The St. Louis Catholic Church located on Swope Parkway held its last mass on Sunday after 103 years of church services.
Dwindling resources and changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhood were some of the reasons cited for its closing after a nine-month evaluation was completed with members of the church, an outside consultant, Bishop James Johnston and many members of diocesan staff, according to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In all, the diocese said several dozen people were involved in the decision to close the church.
The evaluation was completed after the diocese said they established a vision in 2019 based on two years of committee planning and listening sessions, and one aspect of the vision was a comprehensive study of the resources across the diocese.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has 95 churches and 33 Catholic schools in its region, and those properties are the responsibility of Johnston, his staff and the pastors assigned to each community, according to the diocese.
Bookkeeper for the church, Isabelle Abarr, said that the church has been unable to cover all of its expenses.
She said that the church used to host The Upper Room Swope Corridor Renaissance in the renovated upstairs portion of the church from 2000 until 2017. The Upper Room KC is a nonprofit that works on educational equity in inner city Kansas City.
However, after they stopped renting that space in the church, Abarr said that income loss sent the church into the red.
“Closing a church is never an easy decision and it requires many months of evaluation, discernment and prayer. Our churches are so much more than buildings — they carry generations of memories, witness to God’s graces in our lives and sacramental value,” Johnston said in an email. “They are places of holiness and reverence. Sometimes, a parish community’s needs simply outweigh the available God-given resources to sustain them.”
Kenneth Waitzmann does maintenance work for the church, and has been attending St. Louis Catholic Church since 1944. Back then, he was in 6th grade and had recently moved to Kansas City. He’s been doing the maintenance for the building since the 1990s when he retired from his full-time job.
“We do have a wonderful congregation. We have people that are super dedicated,” Abarr said.
Much of the church’s congregation has been attending for at least all of their adult lives, but they are aging and younger generations are not joining, Abarr said.
“We haven’t had a wedding here in a while. We’ve had more funerals than anything,” Abarr said.
Throughout its century in the community, the church has housed many community programs such as a senior citizen nutrition center beginning in the 1970s, a convent for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, beginning in the 1920s, and various projects to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, according to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“As pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church for nine years, I have shared their (parishioners) joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams and glories. St. Louis has been their home for many years, and it is sad to see it closed,” Father Carlito Saballo, pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church said in an email. “Coming from a different country, culture, heritage and upbringing, the people of St. Louis Church made me feel welcome and thought about me as one of their own.”
The diocese said that closing a church is always a last resort, but the St. Louis congregation does not have to look far for another church because they can go to St. Therese Little Flower, St. James and St. Francis Xavier just blocks away from St. Louis.