by Father Mark Goldasich
It was not my home parish, but I still have fond memories of St. Mary Church in Kansas City, Kansas.
After its school closed in the ‘60s, the boys from my home parish of St. John the Baptist, about two blocks away, took over the duties of serving Mass at the parish.
Two things stand out. One was of Father Leo Herken, the pastor there when I was a server. He was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met, but I hardly ever understood a word he said.
He spoke with a kind of lilting, nasally drawl when giving instructions on serving. He always ended with, “You understand, boys?” We answered dutifully, “Yes, Father!” And as soon as he was out of earshot, we asked one another, “What did he say?!?”
But the Lord saw that things always worked out.
My second memory was serving for an elderly priest at a daily noon Mass at St. Mary’s one Lent. On the Tuesday of Holy Week, he asked if I’d be there the next day because he had something for me. After Mass that day, he gave me a reward for serving so faithfully: a dime. It was like a treasure for him and I was humbled by his simple gesture and kept that coin for many years.
Once the church itself closed and was merged with St. Anthony Parish, St. Mary’s basement became the home for a food kitchen to provide for the poor and homeless. But the upstairs was slowing deteriorating.
Each time I found myself on Strawberry Hill, St. Mary’s looked a little worse.
But that’s no longer the case! In this season of Easter, there’s been a resurrection for the former St. Mary Church. Having undergone extensive renovation, it’s filled again with life, thanks to the Police Athletic League of Kansas City, Kansas. Be sure to check out the story and photos on pages 7-9 of this issue.
Seeing what they’re doing at the former church brought to mind this story.
There was a teacher celebrating her 80th birthday. It was a marvelous occasion, highlighted by the presence of a great number of her former students. She had taught in one of the worst sections of Baltimore. Before she came to that school, there were repeated instances of juvenile crime and delinquency.
Once she began her work, there came a change, which in time became noticeable with so many of her students turning out to be good citizens, men and women of good character. Some became doctors, lawyers, educators, ministers, craftsmen and technicians. It was no accident, therefore, that she was remembered with gratitude and love from her students, especially on this milestone birthday.
A newspaper sent a reporter to interview her. He asked for the secret that made her teaching so rewarding.
She said, “Oh, I don’t know. When I look at the young teachers in our schools today, so well equipped with training and learning, I realize that I was ill prepared to teach. I had nothing to give but love.” (Adapted from Don E. McKenzie of Northway Christian Church in Dallas, found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
I’m sure there’s plenty of love still embedded in those walls of old St. Mary’s. It’s now seeping out in the efforts of all involved in PAL KCK.
The essential ingredient to transforming lives doesn’t involve fancy equipment. Some boxing gloves, several heavy bags and a safe place to gather — sprinkled with lots of love — are a winning combination to knock out poverty’s punch.