HISTORY OF ST. BRIDGET
It was in 1852 when the sound of the first train was heard in Missouri. At least twenty two railroads made their way across Missouri for the next forty three years. Four to five thousand miles of track were laid from 1852 until 1895 during the period of railroad building in Missouri. The railroad brought the remotest districts into close connection with St. Louis the center of western railroads and inland commerce.
The Pacific railroad from St. Louis to the western line of the state was chartered in 1850. However, it had only reached Sedalia, Missouri by the time the Civil War started when construction was halted for two years. The war brought set backs and financial problems to the railroads. On 16 May 1857 a bond election was held to subscribe $150,000 to aid in building the railroad. A large majority of votes were polled in its subscription in three equal annual amounts of $50,000 each year during 1858, 1859 and 1860. Nothing was done until August 1860, when representatives of the Pacific Railroad and county court made a new contract changing the amount and interest of said subscription. Shortly after this event the Civil War became the all absorbing subject of interest. Work ceased on the railroad and was not completed through Cass County until late in 1865. This resulted in the main line of the Missouri Pacific crossing from east to north in a curved line going through Pleasant Hill, Missouri.
Shortly after the Civil war was over, the railroad moved west and with it came St. Bridget’s original congregation, some twenty families a few being Brierly, Connell, Dwyer, Fitzgerald, Galvins, O’Connell, Worlens, Morrah and Marriott.
Mass was held in the homes of Catholic families or at Gosch’s Hall as there was no church. Priests came from Independence or Holden once a month to say Mass.
The year of 1868 some of the Catholic men in Pleasant Hill consulted Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis, whose diocese then included all territory now known as the Kansas City diocese, to purchase property for a Catholic Church. He promised to purchase property, which he did.
In 1868 one fourth block of land was purchased for $200.00. In the year 1870 the first Catholic Church in Cass County (a frame building) was erected. It was dedicated to St. Bridget of Ireland. The families who built the church were predominately Irish; therefore, it was only reasonable to name the church after St. Bridget of Ireland. Bridget was also the name of Dennis O’Connell’s wife. The church was dedicated to Saint Bridget of Ireland in the year 1871 by Bishop John Hogan. In 1880 some nine years later, the church was destroyed by fire. Again Mass was held in Catholic homes. During Father Mackin’s four year tenure of the church he supervised the construction of the brick church suitably furnished at a cost of $2,500. In 1885 the second church was dedicated by Bishop John J. Hogan, now bishop of the new Diocese of Kansas City. He was assisted by Father Mackin and Father William Dalton. Father Dalton was a pioneer Kansas City pastor. Among the lay people active in the affairs of the mission were; Messers Marriott, Connell, Fitzgerald and Brierly.
In 1874 Father James Phelan, from Holden, assumed charge of the Pleasant Hill mission and under his guidance it grew to a membership of seventy families. In 1882 Father James Phelan resigned.
From 1882 to 1896 Father Joseph Aschieri, who founded the school at Holden, Missouri which flourished for many years under the direction of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was in charge of the Pleasant Hill Mission. He said Mass twice a month, usually, but sometimes only once a month. During his time, Bishop Hogan administered Confirmation in the church and a successful mission was held.
In 1896 Father Frederick Hovestadt, pastor of Lee’s Summit, took charge of the Pleasant Hill Mission and during his administration of six years the Altar Society was organized with seventy members, and the church grounds were improved. Confirmation was administered by Bishop John J. Glennon, who at that time was coadjutor to Bishop Hogan. Father Hovestadt was later chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital.
From 1902 to 1905 Father T. J. Fortune had charge of the parish and made his residence for a time, in Pleasant Hill. In 1903, Father John Handley, C. S. P. a well known Paulist missionary gave a successful mission here.
Father Cyprian Sauer, O.F.M. who became pastor of St. Francis Seraph Parish Kansas City east bottoms took charge of the mission. Father Sauer succeeded Father Fortune and during his pastorate of two years worked faithfully among his people.
In 1905 Father Polycarp Van Mourik took charge of the mission and remained for two years. He advertised the Christmas Masses at 7:00, 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. Mass for 1906 would be on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Father Lack O.F.M. assumed charge of the parish in 1907. While he was in charge of the mission he repaired and decorated the church, established the St. Joseph Men’s Society (forty members) and had the sacrament of Confirmation administered by Bishop Thomas F. Lillis.
Father Hoeft succeeded Father Lack in 1911, who by his zeal and piety brought back many to the church.
Father William P. Brophy was appointed pastor to the mission in July 1913. The three years he was pastor he improved the church in several ways and had the Sacrament of Confirmation administered.
In June 1916 Rev. James Manley of Pleasant Hill who said his first Mass at St. Bridget, was ordained for the North Carolina diocese.
The year 1916 Father John J. Whalan served fourteen years as pastor. The year 1919 shows him alternating Masses of 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and found the people good devout Catholics but not so many as in former years. In 1922 Father Whalan spent several months, with his family, in Ireland.
The year 1916 the Missouri Pacific round house was removed from Pleasant Hill and took several members of the congregation away; but there was still left a good congregation of devout and faithful worshipers. There were twenty two practical families in the mission, who attended Mass every Sunday as the opportunity was given to do so. Since the establishment of the Church to 1924 there were on an average two converts a year. There is no Catholic cemetery in the town and no parochial residence ever erected at Pleasant Hill. From the foundation of the mission to present time, the congregation has been unable to erect a Catholic school, hospital or any other charitable institution.
In June 1926 “The Menance,” an anti-papist paper with a national circulation of 30,000 copies moved to Pleasant Hill. Father Whalan was asked, “What do you think of this”? Father replied, “well they had to publish somewhere, don’t worry about it.” It never got off the ground.
June 1930 Father James Wallace, from Mansfield, Missouri, was appointed the new pastor. His mother lived with him, and was a convert. Father Wallace took charge when Father John Whalan moved to the Boy’s Home in Kansas City, Missouri.
During the early 1930”s St. Bridget continued to be served by the pastor in Lee’s Summit. It was Depression time and there were only a few members left, those were descendents of the earliest families. Father Wallace frankly said to us, “either have twelve people for Mass or I won’t be coming”, there were nine. Most everyone was giving twenty five cents a Sunday and Father was saying, “he didn’t want to see a thin dime in the box“. Bill Gary was the only Catholic high school student and Geraldine Knorpp later Geraldine Knorpp Scheer the only Catholic grade school student. In 1939 the Ledwidges moved to Pleasant Hill, that meant one more Catholic grade school student and two high school students.
During Father Wallace’s pastorate the church was repaired and remodeled on a large scale. Not a lot of changes had been made to the interior of the church other than new paper and paint. In 1933 under the direction of the pastor, Rev. James Wallace, the church underwent major redecorating, gas heating was installed, eliminating the old pot bellied coal stove, electricity replaced the coal oil lamps, stained glass windows were put in, the walls painted and new stations graced the walls. Another coat of varnish was put on the pews.
The church, built more than sixty years ago, was the only Catholic Church in Cass County. The cost of remodeling was donated by a friend. The woodwork inside refinished in old ivory. The little altar, which was more than seventy five years old, was rebuilt and equipped with new brass candlesticks, altar cards and Missals. The altar was draped with red velvet and two adoring angels completed the simple yet attractive sanctuary. The sanctuary lamp, which hung before the altar for more than a half a century, was re-plated and refinished and returned as a gift from the young man who served Mass at the altar every Sunday and holy days through the year. Every member of the small congregation made sacrifices to be part of this improvement. The rededication of the church was held December 17, 1933.
A joint choir, consisting of singers from St. Mary’s Parish, Lee’s Summit and Pleasant Hill, sang the response at the Sunday Mass, and several altar boys came. Father Wallace was in charge of both parishes.
After the celebration of High Mass by the Reverend Father Wallace in the morning, at which time there were two visiting priests Fathers Conrad and Fitzgerald from Holden, the assemblage adjourned to the Angler’s Club house at Lake Leonard to partake of an old fashioned basket dinner. The collection (and it was a splendid one) was enjoyed by between one hundred fifty and one hundred sixty people. Attendance from Harrisonville was especially good.
In 1935 members of the parish gave rings and other jewelry for a new chalice. Father Wallace donated his grandmother’s gold watch.
December 1936 Father Francis Edward Hagedorn replaced Father Wallace. Father Hagedorn was ordained in 1921.
In July of 1938 Father Hagedorn was assigned to lead the Lee‘s Summit parish, only.
In July 1938 the Bishop pulled St. Bridget Mission away from the long standing association with Lee’s Summit, and Father James Walton was assigned to say Mass in Pleasant Hill while he was also starting a parish in Blue Springs. During that summer, Father came to Pleasant Hill each day to take the children to summer school. He was living in a cabin at Lake Tapawingo and had secured a building on Blue Springs Main Street for Mass each morning. Ed Borserine, also lived at Lake Tapawingo, and he came in and served on the altar, while his brother Jerry, went to the basement, with his tools, trying to upgrade the church. That summer Father had vacation Bible school. He first came to Pleasant Hill to get three children and to East Lyne, outside of Harrisonville, and picked up one boy there. It was a very long trip for Father. At the end of the two weeks Father wanted a party at his cabin. When the children and there mothers arrived the place was a shambles and the mothers said forget the party and let’s get Father’s place cleaned up, and forgot the entertainment. Father Walton also started St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs, Missouri.
September 1939 Father Crowell, of St. Joseph’s Hospital, covered Pleasant Hill and stayed at St. Joseph Hospital as the chaplain. He was about twenty nine years old and someone said to Mable Knorpp “Look what the Bishop sent us, a kid”. He stayed at St. Bridget until 1951 and shaped the lives of every young person. Father Crowell was also the USO moderator. In 1949 there was a celebration for Father Crowell being here ten years. Father also founded churches at Harrisonville and Belton.
In 1950 Bishop O’Hara had confirmation here. He asked a child, “Where is the sea of Jordan, is it Lake Tapawingo?” The little girl said “Yes”. The Bishop took Father Crowell to Rome for six weeks in 1951.
In 1951 Father Edwin Connelly replaces Father Crowell who moved to Blue Springs. In September 1952 Father Connelly had a heart attack and was later diagnosed with ALS. During this time Father Francis Weir came to serve as his assistant. Father Weir served as pastor until 1958.
In 1958 Father Michael McBrien was appointed the new pastor, he came from Christ the King Parish, Kansas City, Missouri.
Father Walter W. Puetz, formerly pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish Montrose, Missouri, was appointed Vicar Econome or Administrator of Harrisonville Parish and St. Bridget Parish, Pleasant Hill, Missouri in 1960. Father Puetz organized the Knights of Columbus.
In 1962 Monsignor Schumacher and two priests had their last “street preaching” in Pleasant Hill.
Father Puetz was found expired in the church rectory in the spring of 1963. It was thought he had died two days earlier. He had come from Germany as a small child.
Father Larry Galliot came to Pleasant Hill for the summer in 1963 and he brought along seminarians Jim Brady and John Frain. In the fall Father Galliot went to Rome to study.
September 1963 Father Mifcovic took charge as the new pastor. He had been an army chaplain for many years, and spoke a lot about his experiences in the military. During his pastorate at St. Bridget Parish two big changes were made in the Mass. The first change was on Advent Sunday 29 November 1964, the Second Vatican Council okayed the moving of the Church Altar so the priests would face the people while celebrating Mass; also on that day the priests celebrated Mass in English, instead of Latin, up to the beginning of the preface; the Eucharistic Prayer was said in Latin until the great Amen, the rest of the Mass was said in English. Advent Sunday 30 November 1969 new prayers and new responses were introduced and the Eucharistic prayers were said in English. These changes were the first in the history of the Catholic Church.
In 1967 new pews were installed, as a gift of Minnie McAvoy. Carpet was laid in the Church. The parish had sixty families. Of the original twenty families, there were descendants of two of the families remaining in the parish, Loretta Fairchild, granddaughter of Mike Brierly, William Garry, Henry and Richard Scheer, Mary Jo Saubers and William “Bill” Sloan, grandchildren P. H. Marriott.
Father Clarence “Clancy” Ryan replaced Father Mifcovic in 1970 when Father Mifcovic retired.
Confirmation was held in October 1972. Bishop Charles Helmsing came to St. Bridget to administer Confirmation. After the ceremony, all motored to the Pleasant Hill Country Club to a reception honoring the confirmandi. A nice social gathering was enjoyed by all.
In the 1970’s Loretta Brierly Fairchild, reared in Pleasant Hill by her aunt Mrs. O. L. Beasley and granddaughter of Mike Brierly, donated yew shrubbery which were planted in front of the church.
Father Donald Cleary came as our new pastor in August 1981. Not a lot of changes had been made to the interior or exterior of the church the last twenty years, except some painting. The community was growing and St. Bridget church was growing with it. In November 1984, under Father Cleary’s direction, a building committee was formed to discuss the needs of the parish and pursue a path to meet these needs. William “Bill” Sloan was chosen to be Building Committee chairman. The people of the parish opted to remodel our present church and construct a parish hall to fulfill the social and educational needs. The goals took much longer than expected. The delay was mostly due to negotiations between the builder and architect in choosing and specifying alternatives to meet cost objectives while maintaining quality construction.
The remodeling of the church consisted of renovation of the interior and exterior which included a heating/air conditioning system, and increased capacity. The parish hall consisted of a general purpose area with kitchen facilities and restrooms.
Every member of the parish contributed materially and/or financially to allow completion of the project for a cost $263,000 without any outstanding debt.
The first phase of the project was the construction and completion of the parish hall. The second phase of the plan was remodeling and complete renovation of the church. During this phase the church pews and all liturgical items used for Mass were moved into the parish hall. All the statues in the church were taken to the home of Ralph and Roberta Klein. The brick exterior was sand blasted, tucked pointed and weather proofed to protect the brick from the elements.
St. Bridget church at that time was over 100 years old. Bishop John J. Sullivan rededicated St. Bridget during a Mass Saturday 28 May 1985 at 1:00 p. m. Father Michael Coleman, diocesan archivist and vicar concelebrated the Mass. Father Coleman is the great grandson of Dennis O’Connell, one of the builders of the first St. Bridget Church. At that time St. Bridget had a membership of 55 families. After Mass everyone enjoyed a reception of finger sandwiches, chips, cake, coffee, nuts and mints. There were many events held in the parish hall. There was Mass, parish dinners, funeral dinners, chili suppers, vacation Bible School, garage sales, alumni dinners, etc.
In 1985 Roberta Klein saw a need for some beautification to the church grounds. Roberta talked with Father Cleary regarding this need. He was in agreement and gave her permission to pursue it. She talked with Dorothy Thompson in regard to helping her and the two of them drew a plan and contacted a nurseryman and the three of them chose shrubbery consisting of China Holly and Burning Bush. Some of the men, women and children of the parish helped with setting out the foundation plantings, planting flowers and bulbs in the large rock planter on the south side of the church.
Over twenty priests have served St. Bridget through her many years. A mission we are and a mission we would always be. First a mission to Lee’s Summit and finally a mission of Harrisonville.
Father John Santner was assigned to St. Bridget in 1991 and remained for almost three years. He had been a air force chaplain and was in the reserves. During his pastorate at St. Bridget he organized the first parish council and engaged women of the parish to become Eucharistic Ministers.
In 1993 Reverend Bradley S. Offutt was assigned to be pastor of St. Bridget mission.
There have been two pastoral associates since 1991. The first was Sister Deborah Troy 1991 to 1994 and Mary Hillman from 1994 to 2003.
In 1999 St. Bridget had a membership of 147 families and about 130 children from kindergarten through grade eight enrolled in school of religion.