by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OLATHE — “I thought the groundbreaking ceremony was close to perfect,” said Father Michael Hermes after St. Paul Parish here celebrated a milestone in its relocation project on Oct. 8.
“We had our annual spiritual bonfire and all-parish rosary led by our youth,” said the pastor. The event drew more than 600.
St. Paul, the oldest parish in Johnson County, is relocating for the fourth time in its history to 115th Terrace and Lone Elm Road — just four miles north of its current location.
But the arduous process of building a new school and church is not dimming the spirit of these parishioners. That was obvious in the enthusiasm of the large crowd that showed up for the groundbreaking.
The fellowship of this diverse community was on display as well, as they recited the rosary together in English, Spanish and American Sign Language, and again when the evening was capped off with the sounds of music in Spanish from the Coro de San Pablo (the St. Paul Spanish Choir) and bluegrass music from the Konza Swamp Band.
The response of the parish to the relocation project has been overwhelmingly positive, said Father Hermes.
“We qualified for the groundbreaking in less than two years of starting the capital campaign,” he said. “I’m proud of our community for the generous response.”
The building committee determined the best path forward for the relocation process is to build a school and multipurpose center first, during Phase I of the project.
This will allow the whole parish to move together.
“We had many discussions about whether or not to build a church building first,” explained Father Hermes. “But we decided against that since we would have had a split campus for 10-plus years.
“Also, by moving out of our current campus, we were able to sell it to the First Hmong Christian Church (from Kansas City, Kansas).”
The parish will celebrate Mass in the multipurpose center and continue to rent the gym at their former location for sports activities.
Olathe mayor Michael Copeland joined the community for the groundbreaking ceremony, thanking St. Paul Parish for its contribution to the city.
“We are so grateful for St. Paul and its extraordinary ministry to Olathe,” he said. “It’s so wonderful for our community to have St. Paul working for more than 157 years to proclaim the Gospel, to lead people to Christ and to help those in need.
‘Thank you very much for expanding your reach with the facility here on Lone Elm.’”
The Leonard McKinzie family was also on hand to help celebrate. The family donated 20 acres to the archdiocese during the Future Full of Hope campaign in 2001.
“Later on, the archdiocese decided to have St. Paul relocate to this site to better serve the growing Catholic population in west Olathe,” said Father Hermes.
There are currently 3,000 Catholic families living within St. Paul Parish boundaries. In the next 10 years, with new housing growth, it could grow to 4,000 families.
One of the primary motivations for relocating is to better serve these Catholic families.
“We are hoping that the construction of Phase I will begin in November,” said Father Hermes. “We hope to have it ready for occupancy by January 2019.”
In his blessing, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann commended parishioners on their undertaking and reminded them that Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation, of all that we build.
“Let us pray for his help during this celebration, my brothers and sisters,” he said, “that God will bring the construction to a successful completion and that his protection will keep those who work on it safe.’”