Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Backstory and Context
The Catholic Church has historically had a presence in Missouri; some of the area’s earliest European settlers were French Catholics. The earliest known church in present-day Kansas City was established in 1835 by French missionary Father Benedict Roux, who erected a log structure on a 40-acre plot of land donated by a local French settler. This church was named the St. John Francis Regis, and informally referred to as Chouteau’s Church (named after the Chouteau family, which operated a nearby trading post). The St. Francis Regis kept some of the first birth, death, and marriage certificates in Kansas City’s history, and also maintained the city’s first cemetery.
In 1845, Father Bernard Donnelly (1810-1880) arrived in Jackson County, Mississippi. Donnelly was born in Ireland, where he worked as a civil engineer, before immigrating to the United States and becoming ordained as a priest. Donnelly worked as a circuit priest, traveling between and serving the Catholic communities of Independence and Kansas City. The priest became a popular and well-respected civic leader in Kansas City; he was responsible for the creation of St. Teresa’s Academy, a school in the West Bottoms, two orphanages, and St. Mary’s Cemetery. In 1856 he pushed for the creation of a new brick church on the site of the old St. Francis Regis log church. Drawing from his experiences as a civil engineer, Donnelly largely planned and designed the church himself; he brought in 300 Irish laborers for the construction, and even built a brickyard to produce building materials. The church was completed by 1857 and consecrated the Immaculate Conception.
In 1880 the Diocese of Kansas City was formed to service the growing population, and the Immaculate Conception Church was chosen to be the cathedral. Around 1882 the church was demolished and a new, larger one was built to replace it. Reportedly 10,000 people came to watch the laying of the new structure’s cornerstone. The first service occurred on Trinity Sunday, 1883 and was attended by 3,000 people. At the time of its completion, the new cathedral was the tallest structure in Kansas City. It included a distinct copper dome that made the building a local landmark.
A number of improvements were made to the cathedral over the years. In 1895 a carillon of eleven bells were added, each named after a Catholic saint. In 1912 the Kansas City Stained Glass Works Company produced a series of stained glass windows for the cathedral, depicting various scenes from the Bible. In 1956 the Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph were merged together; the Immaculate Conception became co-cathedrals with the Cathedral of St. Joseph as a result. By 1960 the copper dome had begun deteriorating, so it was refinished with 23-karat gold leaf. In 2003 the cathedral underwent an extensive restoration and renovation. Today the Immaculate Conception continues to offer religious services to parishioners, and hosts a variety of musical performances throughout the year.
“About Us.” Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://kcgolddome.org/about-us/
“Chouteau’s Church (St. Francis Regis).” Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=86217
Pivovar, Christine. “Our Gold-Domed Landmark.” Squeezebox. June 25, 2015. Accessed May 21, 2018. http://www.squeezeboxcity.com/cathedral-of-the-immaculate-conception/
“Reverend Bernard Donnelly.” Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=86219
Scanlon, Heather. “Father Bernard Donnelly.” Squeezebox. June 29, 2015. Accessed May 21, 2018. http://www.squeezeboxcity.com/father-bernard-donnelly/
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Image 3: https://kcgolddome.org
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