St. Patrick’s Parish, St. Joseph celebrates sesquicentennial

With almost every seat in the pews filled, St. Patrick’s parishioners gather at Mass celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr., Dec. 7, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of their parish in St. Joseph. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

ST. JOSEPH — St. Patrick’s Parish celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding Dec. 7, also the anniversary of the dedication of the church on the first Sunday of December 1873.

In a place of honor near the sanctuary stood an easel holding a framed greeting from Pope Francis on the occasion of the parish’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

The festive High Mass was celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as principal celebrant, with Fathers Evan Harkins, St. Patrick’s administrator, and Jonathan Davis, Parochial Vicar, concelebrating. They were assisted by permanent Deacons Marcelino Canchola and John Nash.

The Knights of Columbus Honor Guard of the St. Joseph Council lined the center aisle as the clergy and servers entered and departed the sanctuary.

Music was provided and led by The Polyphonic Schola of St. Joseph, directed by Matthew Bobela, with organists Teresa Bobela and Tom Smith.

Bishop Johnston greeted those in the packed church, saying he was honored and delighted to be there. He also sent a greeting from ‘a parish native son’: Fr. Richard Rocha, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Blue Springs. “He asked me to convey his love to you all and remembers being a 6-year old boy at the 100th anniversary of the parish’s founding.” Parish obligations at St. Robert Bellarmine prevented Fr. Rocha from participating in St. Patrick’s celebration.

Bishop Johnston expressed amazement at the parish’s age, noting that it was ‘born’ a mere four years after the end of the American Civil War.

“It’s rare for anything to endure for 150 years, certainly people don’t live that long. The Catholic Church in St. Joseph was growing, and this parish was founded, as the American frontier was beginning to open to western expansion.” He also said he was honored and delighted to be a part of the celebration.

The bishop then quoted from an article on the parish printed in the St. Joseph Catholic Tribune, March 15, 1890. He described it as informative and entertaining.

“… In 1869, some Catholics who had settled in Patee-town, a suburb of St. Joseph, were among the most regular in attending Mass in the old St. Joseph Church, on the corner of Fifth and Felix.

“Their toilsome journeys from the distant suburb to the center of the city, sometimes through rain and mud, sometimes through heat and dust, and often through frost and snow, to hear Mass, suggested the propriety, in recognition of their merit, of providing a church nearer their homes. They were but few, and not wealthy. But their faith was of a kind not likely to die or grow cold. The new parish was accordingly resolved upon.

“It was offered to Rev. Father James Doherty, … then at the old church on Felix Street. Father Doherty declined it as a project not to succeed. Rev. Father Eugene Kenney, who was with Father Doherty, was … offered it. Father Kenney accepted it, … through obedience. Both these priests are dead many years ago, God rest their souls.

“… In October or November 1872, the exact date is not remembered, the ceremony of blessing and laying the cornerstone took place. The mud being quite deep it was with much difficulty that the bishop and priests who officiated were able to wade through it along the miry foundation.

“Rev. Father D.S. Phelan, of St. Louis, was the preacher on the occasion.  And he was not the least distressed by the mud. Having gathered his pantaloons in over the top of his boots, and with his soutane and surplice swung classically across his breast and over one arm, he was fully master of the situation. “And it was well for him that  he had a good voice and sound lungs, as he had to contend on that occasion with an improvised chorus of tattered, muddy-legged boys, who, having perched themselves on the upper rails of fence nearby, gave a variety concert of whistled snatches from Dandy Jim and Yankee Doodle, with fugues and finales of bone drumming and cat calls.

“As an apology for the Patee-town boys of that time, it is due them to say that although the Christian Brothers were then on the ground, they had not as yet fairly entered upon their duties to lasso and corral the said boys into subjecting.

“Father Phelan got through with his discourse… , having first … downed his antagonists. A collection was taken up for the new church. Then the congregation dispersed, each one plodding homeward through the mud as best he could.”

“… In 1873, … the church was completed and opened … for worship.” 

Bishop Johnston said that many important things happened over the next 50 years, and some of those present may have been part of that. Much of that history concerned the school, taught by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of St. Mary, followed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and lay teachers.

At the time St. Patrick was founded, the Diocese of St. Joseph, established in 1868 and led by Bishop John J. Hogan, was the first suffragan diocese to the St. Louis archdiocese in the state of Missouri. The Diocese of Kansas City was created in 1880 and led by Bishop Hogan. The dioceses were merged in 1956 as the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

According to the 1992 diocesan history ‘This Far By Faith’, in St. Patrick’s Parish circa 1869 “there were perhaps five families who lived nearby and no more than 25 in the entire parish.” Land had been donated by the Smith estate and, ground broken in 1871. All labor for the building of the church was donated and construction materials were purchased with proceeds from bazaars and socials.

According to the history, by 1939, reports indicated 1,500 parishioners in St. Patrick’s Parish. The parish campus was comprised of the church, a rectory and convent, and a school.

Due to the condemnation of properties for the construction of I-229, Holy Rosary Parish closed in July 1960. Many of its parishioners joined St. Patrick’s.

In Dec. 1978, a shrine honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe was dedicated. It was erected in memory of Msgr. Maximilian G. Rupp, former pastor of Holy Rosary and to the memory of the Mexican-American community in St. Joseph.

Bishop Johnston said the rich traditions of the Mexican-Americans from Holy Rosary “enriched St. Patrick’s and made it their own.” Today, nearly 70 years later, the combined faith culture has grown stronger and more vital. There are about 300 families in the parish.

The homily’s second half concerned Matthew 3:1-12, the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Advent.

His remarks were on the ministry, the figure of, St. John the Baptist, who “fulfilled the office of the prophet Elijah by preparing the people of his time for the coming of Jesus, first by summoning them to repentance and opening them to the Kingdom of God in its fullness that would arrive in the person of Christ.”

The first coming has been fulfilled, the bishop said, “so we must consider and also prepare for his second coming. You and I live between … his first and his last coming. 

“So, who is John the Baptist for us? Who is preparing us for the coming of Jesus in judgment? Certainly, it is the Church, … which Christ founded to prepare people for him, and draw us out of darkness into light, out of death into life. The Church serves as John the Baptist to the people of today.

“The Church we experience is not an abstract thing,” he continued, “it is not a concept. The Church is made up of real, flesh-and-blood people your bishop, your priests, your parents,  your teachers all these and more, prepare the way for you to receive Jesus and welcome him into your life with faith. And, if you are prepared to accept it, you also are called to be a prophet, to prepare others for Christ. You don’t work independent of the Church, rather, the Church works through you.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of our prophetic office in this way: The baptized must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church and participate in the apostolic and missionary activities of the people of God.

“This is a special priority for our diocese, with our mutually shared vision, our diocesan pastoral plan introduced at the beginning of this year, a plan for all of our parishes for the next 3 – 5 years. A key part of that plan is to activate every baptized person to be aware and embrace their prophetic mandate to bring Christ to others. This is given to each of us at Baptism, to be missionary disciples.

“So, we have an obligation, each one of us, like John the Baptist, to go before Jesus and prepare a people to meet him. If John the Baptist is our model, consider what he did and do the same.

John’s message, he continued, is two part: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand. … The good news is only good, if the bad news is understood. If I don’t know the bad news, the good news means no news.  If I don’t know I’m sick, the cure is of no interest to me. Only by admitting we need to be saved from something will a savior make any sense. That’s why repentance comes first.

“I am a sinner,” he stated, “and I’m going to die one day. Once I know that, and admit it, I begin to see why Jesus Christ is Good News for me! Once I know I need to be saved, then I realize what a great bit of good news that we have a savior sent by God. God has come for me. Mercy makes no sense without repentance and repentance leads to salvation.

John the Baptist was not afraid, he continued, especially not of human opinion. “Fear is the great enemy of our mission to share the Gospel. We worry too much what people will think of us if speak of our faith or … mention the name of Jesus.

“John the Baptist was always talking about and pointing to Jesus. People were fascinated by John and wanted to follow him, but he always said, Jesus, not me, is the Messiah. Jesus, not me.” 

This, he said, is the key to the future of St. Patrick’s parish.

“There is no guarantee you will be here in another 50 years, but in a large part, that is up to you.” He urged the congregation to embrace missionary discipleship, to share and spread the Gospel.

“After all, a parish is made up of people, of families. … your mission is to grow as a family, a family of God.”

Bishop Johnston, in conclusion, recalled fathers Doherty and Kenney, the priests who thought the parish would fail. They were wrong. Remember the description of the founding families: They were but few and were not wealthy. But their faith was the kind that would not die or grow cold.

“If that still describes you,” he said, “there’s a good chance that St. Patrick’s will celebrate its bicentennial.”

The Mass continued. Bishop Johnston announced just before the Liturgy of the Eucharist commenced that three times annually, a bishop is permitted to bestow an apostolic blessing carrying a plenary indulgence, provided the confession and Holy Communion requirements are met. He said he had decided to bestow one of his apostolic blessings on St. Patrick’s parishioners on the occasion of the sesquicentennial anniversary.

The Papal greeting was read. When Mass ended, a dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall completed the celebration.

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew 3:1-12, concerning the ministry of St. John the Baptist. In his homily, Bishop Johnston said that John the Baptist prepared the people of his time for the coming of Christ, and the Church serves as John the Baptist to the people of today. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

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February 20, 2020
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph