by Joe Bollig
OVERLAND PARK — Today it’s one of the biggest and most prominent of Johnson County parishes.
But at one time, Church of the Ascension was the parish with no name.
In July 1991, when founding pastor Father Larry Albertson launched it, it was simply referred to as “the new parish in Overland Park (name to be announced later).”
On May 7 of this year — the solemnity of the Ascension — the Church of the Ascension celebrated its 25th anniversary with a parish picnic.
A late afternoon Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was concelebrated by Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher, pastor Msgr. Thomas Tank, associate pastors Father Nathan Haverland and Father Alessandro Borraccia, AVI, and former seminarian-intern Father Dan Morris.
The Mass was followed by a reception and then an evening party at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Receptions were also held after Sunday Masses (except for the evening liturgy).
Videos of the 1995 groundbreaking and 1997 dedication were produced for the anniversary, as well as a parish pictorial directory.
The founding families of the parish fondly remember St. Thomas Aquinas High School as ground zero, because it was their first worship space.
The school chapel was used for baptisms. The loud and echoing basement “catacomb” was the location for the first Masses until it was converted into classrooms, and then parishioners worshiped in the commons area. Tell an old-timer, “Stack ’em 10 high and four deep” and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
Using borrowed space led to some interesting situations, as parishioner Pat Healy wrote in the parish quarterly newsletter, “The Ascent.”
As Healy remembered it, the parish had a setup crew get the commons area ready for Mass every Sunday morning. One morning, after the school’s annual fundraising Extravaganza, the men discovered a 3,000-pound problem.
“When we got the doors unlocked, we discovered a small compact car parked in the middle of the commons,” Healy wrote. “The car was a grand prize from the raffle for the Extravaganza. Apparently, the winner didn’t take it home that night. The car was in park and the wheels were locked, so the wheels didn’t roll. It took at least eight men to move the car from the center of the commons to the back wall. Then we continued to clean the place and set up chairs. We had the commons ready for the 8:30 a.m. Mass.”
Ascension parishioners were nomads for those first five years until they finished the big, new church in 1997.
In 25 years, the parish has grown from about 500 families to more than 3,000. In his message to parishioners, Msgr. Tank reflected on what Ascension has become — and is becoming.
“Over the past 25 years, Ascension has grown to become a flagship parish within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas,” wrote Msgr. Tank. “We have sought not just to enjoy our blessings as a parish, but to share them with others as well.”