Saturday, January 21, 2006

St. Mary's Church, Kansas City, Kansas

"St. Mary's Church is [or was] the oldest Catholic Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Established in 1858 as the Mother of God Parish at Ninth and Ann Avenue,. A second church was built in 1865 on Land Bought from Mathias Splitlog. The present church was begun in 1890 and dedicated June 21, 1903."

How do I know all this? I read it on the brass plaque next to the cornerstone. I also found a note on a google search indicating that St. Mary's was founded by Father Anton Kuhls, who was also pastor for nearly fifty years and who also established St. Margaret's hospital in Kansas City.

St. Mary's, at some point, was surpressed and absorbed into St. Anthony's (a few blocks to the west, across from the Wyandotte County Courthouse on 7th Street) and that parish is now known as "St Mary's/St. Anthony's".

The Church is on 5th Street, a stone's throw from St. John the Baptist, the Croatian parish on Strawberry Hill, where the old timers still greet each other
and curse each other in Croatian. I don't know if St. Mary's was maintained as a Croatian parish or whether it was a parish for English-speaking residents (this is a point that only mattered, happily, in the old days, when it came time to preach the sermon or have after-Mass coffee). At some point not long ago (I saw it in the Kansas City Star, but don't remember exactly when) the diocese turned the building over to the Strawberry Hill Land Trust.

The stained glass remains in the building, but it is in obvious disrepair and will be lost if it is not removed or attended to soon. The building is rough quarried limestone, and like several churches we'll look at, it has an irregular facade with towers of different masses and heighths (I'm not sure it works so well on all these churches as it does at Chartres or Amiens). The building was locked--I couldn't see what, if anything, was left inside, but as you'll note, the niche above the entrance was empty. I assume the church was probably stripped. I'm including here a little detail I took of a weather-worn relief of the Sacred Heart over the main doors, which I thought was interesting as well.


I found more information on the web about the founding of St. Mary's. This is taken from the History of Wyandotte County Kansas and its People ed. and comp. by Perl W. Morgan. Chicago, The Lewis publishing company, 1911. 2 v. front., illus., plates, ports., fold. map. 28 cm. [Vol. 2 contains biographical data. Paged continuously.]

The Rev. Father Anton Kuhls arrived in Wyandotte the first week in October, 1864, leaving his first parish, St. Joseph's in Leavenworth, in care of the Carmelites. This was during the so called Price's raid. Father Kuhls's first experience was when the stage driver being unable to find the little church in the timber, dumped the good priest's trunk out of the stage with a bad prayer, and left trunk and priest on the wayside. A charitable woman, Mrs. Jas. Hennessy, helped carry the trunk to the church. It was she, also, who gave him the first loan of a broom to sweep the church and sacristy, and also furnished him with a blanket to sleep under.
The church was a one story brick, twenty by forty feet, which had been built amidst untold difficulties and had yet a debt of one hundred dollars, which had been advanced by a dear old friend, Mr. Henry Deister of Parkville, Missouri. The sacristy served all possible purposes - parlor, dining room, kitchen, dormitory and infirmary. By the kindness of a neighbor, John Kane, an Englishman, Father Kuhls was asked to report as a soldier next morning, but he got a passport of a friend Charles Glick (a brother of George W. Glick afterwards governor) who had been appointed provost marshal, to visit the camps as chaplain. The second day after his arrival Father Kuhls made a sick call to Mrs. Bright, living at the old mission house six miles west of town, afterwards the farm of Mrs. E. Burgard, at Muncie. Having no horse he made the trip on foot and met a band of militia under Captain Hall, who halted him, but by the interference of Mr. James Collins he was allowed to pass on unmolested.

The number of Catholic families in Wyandotte was about seven; the rest lived in Muncie, in all about forty families. Owing to the great poverty of the people the priest kept bachelor's hall for nearly two years, living on a very simple diet of bread and coffee. On Sundays after last mass, he used to ride out to Martin Stewart's, a gardner, who lived at what is now the corner of Tenth street and Quindaro boulevard, for a square meal.

The town of Wyandotte at this time had about three hundred families or less, and scarcely any streets. In muddy weather the church could hardly be reached; so it was decided to sell the old place and get nearer to town. Hiram Northrup gave a deed in fee simple, so that Father Kuhls could sell the old church. He had donated the ground on condition that it should always be used for church purposes. He kindly cancelled this condition, and Father Kuhls then made a resolution never to accept a church building site, as a donation, except it should be in a place where the majority of Catholics live.

The ground for the new church, consisting of three acres, was bought of Mathias Splitlog, an Indian, for eight hundred dollars in gold, and was the first piece of his allotted land sold. The new church was commenced at the close of 1865, at the southwest corner of Fifth street and Ann avenue. At the corner stone laying, the Rev. Father Hennessy, of St. Joseph, Missouri, - who died as archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa - preached an eloquent sermon. The year after, Father Kuhls sold one of those three acres for one thousand four hundred dollars, so that the two acres now owned by the church cost nothing. In 1866, during the building of the church, and while the priest was away at Leavenworth, a thief entered the study and stole one thousand seven hundred dollars, all of which had been collected in the east for the building of the church. Great was the priest's consternation and grief. On the following Sunday his poor congregation subscribed eight hundred dollars, and he netted one thousand dollars at a picnic held in the timber where the Fowler packing house now stands. During the meeting, at which the eight hundred dollars were subscribed, Mr. Patrick Doran, an old neighbor, headed the list with a twenty dollar gold piece, a whole month's wages, and his all at the time. The new church was dedicated in September, 1866, by the good Bishop Miege, the first bishop of Kansas and the territory east of the Rocky mountains. The Rev. Aloysius Meyer, of Eudora, preached, and the Rev. Father Linnekamp chanted high mass.

In October, one week after the dedication, Father Kuhl commenced school, putting a partition behind the altar and thus making a room for the purpose. The three rooms upstairs served as pastoral residence. He started with thirty-five pupils, and Miss Kate Dietz, of Fryburg, Pennsylvania, was the first teacher. She kept the school three years, afterwards joined the sisters at Leavenworth, and received the name of Sister Mary Aloysia. At this period four sisters came from Leavenworth to take charge of the school. They were sent by the saintly Mother Xavier. The parish priest gave them his new house, built in the meantime on the northwest corner of Fifth street and Ann avenue, and he moved into the basement of the church. Thus he had moved from garret to cellar for sixteen years, without having a permanent residence, The school flourished from the start, and a great number of Protestant children even sought it.

On May 2, 1888, Father Kuhls celebrated his silver jubilee. Bishop Matz, of Denver, preached an eloquent sermon on the priesthood. The event was a joyful one. The presents were numerous and amounted to over $2,500. The cash was used to build the cottage on the south side of St. Margaret's hospital - now to be used as a doctors' home - and to help the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Missouri. During that year, Father Kuhls broke a leg when returning from a sick call at St. Margaret's Hospital late in the evening the day before Christmas. He went to California for a few months' rest, and while there sent his written resignation as rector of St. Mary's church, to Bishop Fink. The Very Rev. John J. Cunningham, vicar general, was asked to be his successor. He declined, however wisely, and the bishop returned Father Kuhls's resignation after a six weeks' consideration.

On the first day of March, 1890, the grading commenced for the new stone church on the northwest corner of Fifth street: and Ann avenue, and the sisters' residence was torn down. On May 8th the basement was commenced. Mr. James Stanley had the contract for the mason work, and Mr. James Clark the contract for the new parsonage. The latter was ready for occupancy in September, and the church basement was dedicated and moved into on October 12, 1890. The Very Rev. John J. Cunningham, performed the ceremonies. The sermon was preached by Rev. Father Neidhart, S. S. R. There was a great crowd of people and plenty of rain throughout the day. The Blessed Sacrament was carried out from the old church in solemn procession, after nearly every member of the congregation had received Holy Communion for the last time in dear old St. Mary's. It was a sad leaving to many. Mr. Michael Gorman and Mr. James Healey, the two oldest residents, carried the old mission cross of 1870. Since then seven missions have been held at St. Mary's church by the Redemptorists.
The great St. Mary's church, as it stands today at the corner of Fifth street and Ann avenue, was completed in 1903 and dedicated on June 21st of that year with the most impressive services held on any like occasion in the city's history. The great church was crowded beyond its seating capacity, which is about 1,200. The ceremonies began about 10:30 A. M., and lasted until 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
The services began with the blessing of the exterior and interior walls by the Right Rev. Bishop Fink. Then the altars were blessed, while the Litany of the Saints was chanted. This service lasted until 11 o'clock, when pontifical high mass was celebrated by the Right Rev. Bishop Cunningham, of Concordia, Kansas, a schoolmate of Father Kuhls, with the Rev. Father Redecker, of Westphalia, as deacon; the Rev. Father Kinsella, of Leavenworth, as sub-deacon; the Rev. Father Ward, of Leavenworth as assistant priest, and the Rev. Father Jennings of Armourdale and Rev. Father Ildephonse, O. S. B., of Leavenworth, as masters of ceremonies.
The sermon of the Right Rev. Bishop Matz, of Denver, followed the celebration of mass, and the music, an orchestra, was furnished by Carl Bush and a choir of thirty voices. A large number of visiting priests from various parts of the country witnessed the dedication, among whom were Bishop Hogan of Kansas City, Missouri. and twenty other priests.

Bishop Matz spoke for more than an hour. His subject was "Christianity and Progress," and his text, "Be ye perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect," was taken from Matthew iv: 48. He reviewed the entire history of Christianity, and never was a subject more ably handled from a local pulpit.
St. Mary's has the most beautiful interior of any church in either Kansas City, and not one has a more commanding exterior. The structure was under construction for twelve years, and the building represents the power and strength of its founder. the Rev. Father Kuhls. A large pipe organ that cost $2,500 was constructed at Pekin, Illinois, and with this the furnishing of the church is complete.
The dedication of the church came near being forestalled by the delay of two freight ears, containing the three altars of the church which were on their way from Louisville, Kentucky, when the floods occurred. For two weeks the cars were lost. Finally Mr. Frank Donovan located them at Randolph, Missouri, where they had been sidetracked. Mr. John Phelan and Dr. W. Z. Wright took the matter in hand and had the altars brought over to Kansas City, Kansas. In order to reach them it was necessary to move eighty other cars and this was done by special permission from Chicago. It took all night to accomplish this task. The altars arrived Saturday morning. At noon twenty-five men began the work of installing the altars, and labored incessantly until midnight Saturday, when the task was completed. This is considered one of the greatest feats ever performed in a Catholic church in Kansas, and may be in the United States. The altars are the finest that could be obtained, and are made of white oak artistically carved and trimmed in gold.


Anonymous said...

The stations are at St. Agnes in Fairway, Kansas.

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

Welcome to Kansas, you Evil Trad! There's another closed parish somewhere too. St Joseph/St Benedict at least implies it. Sorry I can't help with locations, but I assume the closed parish rolled into Our Lady and St Rose would be in the Quindaro neighbourhood between the existing Church and Blessed Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

The actual church was founded in 1858 as the Irish Church. It closed in 1980. It has been purchased by a private individual.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any information regarding the stain glass windows. The origin, etc.?

Curmudgeon said...

Alas, I have none.

Unknown said...

My grandparents lived their entire lives in the shadows of St. Mary's and St. Johns. St. Johns was built buy the Croations a block away from St. Mary's because the Croatians wanted their own church. Although I have fond memories of going to church at St. Mary's it did not have the most beautiful interior of any church in the KCs. In fact it did not have the most beautiful interior of any church on Strawberry Hill.

Grandma (Irish) and Grandpa (Croatian) always referred to St. Mary's as the Irish church and St. Johns as the Croatian church.

When I was very young, both churches were full and had many Sunday morning services at different times. It seemed as if church bells rang every half hour announcing the beginning or ending of one church's mass or the other.

Anonymous said...

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church is located at 44 North Mill (north of Central Avenue) and was not built by the Polish Americans. My grandfather, one of the original parishioners, had immigrated from the country that is now called Slovakia. St. Cyril's is actually a Slovak parish, not Polish as stated in an earlier comment.

edenflux said...

Do you want pictures?

Anonymous said...


I am an innocent being that has been violated every way one can be. I noticed this building (in need of t.l.c.....) on my way to court for having been slandered/defamed. I am quite excited about it's potential to the point of actively owning & operating it. Though spiritual provisioning will be had still I am going to use it as a proper family center for all things of health & wellness. The only prerequisite being clean living ('Vegan') as is practical & volunteering as this is still a place polluted. -_-

My honor is my life as is yours.


A child of nature.

(Steven Michael Cunningham of 01/04/1986

Anonymous said...

My Great Great Grandfather John Mantel was one of the men who helped built the St. Anthonys church on 7th and Ann, im Kcks

Mary Jo said...

I believe my great grandfather and his brothers were the stone masons for this church as well as the Cathedral in KCK. I'm interested in any information about the construction that is available.