‘Mother Church’ celebrates 150th anniversary

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it comes to the Catholic faith, all roads in Wyandotte County lead to St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish here.

It was the first Catholic faith community established in the frontier town — the parish to which all Kansas City, Kan., parishes ultimately trace their origins. This history was celebrated during the 150th anniversary Mass on Sept. 21.

The main celebrant and homilist was Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher. The concelebrants were: Father Dan Gardner; Father Michael Hermes; Father Matthew Horvat, pastor; Father Frank Horvat; Father Peter Jaramillo, SSA ; Msgr. Michael Mullen; and Father Patrick Murphy, CS.

“Archbishop Keleher gave a nice homily, and the liturgy was outstanding,” said Father Horvat. “I was very pleased by the whole thing.”

During the liturgy, representatives from some of the daughter parishes brought forward roses. As the people left, they were given a medal with an image of St. Patrick on one side, and St. Bridget on the other, in honor of the Irish immigrants who originally founded St. Mary’s. A reception was held in the church hall following the Mass.

In his homily, Archbishop Keleher gave an overview of this history of the parish and praised the contributions of the women religious and pastors who served generations of Catholics.

No one, however, had a greater impact on the history of the parish than Msgr. Anton Kuhls, pastor for 44 of the parish’s earliest and roughest years, said the archbishop.

“God bless him, I think he’s a saint,” he said.

Monsignor Kuhls had three dreams for the parish, which he called his “three spiritual daughters,” Archbishop Keleher said. The first was to build a church; the second was to build a school; and the third was to build a hospital.

“I don’t think you can beat the ‘three spiritual daughters’ that [Msgr.] Kuhls helped establish,” said Archbishop Keleher.

It is largely unknown, but Msgr. Kuhls is responsible for bringing the Sisters, Servants of Mary to the archdiocese, said Father Horvat. He found the documentation, but it was too late to include it in the anniversary materials.

The parish merged with nearby St. Anthony in 1980, the parish school closed in 1964, and St. Margaret’s Hospital merged with Providence Medical Center in the early 1970s. Nevertheless, the life of St. Mary Parish continues through its current institutions.

Rose Marie (West) Leverich grew up a member of St. Mary Parish. Although founded by Irish immigrants, she recalls, it wasn’t exclusive to them.

“We were kind of a mixed culture,” said Leverich, now a member of St. Peter Cathedral Parish. “We had some Croatian people, but mainly Irish. My family was German. We lived on Strawberry Hill. St. John the Baptist was right down the hill, but we went to St. Mary.”

The parish was a friendly, close-knit community. It was safe, and no one gave a second thought to kids walking home from school alone. Even when people moved away, they came back for Mass. That’s why she was at the 150th anniversary celebration.

“It was always home to me,” said Leverich.

Today, parish vigor is being restored by an influx of Hispanic Catholics, said Father Horvat, who taught himself to read some Spanish.

“The Strawberry Hill area has been undergoing a revitalization,” he said. “Nine years ago you could buy a house here for $20,000 or $25,000. Due to the activities of the [Strawberry Hill] association, housing has gone up over 300 percent, and new construction is in the area.”

“We have a large Hispanic community,” Father Horvat continued, “and the 11 o’clock Mass on Sunday is full — 600 people or plus. That adds a lot of vitality to the parish.”

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