A Patchwork Quilt of Love: CSJs at St. Therese Little Flower in KC

by Barbara Roberts, director of Kansas City Mission Advancement

Although St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, Missouri, may be small in number, its members have the largest heart through their giving and love to their dear neighbor.

A small, intentional community, St. Therese began as a traditional Catholic Church in 1925. Now ethnically diverse, it offers both a traditional Sunday Mass and a gospel Mass with praise dancing, in addition to a couple of noon Masses during the week.

As white flight permeated the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s, St. Therese’s membership underwent a transformation. While some white members moved from the neighborhood, they remained parishioners, and stayed meanwhile. Several new African-American neighbors, who were not Catholic, chose to send their children to the parish school. These children, in turn, after attending school, wanted to become Catholic.

“This led their parents to convert to Catholicism, becoming strong leaders in our church, and creating a very solid family parish,” says Sister Helen Flemington, St. Therese’s Christian formation coordinator.

For over 30 years, our sisters have been engaged in the parish. In addition to S. Helen, Sister Ann Landers directs a thriving CSJ Associate group and the community garden, which was built in 2009 with a grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sister Joan Tolle volunteers at the senior center. As parish nurse, Sister Helen Alder goes beyond herself, serving as a bridge to the homebound, bringing them Eucharist, and bulletins, and driving many to doctor appointments. Sister Gabrielle Smits volunteers as a Eucharistic minister, and Sister Martha Niemann shares her sparkle with fellow members. The parish is also a former Tabitha Grant recipient.

“The sisters are immersed in the life of the parish," says Estelle Tunley, director of liturgy and music. "Having them offers a different perspective when we are having our conversations. It makes them special.” If there is a disagreement, “the sisters find a way to initiate and help temper. We don’t have to agree with each other on everything, because we are family and are willing to listen to others.”

What makes the parish special to S. Helen Flemington is the hospitality. “You cannot walk into this church and not have six people welcome you. We know and love each other.”

“This is my home, it will always be my home," Estelle says. "No matter what was going on during the week I have St. Therese. I have hugs waiting for me. I have smiles, I have encouragement. I have not only a community that supports me, I also support and share my gifts with them.”

Recent guests echoed S. Helen and Estelle’s observations. “From the time we walked in, people went out of their way to welcome us. The personal intercessions [were] from the heart; and of course, the choir. No one paid attention to race. We left with a different sense of what the Catholic Church can be.”

St. Therese Little Flower’s patchwork quilt of backgrounds is a vibrant beacon, showing how we can thrive when we join together to be one united community—neighbors to all.