Immaculate conception in Leavenworth reopens after year of work
by Jessica Langdon
LEAVENWORTH — Sue Suwalsky can point to the exact moment she saw a dream turning into a reality.
It was when she saw sunshine streaming from a skylight into the Immaculate Conception Church sanctuary in Leavenworth.
Suwalsky, a longtime member of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Parish, loved the way the light fell onto the new crucifix.
“That was almost a breathtaking moment for me,” said Suwalsky, part of the committee that saw a list of major renovations — including enhanced lighting and a new 14-foot crucifix — to completion.
For almost a year, all Masses took place at the combined parish’s nearby St. Joseph site, while crews installed new pews, replaced the floor,expanded the lighting, improved the sanctuary, and completed other projects.
A Mass and open house officially welcomed parishioners back into Immaculate Conception Church for services and gave them a chance to see the changes.
The renovation of the church highlights a rich history in Leavenworth — and in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas as a whole.
The work also shows that the people of this parish believe in their future, said pastor Father David McEvoy, O. Carm. All of this couldn’t have happened without the help of a lot of people.
Between both churches, he said, there are beautiful facilities and a lot of history.
Immaculate Conception sits on land that played a major role in the history of the archdiocese.
Construction began on the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1864 and it was dedicated in 1868.
Pioneering Bishop John Baptist Miege spent many months collecting funds in South America to pay for the construction of the “massive, beautiful, Romanesque” church — his cathedral — that once stood here, said Father David.
Though the see was moved to Kansas City, Kan., in 1947, the church remained open as a parish in Leavenworth until Dec. 30, 1961, when a massive fire destroyed it.
Plans for the present-day church that replaced the old cathedral began soon after the fire.
The modern church — reflecting the architecture of the era — opened in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council.
In 2007, a committee began looking at its needs and coming up with plans for the building’s first renovation.
In 2010, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann approved a feasibility study, and a capital campaign began that fall.
The parish made plans to take care of some necessary improvements and do some beautification at the same time.
‘More prayerful aspect’
Substantial work took place between Pentecost 2011 — when things were moved out of the church — and Pentecost 2012 when it was ready to reopen.
From the new wood pews, which are padded, to the copper and bronze touches designed to match the organ pipes, care was taken with every detail.
Father David believes the sanctuary, for example, with its limestone and wood, is an apt reflection of the Kansas landscape.
Other changes were very intentional as well.
“When you come into the church your focus goes immediately to the crucifix,” said Father David.
“I think it’s got a more prayerful aspect,” he added.
Not only is the sanctuary now all on one level, but accessibility was improved throughout the building with an elevator leading to Miege Hall.
The acoustics have been improved as well, and the baptismal area has been expanded. Even the adoration chapel has seen some changes.
Linking past, present and future
Archbishop Naumann celebrated the reopening Mass on May 27, and concelebrants were Father David and Father John Maier. Deacons Tim McEvoy and Terrance Mulcare also took part in the Mass.
In the archbishop’s homily, said Father David, “he focused on the site,” which is an important part of the archdiocese’s own heritage.
“We’re not to forget the history of what’s gone before us,” he said.
It was fitting, therefore, that the building features an entire wall displaying photos of the old cathedral.
But the renovated church also showcases the few items from the original cathedral that survived the fire — a couple of stained-glass windows, the baptismal font and the bells.