by Joe Bollig
WESTWOOD — Few things can get someone off a roof faster than a tornado warning.
Architect Dan Himmelberg was inspecting the tile roof of the former Westwood Lutheran Church when the sirens sounded on May 25, just three days after the devastating Joplin tornado.
He and the others with him — members of the St. Philippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community — scrambled off and hastily took refuge under some stairs in the basement.
That’s when they found a treasure: about 100 roof tiles left over when the Spanish mission-style church was originally built in 1947.
Nobody knew they existed.
“A tile roof can last 100 years,” said Himmelberg, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park. He works for Xpress Ideas, an Overland Park-based architectural services company.
Those tiles will come in handy as the community transforms the closed church into their very own chapel. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it might be named after St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.
The St. Philippine community, established in the archdiocese in 1989, has been looking for a home of its own for some time. In recent years, they’ve worshipped at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Chaplains of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter have ministered to the community since 1995.
The parish, in addition to hosting the St. Philippine community, also hosts a large and growing Hispanic community. The lack of space led to scheduling challenges and physical limitations, so the St. Philippine community, with the permission of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, began looking for a new home.
“It has always been the goal of the Fraternity of St. Peter, in consultation with the archbishop, to acquire churches for the use of its chaplaincies,” said Father John J. Fongemie, FSSP, chaplain to the St. Philippine community.
The community had to wait until it matured and built up funds, he said. Archbishop Naumann gave them the green light in fall 2009 to start looking for a church and to launch a capital campaign.
Eventually, the community discovered a small brick church located in Westwood, a tiny suburban enclave in the northeast corner of Johnson County, bordered by Roeland Park, Fairway, Mission Woods and Kansas City, Kan. A small section borders Kansas City, Mo.
The future Latin Mass community chapel, located at 5035 Rainbow (across Rainbow Boulevard from the Westwood Christian Church), was formerly the Westwood Lutheran Church.
“It’s a good size for a small group to get their arms around, like a first home,” said Himmelberg. “It’s located in a great neighborhood. This is a rebirth of the church, and the neighbors are excited that [the property] will be maintained as a church.”
The St. Philippine community raised the $600,000 to buy the building, but it is owned by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Although the church is structurally sound, it will need some repairs and remodeling, which will cost about $700,000, said Father Fongemie.
Because the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form, colloquially known as the Latin Mass, it requires a liturgical environment such as was commonly found in Catholic churches before the Second Vatican Council.
“The good news is that [the church] is fairly traditional in its styling,” said Father Fongemie. “They were fairly traditional-minded Lutherans.”
Repairs and renovations also need to be done to the rectory, which was built in 1951. It has two bedrooms and a basement that will be finished.
The church now seats about 210, but its capacity will increase with more seats in the expanded choir loft. The community is comprised of some 240 families. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has assigned two chaplains to the community, who will offer at least two Sunday Masses and possibly three.
Father Fongemie hopes he and a newly ordained assistant chaplain can move into the rectory within three weeks, but the community will continue to meet at Blessed Sacrament until the chapel is ready sometime in January 2012.