by Marc and Julie Anderson
ROELAND PARK — No matter where he goes in town, one of the first questions people often ask Father Bill Porter is, “What parish are you assigned to?”
Father Porter’s response is almost always the same. He says he’s assigned to “the best parish.”
When people ask him which parish that is, he replies with the name of St. Agnes. That’s usually, he said, when the real conversation starts.
Almost always, people share with him a tie they have with the parish. For example, their parents were married at the church, they went to the parish’s grade school or their grandparents belonged to the parish.
In fact, it never ceases to amaze him how many people have ties to the parish — although it probably shouldn’t. After all, the parish celebrated its centennial on Sept. 16, and a lot has happened in the life of the parish since its founding in 1923.
For example, the parish community has built a church, a school, a convent and a rectory. Out of the school grew what eventually became Bishop Miege High School. More important, though, is the sacramental life of the parishioners.
In his homily, Father Porter, who currently serves as the parish’s pastor, mentioned the names of the sons of the parish, including Msgr. Tom Tank, along with Fathers Ken Kelly, Jim Ludwikoski and Richard McDonald.
Additionally, two priests from Mexico — Fathers Jerry Arano-Ponce and Augustin Martinez — celebrated their first Masses there, adopting the parish as their own. Father Porter also recognized the concelebrants of the centennial Mass: Msgr. Tank, along with former pastors Fathers Jim Shaughnessy and Tony Lickteig.
Over the years, Father Porter said, the parish has celebrated 8,432 baptisms, more than 7,400 first Communions, and some 3,350 couples have started their new lives together there as husbands and wives.
One such couple is Scott and Carol Porter.
Married in 1976, the Porters have long been a part of the parish. In fact, Carol’s family dates back to the parish’s founding. In 1923, her great-grandfather John Nunnink served as one of the main builders of the church. And for a time, the parish’s first pastor, Father James Ording, lived in the basement of a home owned by Nunnink.
In January 1924, the school opened its doors, and until very recently, it even prominently displayed a picture of her grandmother: Margaret Nunnink Schleicher was one of the first two students to graduate from the parish school.
Later, Schleicher became the first parishioner to get married in the second- floor church, an addition blessed on Oct. 9, 1927. Schleicher’s wedding occurred just three days later on Oct. 12.
For her part, Porter said, she’s mostly lived within the same two-mile radius of the church, the same church in which she was baptized, received the Eucharist for the first time and celebrated her marriage to Scott. She attended the same school that her daughter attended. Today, her brother is sending his children there.
Hearing Father Porter share the parish’s statistics brought back a flood of memories.
“It made me remember all of that — baptisms, weddings and funerals — and how many of my family were a part of those numbers,” she said.
In his homily, Father Porter said he truly appreciated the opportunity to have celebrated the parish’s centennial.
“It’s nice to be able to look back on a parish’s [first 100 years]. Every parish is unique,” he said. “A parish, to me, is one of the most beautiful creations of the Catholic Church because it creates the opportunity to nest and become family.”
Visiting with other friends and family was what they appreciated most about the centennial celebration, said parishioners Kent and Judy Decker.
Married in 1971, the Deckers had their three daughters baptized at the church, later sending them to the parish school. Their girls were also married there, and five of the couple’s 14 grandchildren were baptized at St. Agnes. In 2003, after decades of being an unofficial part of the parish, Judy joined the Catholic Church through the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“It’s a big family tradition,” she said. “It’s our home family church.
“It was really, really nice to see a lot of people that we don’t see very often . . . but we’ve had a long-term connection with. That was a lot of fun, just visiting with folks.”