Catholic ministry to Hispanic population in the diocese dates back to 1914
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
The Kansas City area is known for the historic Santa Fe Trail, which led pioneers southwest to New Mexico. What is not so well-publicized is that the trail was a commercial highway which also led people north from Mexico to Kansas City and beyond.
Marty Denzer/Key photo
Day laborers bargain with a potential employer outside the West Side Community Action Network Center. The CAN Center offers a comfortable place for day laborers to wait for jobs.
The first wave of immigrants came to Kansas City in the early 1900s to work for the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads. A second wave began about 1910 when thousands of Mexican nationals fled the hardships caused by the Mexican Revolution in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their families. They came northward in pursuit of jobs on the railroads, in migrant farming and meat packing. Those who came to Kansas City settled in the West Side community, near the railroads and stockyards.
The third wave of Hispanic immigrants came to the Kansas City area beginning about 1917, hoping to find jobs in industries spawned by the outbreak of World War I.
When they arrived, the immigrants had to cope with discrimination in schools, stores, and in the workplace. Hispanics were seldom granted the basic services offered at the old General Hospital and by government agencies.
The needs of the community, "La Colonia," began to grow as its population grew.
Catholics stepped up to the plate to help.
In 1914 Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was established to serve the Hispanic community. In 1919, the parish completed the purchase of a West Side Swedish Lutheran church and dedicated as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. A few months later, teacher-turned social worker Dorothy Gallagher joined the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, a Catholic women's group which volunteered to staff a clinic and school for the immigrants.
Gallagher's family donated land for the school and several years later, for a community center. The Spanish-style settlement house, named in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, opened at 23rd and Jarboe streets in 1926. Gallagher, who later helped found Catholic Charities in Kansas City, continued to be directly involved with the center until 1944.
To aid the immigrant community, the center offered language and citizenship classes, athletics, scouting, social groups and art, music and dancing. After it was determined that the language barrier was keeping Hispanic immigrants from treatment at General Hospital (now Truman Medical Center), Gallagher hired an interpreter.
By the 1930s, more residents of "La Colonia" were learning English and assimilating themselves into American culture. Young people were attending high school and employment opportunities were improving.
Guadalupe Center became a sort of intersecting point between American and Latino cultures. The staff worked to explain American ways to Latinos and help them gain access to available opportunities. It served as an immigrant advocate in courts, clinics and schools, and worked with the community on preserving the Mexican culture, language and values.
Although Guadalupe Center today is a federally designated non-profit organization, it has reestablished close ties to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Sacred Heart Parish/Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine right next door.
During the Depression, about half the Hispanic community left Kansas City, either to return to Mexico or to move to other U.S. cities. Those who remained continued to adapt to American culture.
When the United States entered World War II many young Hispanic men were drafted and spent the war years with soldiers from all over the country. Many West Side households consisted of two and three generations. The Hispanic community was weaving more deeply into the fabric of Kansas City society.
The 1951 flood and the building of freeways in the area forced many West Side residents to move to other parts of the city. According to Christian Brother Dale Mooney of the diocesan Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, Latinos established cultural communities in Our Lady of Good Counsel, Guardian Angels and Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) parishes about that time.
The 1950s saw an increasing awareness in the Latino community as "La Raza," an awareness that would grow as great strides were made in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1990s, a fourth wave of Hispanic immigrants arrived in Kansas City in response to labor demands in service industries. At the same time, a greater ratio of births to deaths resulted in a natural increase in the existing West Side Latino population.