by Jill Esfeld Ragar
LEAWOOD — Parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel here experienced a taste of heaven on the feast of Corpus Christi when they gathered for the dedication of their new church.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who celebrated the Saturday evening Mass, noted the appropriateness of the feast day.
“This space will be particularly dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist,” he said.
The event culminated a process that began weeks earlier when St. Michael hosted an evening to educate parishioners in the dedication rite and their new church.
“We invited all parishioners,” said Denise Ogilvie, director of Christian education and liturgy. “We did a little bit of education about the liturgy itself and talked about the things we’re taking from our old church into the new church.”
Some particular treasures that made the move are the sacred relics of Blessed Miguel Augustín Pro and Sts. John de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant and Charles Garnier, procured for the church by Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher.
On the night before the dedication, founding pastor Father Bill Porter led parishioners in evening prayer. Volunteers then kept vigil with the relics until the dedication Mass began.
As the beginning of the dedication Mass drew near, the congregation gathered in the courtyard outside the roped-off entrance to the new church. No one had yet been allowed even a glimpse of the church interior.
The archbishop greeted parishioners saying, “This is a day of rejoicing!”
The church plans and key were then presented by Father Porter to Archbishop Naumann, who was invited to “open the doors of the new St. Michael Church.”
A round of applause erupted as parishioners, led by the Knights of Columbus, entered the church, where they were greeted by the archbishop, Father Porter, and associate pastor Father Joseph Mandagiri.
The new nearly $16 million church, which seats 1,200, was designed by David Meleca and has been noted for its traditional architecture. Columns direct a progression from the courtyard into the church, becoming more ornate as they approach the sanctuary.
The interior of the church has a deep-blue, 37-foot-high ceiling. The rear wall of the sanctuary is a 25-foot high mural depicting Christ reigning from his throne in heaven with St. Michael and 13 American saints.
Referring to the church’s Romanesque style, Father Porter said, “I hope it blends in with everything we’ve done here and with what the people originally asked for. And I hope they’ll be happy with it.”
Parishioners seeing the interior for the first time were beyond happy. Charter parishioner Stacy Holland described the experience as having “the awe factor.”
“When we walked into the church, there was almost a stumbling effect,” she said, “because you saw it and you couldn’t move. You didn’t want to move; you just wanted to stand there and keep taking it in.
“All I can say is the focus on the Eucharist was amazing to me. I walked in those doors and that mural was in front of me and everything seemed to lead to the sanctuary — you could look around at everything else that’s beautiful there, but that focus on the Eucharist was just breathtaking.”
Music at the Mass was provided by St. Michael’s adult and children choir under the direction of Kevin Vogt.
During the dedication, Archbishop Naumann thanked Father Porter for his hard work and all the priests who “helped give birth to this community.”
He also acknowledged the many lay leaders who made “this beautiful edifice a reality.”
The archbishop went on to discuss how a society’s buildings reveal its priorities and how our church buildings particularly reflect our meager efforts to honor God.
He encouraged the congregation to be nourished at their new altar and to treat others with the same care they’ve put into building their church.
“We come here to be nourished and fed so we can live lives of heroic love,” the archbishop said.
He concluded by telling the congregation that as they come to their new church to experience God’s love, may they also be empowered to bring that love to others.
Parishioner Monica Lane, who recruited volunteers for the dedication event, has already experienced the shared love of her fellow parishioners.
“My job was very easy,” she said, “because people were so excited and so enthusiastic to be a part of this dedication.”
Father Porter was also overwhelmed by the generous efforts of his parishioners.
“It’s just amazing the vast amount of work people did to get things ready,” he said. “Three or four days before the dedication, we had 30 gals in here polishing silver, and there were people from five to 75 years old spreading 700 bags of mulch around.”
Lane, who has five children, said even the youngest parishioners were anxious to be involved. Students at St. Michael School and in the religious education program voted on what the children donation envelope collection would purchase for the new church. “The top vote-getter was the votive candle holders,” Lane said.
Following the dedication, parishioners gathered for a reception of cold sandwiches, sides, cookies and drinks. The crowd of 1,600 filled the new parish hall below the church and spilled over into the courtyard.
All the priests of the archdiocese were invited to the Saturday evening dedication but, since weekend Mass responsibilities kept many from attending, Father Porter also hosted evening prayer tours and a dinner on June 15.
Reflecting on the completion of the beautiful new building, Father Porter said an even greater accomplishment is the community that grew from 500 to almost 2,000 families along the way.
“Being part of this parish from the beginning has been one of the best pieces of my priesthood,” he said. “But as wonderful as it is building this education center and the church, it’s even better and more wonderful having the opportunity to build up a community.”