Visitation Parish unveils, dedicates new $13.5 million church and parish hall
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
KANSAS CITY - Seven years of dreaming, planning and working came to a culmination June 10 when a completely rebuilt Church of the Visitation was dedicated in a solemn ceremony presided over by Bishop Raymond J. Boland.
Albert de Zutter/Key photo
Bishop Raymond J. Boland presided at the June 10 Mass of dedication of the new Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. Concelebrating with him were other priests of the diocese and Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn and Father Norman Rotert.
More than 1,000 people attended the festivities that included prayers, anointing of two altars with holy oil and blessings throughout with holy water from the baptismal font. A children's choir, an adult choir and a bell ensemble undergirded by a newly-installed and voiced organ provided rich musical fare for the occasion.
The new Visitation Church is the crowning glory in a three-part renovation of the parish facilities that started with major additions to the grade school, and continued with rebuilding playgrounds and parking lots. The entire renovation cost more than $20 million, with the church project and parish hall on the lower level accounting for $13.5 million of the total.
Concelebrating with Bishop Boland were Father Norman Rotert, Visitation pastor, as well as former pastors and associates, and Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn, who consecrated the altar in the St. Joseph Chapel, the daily Mass chapel, his first such act since being ordained a bishop May 3. Bishop Boland performed the rite for the main altar.
The musical program drew the assembly in at many points. The acoustical characteristics of the cruciform church were described as exceptional by the installers of the 2,500-pipe organ, installed by the Lively-Fulcher Organ builders of Alexandra, Va. The reverberation delay is three seconds when empty and two seconds when the church is full, the international standard for most music, Beatrice Santner, director of music, told The Catholic Key.
Almost a century after 12 Catholic families gathered around Father Thomas McDonald, the founding pastor of Visitation Parish, Bishop Boland said in his homily, their "spiritual descendants gather round their seventh pastor, Father Norman Rotert, to dedicate this beautiful church."
The church, he said, "both rivals and complements the Seville-inspired emporia of the Plaza some blocks to the north."
"Have you ever wondered why Catholics build up such a devoted attachment to their local parish churches, be they cathedrals or chapels?" Bishop Boland asked. "You will find the answer in this ceremony of dedication, in its prayers and rituals, its blessings and symbolisms. The place almost becomes a person with sacramental overtones - it is baptized, anointed and readied to re-echo God's word. It becomes the Upper Room where we are invited to be nourished at God's table and encouraged to linger in his presence. For those who believe, it is the very vestibule of heaven."
Bishop Boland predicted that "people will come from far and wide to admire and study this church," adding, "I pray that their trips may become pilgrimages and their curiosity may become enriched by faith."
But he reminded the assembly that the purpose of a parish church "is to sanctify its members and, through them, the rest of the community."
"It is not just a monument, another Union Station, buildings without souls," he said. The Gospel of the day in which Jesus calls the despised tax-collector down from the tree and says, "Today I must stay at your house," made the self-righteous grumble, Bishop Boland said, "but Zacchaeus was converted to a life of atonement and concern for the less fortunate."
In the latter regard he praised the parish for its "outreach to its sister parish of Santa Maria, Madre de los Pobres in San Salvador, your association with Habitat for Humanity and your constant support for Holy Family Worker House and a host of other programs."
"Bringing the living, caring, redeeming Christ into the highways and byways of the world is the true fruition of what happens within these walls," he said.
In the Visitation, commemorated in the parish's name, "two women, each pregnant with her first child, meet to share their mutual joy in contemplating the extraordinary nature of their calls to maternity," Bishop Boland said. "One is destined to become the mother of John who fearlessly proclaimed the Christ. The other,'in love beyond all telling,' presented us with the incarnate Son of God, the author of those words you will read as you leave this sacred place each weekend: 'Euntes docete omnes gentes' - 'Go forth and make disciples of all nations.'
"The mandate is clear. There is nothing left to be said."
The Latin words the bishop referred to are imprinted close to the ceiling of the church's narthex or gathering space, facing people emerging from the main worship space. Those words are also the motto on Bishop Boland's coat of arms.
At the conclusion of the Mass of consecration, Father Rotert addressed the assembly from behind the altar. "Seven years ago we had a dream about how to reposition ourselves for the next 100 years," he said. "And here we are."
He was interrupted by a lengthy standing ovation by the capacity crowd, which included 800 people on the main level and another 200 or more in the gallery surrounding the main worship space on all sides. When he was able to resume, Father Rotert thanked the many people involved in the creation of the new church - staff, architects, contractors, subcontractors, craftsmen, artists and laborers. He thanked Bishop Boland "for trusting us and for your support."
Bishop Boland then thanked him in return for "taking on this challenge." He referred to another major accomplishment of Father Rotert's, the Blue Hills housing program around his former parish, St. Therese Little Flower. "Many people who are in their own homes tonight would not be there if it hadn't been for what you did," he said.
Bishop Boland noted the presence of Father Richard Carney, a former Visitation pastor who later became chancellor of the diocese while Father Rotert was vicar general during the Bishop John J. Sullivan years and for a year into Bishop Boland's tenure. Those two priests, the bishop said, "are a twosome of wisdom" for the diocese who "have the skill to comfort the afflicted and make the comfortable uncomfortable, the role of the prophet. They speak with the voices of conscience," he said.
The new church includes a Blessed Sacrament Chapel with room for individuals or small groups to sit or kneel in prayer located on the south side of the church in line with the main altar. The St. Joseph Daily Mass Chapel can seat 100 people for daily Mass and smaller weddings and funerals. It is designed in Spanish mission style, and is the creation of Ramon Lopez, a Santa Fe, N.M., artist. It features a carved ceiling and windows made of selenite, a natural mineral from New Mexico. A large screen behind the altar contains images of Saints Katherine Drexel, Philippine Duchesne, San Isidro, Joseph and Mary, and Ignatius. A buffalo-hide painting of the Pieta graces the rear wall, above the doorway.
Behind the main altar is a Rosary Chapel, providing another private devotional area, with three paintings of the Holy Family.
The baptistry, containing an octagonal baptismal font and framed by columns, is visible from all parts of the nave. Off the baptistry is the catafalque for holding wakes for the dead, and a Reconciliation room. Statues of saints and archangels are dispersed in a variety of locales.
On the lower level is a large hospitality space, a kitchen that will supply lunches for the school children, classrooms, a secure area for the pre-school and kindergarten, and a music rehearsal room with no two walls parallel, so the sound will revolve instead of bouncing back and forth, a faith-formation room and a retreat room.
Visitation Parish consists of 1,200 households, with more housing being built in the Plaza area, behind 55th and Oak Streets and along the Brush Creek corridor. The old church held about 250 people in the upper church, and simultaneous Masses in that space and in the basement separated the worshiping community. The new church with seating for 1,000 will bring the worshipers together.