by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A small group of women religious from a Brazilian-based order have brought new life to a former convent at Blessed Sacrament Parish here, and the Mass has returned to a derelict chapel.
On March 20, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann dedicated the new altar and blessed the chapel for the Sisters of the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ.
“This liturgy we celebrate today is one of the most beautiful in the church — the consecration of a new altar,” said Archbishop Naumann in his homily. “To anoint the altar, you’ll see we use the [holy] water, which reminds us of baptism, and oil, which is reminiscent of our confirmation as we use the chrism from that rite.”
As part of the rite, Archbishop Naumann placed a cylindrical limestone plug in the center of the altar. The plug contained a relic of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini — also known as “Mother Cabrini” — a missionary to immigrants and the first naturalized American to be canonized.
There were some 30 people crowded into the small chapel for the liturgy, including members of the male branch of the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ from Kansas City, Missouri, the four Sisters, seven women called “daughters” who also live at the convent as guests, and lay supporters.
“It’s so special having you all here to celebrate this first Mass in this old convent,” said Sister Magdalena of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sisters’ local superior, called a custodian. “This was the original chapel. For many years, it was unused, neglected and damaged . . . and we’re so happy to dedicate this space once again for the Lord and have it a holy place for prayer and Jesus’ presence.”
Many people from several parishes worked so hard and contributed their “blood, and sweat, and tears” to build the chapel and do work to improve the entire convent, said Sister Magdalena, and she sincerely thanked them all.
The 1950s-era convent was once the home of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who taught in the parish school.
But the school closed and the Sisters of Charity departed long ago. The building, consisting of 10,000-square feet and now owned by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, had been used as offices for Catholic Charities and as a home for pregnant teenage girls.
The Franciscan Sisters, who formerly lived in cramped quarters above Shalom House in Kansas City, Kansas, moved into the closed convent in July 2014.
Renovations soon began on the building, which had been badly neglected, and the former chapel, which had been stripped bare and suffered severe water damage in two of its walls.
The chapel was primarily refurbished by Dan Eliason from Ascension Parish in Overland Park, and John Stone, a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The front and back altars and reredos were crafted by Ray and Marian Rottinghaus from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca, and the stained-glass windows were handmade by Ed and Elaine Herman from the Church of the Ascension.
Many priests from parishes in Wyandotte and Johnson counties and their parishes have stepped up in really big ways to help the Sisters get the convent into a livable condition.
“It has just been amazing all the people who have been coming to us to help,” said Sister Magdalena.
The larger convent, with 17 bedrooms, will enable the Sisters to expand their numbers and their ministry to the poor and marginalized.
Masses will be celebrated in the chapel for the Sisters by various local priests on an occasional basis.
As for their future plans for continued repairs of their convent, or — for that matter — their ministry, the Sisters are leaving these in the hands of God.
“We try not to make plans,” said Sister Magdalene. “We like to stay open to what God has for us and to let him develop the mission in a way that he wants.”