‘Front-porch neighborhood’

Father Harry Schneider passes out candy last Halloween on the front porch of the cathedral rectory. Halloween is a big social event in the cathedral neighborhood as hundreds of costumed children roam the streets. Photo by Jessica Langdon.
Father Harry Schneider passes out candy last Halloween on the front porch of the cathedral rectory. Halloween is a big social event in the cathedral neighborhood as hundreds of costumed children roam the streets. Photo by Jessica Langdon.

Cathedral community a unique blend of all things Catholic


by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Every Saturday as a child, Virginia Buford Gorman headed outside to play with the kids in the neighborhood.

And, like clockwork, every Saturday her mother would call her in by 4 p.m. to clean up and go to confession right across the street at the Cathedral of St. Peter.

“I used to say, ‘Why do I have to go to confession every Saturday? I don’t know what I did,’” said Gorman (whose maiden name is Meyer).

“She said, ‘I’ll write them down for you and tell you what you did,’” said Gorman.

And she did.

Growing up in the “cathedral neighborhood,” meant a life full of faith and family.  (Gorman, who has lived all 89 of her years within sight of the cathedral, is one of seven children.)

It eventually also meant a life of service.

As an adult, Gorman has served the cathedral in countless capacities — including working for 40 years as its secretary — and can’t imagine living anywhere but the street she has always called home.

The cathedral itself is a second home for her.

She still helps with funeral meals (she only gave up her role as director of the meals last year), serves as sacristan, helps at the fall festival and other events and takes on any duty asked of her.

“I just get a good feeling by being in the church,” said Gorman, who attends Mass daily. “And then I can walk home.”

Whether residents have lived in the blocks around the cathedral for generations or are more recent arrivals, many sense that this area — where the streets proudly bear signs that read “Cathedral Neighborhood” — offers something special.

‘Sense of community’

Father Harry Schneider, rector of the cathedral, describes it as a “front-porch neighborhood.”

It’s one of the qualities he loves about life in Wyandotte County.

“If I sit out on my front porch on a summer Sunday afternoon,” he said, “I’ll get very little reading done because people from all over the neighborhood will be out. Kids will be out playing. They’ll come up and talk.”

A simple walk can turn into a social occasion, with conversation and offers of refreshments.

“One time, I started out on a walk and ended up visiting at four or five houses,” said Father Schneider.

Six blocks and three hours later, he returned home.

“People really are aware and watch out for one another,” he said. “There is a real sense of community.”

Patty Orth and her husband Jim have lived in their current home in the cathedral neighborhood for 41 years.

“We were the youngest when we moved in, and now we’re the oldest on the block,” said Orth. “We know our neighbors — that’s the good part. Kids still play outside.”

It’s how she remembers her own childhood — about two blocks away in the same neighborhood, where her mother and sisters still live.

Now Orth’s granddaughters attend Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral.

Halloween is one of her favorite times, and it’s a big social event.

Not everyone turns on their lights for the trick-or-treating, but the ones who do often see such a constant flow that running out of candy before the last trick-or-treater arrives is a common occurrence.

The crowd signals to her that people feel safe bringing their children to the neighborhood.

Father Schneider settles onto the porch of the rectory on Halloween night with hundreds of pieces of candy (and some bones for the four-legged visitors), and welcomes a wide cast of characters — from princesses to superheroes and more.

Many recognize him as their priest, and he helps them remember not only to say “Trick or treat,” but “Thank you.”

Sometimes, “Msgr. Kitty” curls up nearby to provide moral support. The black cat with white at his neck made the cathedral neighborhood his home some time ago and has long since become fast friends with many of the neighbors.

As Father Schneider welcomes the trick-or-treaters and exchanges greetings with their parents, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear cheers and whistles from a Bishop Ward High School football game a few blocks away punctuating the evening.

Walking distance

When the cathedral started offering Mass in Spanish in 2012, Father Schneider was touched by a sight he caught only by accident when he looked outside before Mass.

There, in this city in which almost everyone travels by car, he was greeted by the sight of churchgoers streaming in from all directions — on foot.

The cathedral neighborhood is one of the few where people still walk to church.

Moreover, Bill and Susanne Mahoney both enjoy walking their daughters, 12-year-old Molly and 10-year-old Meg, to school at Resurrection Catholic School.

Bill, a district judge, enjoys the walk — and the fact that everything the family really needs can be found within walking distance, or at the most a short drive away, with no need to spend hours a week driving.

And people are always out and about; neighbors tend to know one another, if not as friends or by name, at least by sight — for blocks, said Susanne.

Bill believes the urban setting is equipping his daughters with experiences and knowledge that will serve them well if they move to a big city someday.

“This is a much more realistic worldview than just living in your car,” he said.

This is Bill’s second time living in the cathedral neighborhood.

His older siblings went through at least some of their grade school years at St. Peter School in the neighborhood before his family moved.

As the youngest, he remembers the other kids along his route to kindergarten at McKinley Elementary School — and the way the adults watched out for them.

“There were pairs of eyes on us all the way,” he said.

Today residents still describe that sense of neighbors watching out for neighbors.

Addressing concerns

Life in the neighborhood is not without its challenges, of course.

Orth has served as president of the Cathedral Neighborhood Association since 2006, when she got involved as the area experienced a spate of problems.

A civic group named after the cathedral, the association met with police, for example, to discuss their concerns when efforts to rid surrounding avenues of problems with prostitution resulted in some unwelcome foot traffic in the neighborhood’s alleys and streets.

Graffiti, also, was on the rise. And when a child died in a drive-by shooting, said Orth, residents insisted that something be done.

Working through these and other concerns, said Orth, resulted in a stronger relationship between the neighborhood and the Kansas City Kansas Police Department, and she firmly believes that community policing here — as in other areas of the city — has made a big difference.

Now, when an issue comes up, whether it’s someone putting the trash outside several days before pickup or something more serious like graffiti, it is addressed quickly.

A traffic calming study also looked at the way people were using some of the streets as thoroughfares in a neighborhood with lots of kids.

Now, the neighborhood has a number of one-way streets. People don’t necessarily love that, said Orth, but it’s serving its purpose.

Orth chairs regular meetings of the neighborhood association, and people attend because they love their neighborhood and want the best for everyone in it, she said.

Different organizations and groups, including Community Housing of Wyandotte County, have worked with the community as well, to help it live up to its potential.

 Rich diversity

If Susanne Mahoney misses a meeting of one of the walking groups that have formed in the neighborhood, she likes to walk in the park.

She didn’t grow up in Kansas City, Kansas, like her husband did, but this area has adopted her, and she loves how the rich diversity in the neighborhood represents the world in which her girls will be working someday.

Within these few short blocks live representatives of many cultures. The Hispanic population has grown in recent years, and people from other nations have made the neighborhood their home as they settled into Kansas City, Kansas.

The neighborhood is not only racially diverse — it is economically diverse as well.

But there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the days her husband lived on the street the first time: Some of the teachers at now-Resurrection School find it very easy to keep a watchful eye on their students’ activities. They often live right down the street from them.

Susanne works for the Kansas City, Kansas school system and cherishes living in a neighborhood where she runs into her students and their families — current and past — at the grocery store.

“I just love seeing them,” she said.

Not all education in the neighborhood is formal, however.

Neighbors pass books along to one another, introducing others to interesting reads.

And to make sure the younger set isn’t left out, a freestanding little free library has popped up along 15th Street.

To Susanne, it’s rare to have a neighborhood where people know one another — at least by sight — for many blocks.

Thanksgiving time brings a Christmas lighting contest (complete with a traveling trophy) on 17th Street.

And when the weather is nicer, a barbecue contest brings neighbors together for fellowship and bragging rights (and the right to take home the green apron — an honor that most recently went to the Mahoneys).

The Altar Society organizes home tours every two years, and the Mahoney home has been included before, which has been fun — and educational — for the family.

“People will come through who are older,” said Susanne. “They might have a story about our house.”

Faith at home

Like many of the neighbors, Virginia Buford Gorman delights in stepping outside at night and seeing the steeple at its most beautiful, with its lights shining in the dark.

But the ambiance of the neighborhood is rich with sound as well.

“Those bells mean so much, you know,” said Gorman. “I’ve listened to them all my life. It’s just a part of me.”

Their chimes have provided a soundtrack to the days of many of the neighbors in this tight-knit neighborhood.

They’re just one more sign that, as Virginia often tells her husband George: “It’s just great to be Catholic.”

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