Highway (now 58 Highway) and in the Belton public school auditorium.

“One Sunday, we were all in church, and at that most blessed time we were passing out communion, and a couple of gentlemen came in the door (of the liquor store) and they were feeling no pain. And when they walked in and saw what was going on, and they didn’t know what to do!” said Maxine Bremer in a parish video shown at the Anniversary dinner, one of the few parishioners who can remember back to the parish’s earliest days. “They did leave.”

By 1945, parishioners began a campaign to fundraise for building a church. A major donor to the fund, James Green, requested the church be named in honor of St. Sabina—a first century Roman martyr whose feast is August 29—which was also his late wife’s name. Six vacant lots were purchased at the intersection of Third and Herschel Streets in Belton, and by 1947 an Army chapel from Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo. was purchased, dismantled and reconstructed on the site. Bishop O’Hara dedicated the new chapel on August 8, 1948. In summer 1951, a house was purchased diagonally across from the church for use as a rectory—with its second priest and first resident pastor, Fr. Daniel T. Murphy, the Belton mission was raised to full-fledged parish status on July 3, 1951.

“I loved that old church, maybe because it was so small—it was so intimate. It’s just so big now!” said parishioner Gloria Madden.

In 1959, a parish census showed a total of 264 children—108 of which were grade school age and 34 in high school—and 425 adult Catholics. A school of religion taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion began, teaching not only St. Sabina’s children but also some from Coronation of Our Lady in Grandview and the nearby Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base (which closed in 1994).

“Her (his wife Gloria’s) family was a military family. There are still a lot of military families in the parish, maybe not as much as there used to be, but there are still the sons and daughters, the grandsons and granddaughters of the ones who were here,” Pat Madden explained.

By the 1970’s, the parish was outgrowing the modest chapel and needed more room. Five acres were purchased at the church’s current site on Trevis Avenue, and Bishop Helmsing dedicated the new two-story red brick building—five classrooms for religious education and a parish hall on first floor, the church on the second—on May 12, 1974. A rectory of matching construction was also erected. In 1989, Bishop Sullivan dedicated two additional buildings designed and built within a year—an education wing with eight classrooms and two offices built of brick, block and poured concrete, and a pre-fabricated metal and brick gymnasium for parish and community activities (including the August 24, 2019 75th Anniversary celebratory dinner).

St. Sabina (as a statue) overlooks the church narthex, where Bishop Johnston greeted parishioners after Mass August 24. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

“Little did we think at the time we would be courageous enough to build what we did,” said then parish pastor Monsignor John Huhmann at the gym and education wing dedication, as recorded in parish history.

In the early 2000’s, Hispanic parishioners garnered the support of 100 families to have a weekly Mass in Spanish at St. Sabina’s, which began happening February 18, 2001. The Hispanic community grew by leaps and bounds, with nearly 2000 Spanish-speaking parishioners, multiple bilingual Masses, and a sharing of Hispanic culture through Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Las Posadas, Quinceañeras, and the feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe and of martyr St. Oscar Romero.

“My mom used to make meats that were Mexican, and there would be these fun dinners downstairs—as a kid, I remember serving coffee and water at these dinners,” Gloria Madden continued to reminisce.

Around this same time, St. Sabina’s third and current church building was dedicated Bishop Boland—a broad, tall building featuring lots of natural light, stained glass, high ceilings with exposed wood beams, handicap accessibility, a chapel, an enlarged narthex for a gathering space and a stone baptismal font. It had taken 11 years to get the perfect church plans ironed out, but only one year to build! Groundbreaking occurred June 9, 2002, and the dedication took place July 12, 2003. Additional design touches such as the unique crucifix hanging over the altar, stained glass rose windows and the Cross tower in the flower garden outside were completed in the following years, thanks to the continued dedication of parishioners.

“[This 75th Anniversary] is not just a celebration of our parish, but it’s a celebration of our community. Belton has grown, and St. Sabina’s has been a part of it for 75 years! It’s a bigger picture than just a building,” parishioner John Cisetti said.

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Saturday
October 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph