The community around Quindaro Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, is mostly black.
But Our Lady And St. Rose Catholic Church, at 5th and Quindaro, attracts a diverse mix congregants, often thought of as a rarity at Sunday morning services around the country.
“It’s been what our mission statement says, it’s been a faith-filled, diverse, family community,” says Sister Therese Bangert.
Bangert, a nun with the church, lived next door to it from 1996 to 2016. Although predominantly a black congregation now, Bangert, who is white, says diversity and tradition are among the church’s strengths.
There are only about 100 families that still attend the church.
Next year, the church celebrates 100 years on this spot. Two churches came together when the original St. Rose of Lima merged with the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help. A fire nearly destroyed the building in 1950. Although the school next door has been closed for many years, weekly mass at the church still takes place every Sunday morning.
Barbara Bailey oversees the operation of the church as the pastoral associate. She knows the church’s history better than just about anyone. And Bailey, who is black, knows that history is complicated.
“This was a white church. When my mother and my grandparents came from Alma, Kansas, she was eight, it was an all-white church and at that time they had to sit in the last row if they wanted to attend church,” says Bailey.
She has witnessed the shift from segregated to multi-cultural to diverse but predominantly black with white and Hispanic congregants.
“And the white people that were still attending this church have died, they didn’t leave, they died. They were buried from the church,” Bailey says.
Father Nick Blaha became the church’s priest two months ago. In his 30s, Blaha grew up in Johnson County, Kansas and graduated from Rockhurst High School – a very different world than Quindaro Boulevard.
He was aware of the neighborhood’s challenges, and had heard about a recent robbery at the church where several items were stolen. But he knows one can’t judge any community by its worst elements.
“The church is sacred. Nobody would want to touch that,” Blaha says. “But I know the people there who also feel that way and say this is crazy, 'Who would do that?' So just being able to move in and get to know the people gives you such a better apprehension.”
Bailey, one of the people most familiar, not just with the church’s history, but the neighborhood’s, sees the the institution as serving a purpose and providing a foundation to the community.
“It’s a blessing that we’re still here from things that happen,” Bailey says. “But the church has stayed and we’re not going anywhere.”
This story is part of a special series about Quindaro Boulevard and surrounding neighborhoods in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. It’s the culmination of several months of reporting in a community engagement project called Here to Listen, which has taken KCUR to communities throughout our listening area.
Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.