The news brought the capital campaign committee to stunned silence.
St. James Catholic Church was selected to be the recipient of a $1 million anonymous donation, but it would require work, and asking parishioners to give more than they already pledged to give.
As the redevelopment project at Liberty Commons steadily progresses, the church, which sits just to the south of the shopping area, has been planning for its own rebirth. It is in the middle of a giving campaign to build a new sanctuary space.
The current building for St. James, which was constructed in 1981, has a sanctuary designed to hold about 500 people. Thirty-five years ago, that was a jump over the original location of the church, north of the Liberty square. That building could seat only about 150.
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The church now has about 2,000 families to shepherd and is one of the largest congregations in the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City –St. Joseph. The northeast quadrant of the Kansas City area is also the fastest growing area of the diocese, with about 12 percent of the total population estimated to be Catholic.
The pastor of the church, Father Mike Roach, says the space just does not work anymore. The church is outdated and in 35 years, while the school facilities have grown, the worship space has stayed much the same.
“I think if I was a young family with children, I don’t know if the parish looks like it’s meeting the needs of the suburban community,” Roach said. “People may come in and think we’re a nice little parish, but we are not a little parish. Our facilities just don’t match where we need to be in the future.”
Capital campaign committee member Todd Carmichael got involved with the campaign because he saw that families often had to sit in the narthex to attend regular Masses.
“The quality of the religious services we can provide is diminished by the space,” Carmichael said. “That’s really clear to me. The church is obviously too small for the number of parishioners we have, let alone the growth we’re expecting in the Northland.”
Last year, the church ran what was considered to be a very successful capital campaign, drawing pledges of about $5.8 million dollars from parishioners. The goal is to have $6 million in the bank before starting construction on a building estimated to cost about $8 million.
While the $1 million donation is a boon, it comes as a challenge from the diocese. An anonymous donor gave the money to help build ministry in the Northland. The Bishop of the Diocese chose to grant it to St. James with the requirement the church would raise $1 million in additional promises of new gifts before the money is given.
Carmichael says that challenge was not even on the radar screen for the capital campaign committee when they started asking for pledges and donations in late 2015.
“When we found out there was stunned silence, and then there was excitement,” Carmichael said. “Then it settled into, ‘How are we going to do this?’
“We just asked these people to make a significant contribution a year before. How do we go back and ask people to dig deeper? It’s taken some thought and prayer and a lot of conversation because it’s a big deal for us. It is not too often you have someone walking in your door saying, I’ll give you a million if you can raise a million.”
Roach says the capital campaign has been successful, but the million dollar gift was stunning.
It can move the groundbreaking up to 2017. It will also help the parish focus on growing ministries as well as constructing a building.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to move forward and make our building become a reality and make our parish strong into the future,” Roach said.