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It was early in 1909, when the late Bishop John J. Hogan asked Father Cyprian Sauer to gather the Black Catholics in the community, if possible, for a mission. At that time there were 35,000 African Americans in the Kansas City area. Bishop Hogan stated: ”The church must do something for them.” The Bishop’s plea was presented to the Provincial of the Franciscan Order. The Provincial considered the request, and appointed Father Cyprian, who was the assistant Priest at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 26th and Gillham Road, the first Pastor.
Father Cyprian experienced a rough and trying time. He succeeded in gathering thirty-five Catholic African Americans, but he needed money for a place of worship and a school. He decided to write to Mother Katherine Drexel, who was known for her generosity. When months passed without hearing from her, Father Cyprian, appealed in prayer, to St. Monica of Africa (331-187 A.D.), a Black woman, who was known for her long years of prayer, for the conversion of her son, Augustine, who became a great Doctor of the Church. Fr. Cyprian promised to dedicate the mission in her honor if financial aid was found. The mission would be named in honor of Saint Monica. Exactly one week later, he heard from Mother Drexel. She came to Kansas City, and with Father Cyprian, picked the site of 17th and Lydia for the location of the church and school. She presented him a check for $8,000.00, for the purchase of the property which consisted of two cottages.
On Sunday, October 2, 1910, the mission was formally opened. It was called, “St. Monica Mission for Colored Catholics.” After three years, the buildings became too dilapidated for use as a church and school. The congregation was then allowed to celebrate their masses in the Saint Joseph Sanctuary, at 19th and Harrison Avenue.
The men of the Catholic Club decided to help the St. Monica Mission obtain a new site. They made a pledge, and were very prompt in their payments. There were many other benefactors, also, who contributed generously. The pastor, once more appealed to Mother Katherine Drexel, who immediately sent a check for $3,000. This generosity made it possible to have a new building free of debt, shortly after its’ completion. The cost of the building was $12,676.11. The new building was blessed on Sunday, July 2, 1913. The Solemn Dedication took place on October 26, 1913.
The church was on the second floor. The school was on the first floor and basement. The convent was in the back of the building. The Priest occupied another cottage on the property. In 1940, Bishop O'Hara formally presented the old St. Joseph Church building , located on 19th and Harrison, to the St. Monica Mission parishioners. It was at this time that the name “Saint Monica Mission” was changed to “Saint Joseph Parish”.
St. Joseph Church had in its sanctuary, two unique statues. They are the life-size statues of two black saints, St. Benedict the Moor and St. Ephygenia of Africa. These statues were imported from Paris by the late Attorney, W.T. Johnson. He later donated the famous statues to the Mission.
In1940, with the aid of Bishop O'Hara, a high school was provided for the Black boys and girls. It was located on the top floor of the Mission, which was formerly the church. In 1944, the high school was proud to hold its first graduation. In 1959, Father Alvin Deem. O.F.M. purchased property at 16th and Paseo Boulevard, which would become the location of the new St. Joseph Church and Rectory. The property was purchased for $50,000. The new buildings were dedicated by Bishop Cody, on Sunday, April 16, 1961.
The history of Saint Monica is filled with the past of not just one church, but two. The merger of the Risen Christ and the Saint Joseph Parishes in June,1995, serve as the foundation for today's united parish.
On October 19, 1995, the two Parishes agreed to merge into a new parish at the Saint Joseph site. The two Churches officially ceased to exist as separate Parishes when the first mass of the united congregation was held on October 22, 1995. Approximately 500 people attended the Mass, which was conducted by the new Pastor, Father Philip M. Egan, at the site of the former Church of the Risen Christ. The united parish was temporarily called the New Community Catholic Church.
Following a six month planning process, the people of the new Parish reached back into history and dedicated the congregation to Saint Monica. The new Church name would become, "Saint Monica Catholic Church".
A Capital Building Fund Campaign was initiated for the construction of a new Sanctuary, in September, 1998. The campaign was designed to fund the building of an 11,500 square foot Sanctuary with seating for 750 people. This new edifice would be attached to the church building (St. Joseph), at 1616 Paseo Boulevard. The Sanctuary of the new Saint Monica Catholic Church was dedicated by Bishop Raymond Boland, on October 21, 2001.
The Risen Christ Catholic Church and the St. Joseph Catholic Church closed two sets of historical doors, and opened a new set of doors to the future! The parishioners share their experiences of God’s work in this Church.