Growing pains at St. James in Liberty: old church emptied, new church dedicated

At St. James Parish, the new 1,200 seat church was packed to capacity October 19 for the dedication and consecration of the church and altar. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer and Megan Marley

LIBERTY — St. James the Greater Parish was originally founded in 1837, with a parish church later built in 1848 on N. Water Street, two blocks north of downtown Liberty. That church was rebuilt nearby in 1913.

In 1977, the parish was entrusted to the Society of the Precious Blood.

They soon made the decision to relocate, as the then-current parish campus was too small for the growing community. The site on S. Stewart Road was selected, construction began and on April 5, 1981, the new parish plant — church, school, rectory, parish offices and social hall — was dedicated.

The parish continued to grow, and by 2017 was deemed too large for the church. A capital campaign began, and in April 2018 ground was broken for a new church just a stone’s throw away on campus from the old site.

The morning before the dedication of the new St. James the Greater Church was a day regularly scheduled for an all-school Mass.

Several months earlier, parish and school leaders met with pastor Father Michael Roach to plan the final Mass in the old church on October 18.  Jennifer Scanlon-Smith, school principal, recalled Fr. Roach saying that he wanted the students involved.

“This is the closing of one door and the opening of another. I want the children, especially the little ones, to understand.”

Scanlon-Smith said the eighth graders were to have an important role, as they would be the first class to graduate from the new church. Fr. Roach wanted them to carry the church articles from the old church to the new to show continuity as the parish accustoms itself to the new church. 

The seven biggest boys in the class were assigned to carry the cross, while the rest of the class were to carry statues, candles, and other articles. Not everything would be used in the new church, at least not right away; unused articles, like floral arrangements, would be stored.

Along with the cross, the items to be placed in the new church included statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe, honoring the parish’s sizeable Hispanic community, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and the Filipino martyr and now patron saint of migrants, St. Lorenzo Ruiz. His statue honors the growing Filipino community within St. James parish.

Fr. Roach celebrated the final Mass at the old church, with Fr. Michael Volkmer, CPPS and Fr. Timothy Armbruster, CPPS concelebrating. Although no longer serving at St. James, Fr. Timothy was invited to be part of the closing/opening celebratory weekend and was officially welcomed at the closing Mass by Fr. Roach.

In his homily, Fr. Roach recalled growing up in the parish on N. Water Street and shared a few memories. When he was ordained a priest in 1981, his first Mass was celebrated in what was then the brand-new St. James Church.
“We have worshiped in this space for 38 years. As we transition to the new space, we know the same God is with us,” he said.

Bishop Johnston extends his hands while blessing the holy water to be used for sprinkling the people, walls and altar during the new St. James Church dedication. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

St. James was one of the 12 Apostles, a foundation of the Church, said Fr. Roach. Like him, St. James parishioners have cared for the needy and the poor.

“In this building, we have celebrated Baptisms, Confirmations, Holy Communions, graduations and weddings. We have honored our dead at funeral Masses. Life is always about transition. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future, our Lord God!”

At the conclusion of the Mass, the eighth-grade class ceremoniously approached the altar and, two by two, carried statues, candles and other pieces to the back of the church. Several adult men carefully unlatched the cross from its hanger and laid it in the arms of the seven boys.

In procession, the Class of 2020 gently carried the altar fixtures from the old church to the new, while the student choir accompanied them with song and drumbeats.

It took about 30 minutes for everyone to get inside the new church, where Fr. Roach described the meaning of the expansive light-filled worship space and the mural of the Transfiguration behind the altar. He recounted the story of Jesus—accompanied by the apostles John, James and Peter—climbing to the top of Mt. Tabor, where he was transfigured and seen conversing with Moses and Elijah.

“A voice was heard from the heavens saying, ‘This is my Beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ That’s what St. James parishioners have done for the past 175 years,” Fr. Roach said.

He concluded the event with an ‘Our Father’, ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Glory Be’. The students returned to school. Scanlon Smith said later that it was an emotional morning.

The next day, students, families, parishioners, current and former pastors and Bishop Johnston gathered at the old church, processing toward the new location to the sound of bagpipes. Upon arriving at the door, Randy Huber, contractor for both the old and new churches, spoke on behalf of all involved in construction of the new building and Bishop Johnston was presented with the architectural papers and keys to the new church. Johnston in turn asked Fr. Roach to open the doors.

“Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with songs of praise!” the Bishop quoted.

Bishop Johnston spread Oil of Chrism on the new altar at St. James church during its consecration October 19. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

Once all were inside, Bishop Johnston made short work of blessing water for sprinkling the people, walls, chapel and altar. Once he returned to the front of church, two readers and the psalmist brought the Lectionary forward, and following a brief prayer they read/led the readings and psalm. Deacon Chuck Koesterer proclaimed the Gospel reading from Matthew, and then the Bishop came to the ambo for a homily.

Johnston congratulated and thanked parishioners and benefactors for their labor of love.

“Catholic churches are special because they are places where we step for a moment out of the purely natural world and into the world of the sacred and supernatural…when you step into this church and see this mural [altarpiece of the Transfiguration], enter with reverence and silence, for this place too is where Heaven and Earth meet in the liturgy, in the sacraments, in prayer.”

He recounted a recent pilgrimage to Italy, where the 100-some pilgrims visited many beautiful historic churches.

“As special as these churches are because of their beauty, their history and the saints, this church we consecrate today in Liberty, Missouri will be just as if not more important; the reason is, it is a living and growing parish church.”

“It is here where people will come to be saved, it is here that people will celebrate the sacred mysteries which we call sacraments…entrusted to the Church by Christ for saving human beings from sin and bringing them into a new life in the Holy Spirit.”

“You have been incorporated in Christ through Baptism, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit; you remain in Christ, on the vine in Christ as one of his branches because of the Holy Eucharist which you participate in every Sunday; your baptismal integrity and the purity that you receive from that washing is restored if you fall into sin after baptism every time you celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation; you are strengthened and restored if you’re very ill or injured through the sacrament of the Anointing of the sick; you are made a sacrament that is a sign of Christ’s love for the Church if you enter into the sacrament of Matrimony; and you are ordered to Christ the Priest and Servant through Holy Orders. These are the sacraments, the saving mysteries for those who are being saved.”

He encouraged parishioners to go out and evangelize, saying we have more in common with the early Church than our grandparents’ time as the majority of Americans today have not heard the Gospel.

“You are going to fill this space up with more people who are being saved. Amen?…we must be an outward looking Church which intentionally, through friendships, brings others into our company so that they too may be added to the Lord, to the number of those being saved.”

The Creed and Litany of Saints followed the homily, and then came the Prayer of Dedication for the new church. The Altar and four corners of the church were anointed with Oil of Chrism, and a brazier of incense then placed upon the altar. After the incensation, the altar was cleaned by families representing the parish school and prepared with altar cloths by parish staff, and flowers and candles placed in the sanctuary by parishioners. The Easter Candle, altar candles and four consecration candles were then lit, and Mass proceeded with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After Mass the new parish hall downstairs was blessed, followed with a reception.

The new open concept church can seat 1,200 people, is handicapped accessible, has a side chapel and features a floor-level choir and organ ‘loft’ and a large narthex gathering space. The main altar has a hand-painted iconographic mural altarpiece of the Transfiguration painted by New Jerusalem Studios in Phoenix, AZ: below Christ conversing with Moses and Elijah atop a steep hill stylistically painted to resemble Missouri cliffside, the three apostles—Peter, James and John—are depicted in postures of penitence, going out to evangelize and closeness to Christ, while from above descends a hand and a dove representing the other two Members of the Trinity. In the floor of the church, six large stone medallions depicting religious symbols guide the path of the center aisle: the first near the baptismal font in the back of church depicts flooplans of the entrance to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain where St. James is buried, along with a seashell associated with both the saint and baptism and the words ‘we enter through baptism’; the second, a Chi-Rho with the Alpha and Omega; the third, the flooplans of the Compostela Cathedral’s saints’ altars with the words ‘assisted by the prayers of the saints’; the fourth, praying hands with a cross; the fifth, floorplans of the Cathedral’s main altar with the words ‘arriving at our unity in Christ’; the final medallion near the altar is of a host and chalice with golden rays.

For more on St. James Parish’s history, construction, Mass times, school and more, visit

Clergy and congregation process from the old church to the new church building to begin the Oct. 19 Church dedication ceremony. (Megan Marley/Key photo)


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November 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph