In August 1909, Fr. Thomas McDonald met with Kansas City’s Bishop John Hogan to discuss the need for a Catholic parish in the southern part of the city between McGee and State Line, an area of mostly farmland. Less than a month later, on September 5, the first Mass was held in Fr. McDonald’s family farm home. Yes, Old McDonald had a farm, and on that farm he had a church. With 12 families totaling 82 members, the new parish Visitation of the Blessed Mother was born. A temporary church was erected on the NE of Grand Avenue and Rock Spring Road on the McDonald farm. The crude structure was known as “The Catacombs.” In October 1909, it became Visitation’s first church.
By the following spring, it became clear a more permanent church building was needed, and money was needed to pay for it. Visitation parishioners have always been generous and rather creative in raising funds for their church. Visitation’s archives include the very first parish announcement notebook containing Fr. McDonald’s careful, handwritten notes on parish happenings. One way early Visitation parishioners raised money for the church was by holding social gatherings. Here are some early fundraising events: on Aug. 30, 1909, a lawn social at the Boppert home at 5026 Grand raised $ 42.90; in April, 1911 a card party at the Zahner home at 54th & Main raised $ 58.50; and the last “card party” reference in the book was spring of 1924 and proceeds were $500.00! However, it was a non-parishioner who came through in the spring of 1910. The 1959 parish history describes how it came about. Fr. McDonald told his friend who was a pastor in
With that money, a plot of land at the SEt corner of Main & Rock Spring Road (now 51st Terrace) was purchased, and a 50’ by 70’ foundation was laid for the church, which was estimated to cost $35,000. The new structure was ready for its first Mass January 1, 1911. The foundation was extended again in 1915 with plans for a new and permanent church. On June 6, 1915, the cornerstone for the new structure was put in place. On May 6, 1917, the third Visitation Church (at its present site) was dedicated. Built in the Spanish Mission style and patterned after Santa Barbara Mission, it is rumored to be the inspiration for JC Nichols’ Country Club Plaza. You may have heard the story that JC Nichols used to walk by the church and admired its style so much that he patterned the Country Club Plaza after it. Whether that is true, it is true that Visitation was built before the Plaza. We were here first!
It wasn’t until May of 1920 that the church was completed. The main altar and communion rail, donated by Mrs. T.J. Pendergast, were the final additions. The church chimes, dedicated November 20, were a gift from E. J. Sweeney, founder of radio station WHB, one of the first seven stations in the
On January 2, 1974
Many who witnessed that amazing 1974 renovation were also here in 2004 to see an even more breath-taking transformation with the dedication of our current worship space. The narthex used to be most of the actual church which was extended much further to the east. The project, led by Fr. Norman Rotert, finally brought us a space large enough to hold everyone for the Easter Vigil and Christmas Eve Masses, previously standing room only events. It also eliminated the need for Mass downstairs. Instead of “Tighe Hall Mass people” and “Main Church Mass people”, we became one, Visitation people. From the sacred simplicity of the
We’ve come a long way in 100+ years. Yet we still feel the connectedness to those first 12 families. No matter the building, be it a farmhouse, a catacomb, a plaster and marble edifice, or a Spanish Mission replica, we are a community of welcoming believers, bound by a communal table, wanting to share our faith with each other and the community, and to pass it on to each new generation, including all of you.
Visitation has been served by nine pastors. Founding pastor, Thomas Benjamin McDonald, served from 1909-1957. McDonald was succeeded by Arthur M. Tighe (1957-72), Richard F. Carney (1972-1981), Henry G. Bauer (1981-83), Thomas Minges (1983-86), Robert A. Rost (1986-1995), Norman Rotert (1995-2005) and Patrick J. Rush (2005-2016). Our current pastor, Bradley S. Offutt, came to Visitation in July 2016.