July 24th, 2022

When the Irish immigrants arrived in our town over 150 years ago, they were fraught not only with
being outsiders by culture in a land that was staunchly patriotic, but also anti-Catholic. We
forget. They left British-ruled Ireland and often found themselves at the bottom of society. Yet,
they did not waiver in their Apostolic Faith. They passed it on to their children, their
grandchildren. The Faith that they brought from the Old Country was one in which for many of
them, especially the elderly, they would’ve remembered practicing as second-class citizens. Yet,
the flame of Faith burned ardently within their hearts. They did the same as every missionary
did in a foreign land as Christianity spread—they brought bread, wine, a missal, priests,
religious sisters, and the Latin liturgical heritage in the form of the Mass and sacraments. They
built a school to educate their young. In other words, simple Irish farmers brought Western
Christian culture to a foreign land in a place and time that they were considered the interlopers,
un-patriotic, and poor. Yet, the Catholic Faith burned in their hearts. They possessed tenacity,
and they had hope.


When we read the account of this very building constructed in 1888 in which you and I stand
today, it was a triumph not so much of their personal pride or even the pride of Fr. Denis Keily,
their young and pious pastor, but rather a real enfleshment in time of their Faith. Jesus was
born in Bethlehem. They built an altar that had the star of Bethlehem above it. Now, Jesus
Christ would be present in Plattsburg. They built a monument not to themselves, but a
monument to house the greatest treasure of their Faith—the Most Blessed Sacrament. And
they encased the diamond that is the Eucharist not in what was convenient or “made the most
sense,” but in the best they could afford. The building showed where they placed God in their
lives—He was first. Some may say that Jesus doesn’t need any of that. You’d be right. But if we
don’t give God the best, then what are we saying? I’ll say it. We’re leaving the best for
ourselves. After all, when Mary Magdalene washed the Feet of Christ with nard oil worth some
$50,000 in today’s money, Judas was the first to make the infamous quip—“what a waste.”
If we examine ourselves, in each of our hearts is an insatiable desire for goodness, truth, and
beauty. Whether that’s a lasting memory of feeling “safe” from eating ice cream on grandma’s
front porch, dad teaching us to drive or mother holding us on her knee to teach us our prayers,
there is a longing for a time where everything will be “okay” and we can be innocent again. In a
religious setting, that could be the day where we watched our children be baptized in the font
that sits to my right. That could be our First Holy Communion at the altar rail, the feeling of the
priest now coming to me to give me Communion as my fingers feel the houseling cloth. Or the
fear that I overcame by finally getting up enough gumption to enter the confessional and then
leaving unburdened. The time that I recited the sacred promises of marriage in front of the
altar. Perhaps that’s the truth in nostalgia—a longing for a time where everything was good; a
longing for finality. Truthfully, what we really long for is the innocence we lost and the union
that will be.


When we long for what is to come, we long for a time where debts will be settled, justice
rendered, mercy freely available. In our time, many inside and outside the Church have
attempted to build a utopia on earth with themes of “fraternity, unity, world peace” without
Christ. It may seem that religion or even Christianity is outdated or no longer needed if we
could accomplish this utopian ideal on our own. As such, we will always fail. We will be doomed
to eternal frustration without Christ who is the fulfillment of all legitimate human desire.


What does Jesus Christ and His Church offer that we can never hope in all of our deepest
aspirations to ever accomplish? No matter what political machinations, aspirations of men and
women to create something truly good and beautiful, it will never happen without Christ in
whom beauty, goodness and truth reside in themselves. There is nothing more beautiful, more
true, more good than the face of Jesus Christ, His Sacred Countenance. He is the figure to
whom we are instantly drawn. He knows everything about us—our past, our future, our sins,
our good deeds. And He loves us until the end. When we look to all of these other places in life
to fulfill the inherent desire which is deep within the human soul to belong, to be loved, to love
another, none of this will ever be truly fulfilled; we will be always left thirsty, incomplete,
wanting, until we encounter the Living God in all of His Splendor, His Beauty.
When Christians stop believing in the Invisible God who became visible, who walked among
us, is physically available to us in the Eucharist, we lose connection with who we are supposed
to be. We are lost like sheep without a shepherd. Perhaps that’s why in our post-modern age,
the ugly and the profane are exalted—when we know longer acknowledge reality, no longer
acknowledge the existence of Being Itself, God, we exalt ugliness, untruth, and a destruction of
innocence simply to evoke an emotion to finally find meaning in our struggling existence. Jesus
Christ simply tells us to gaze into His Sacred Countenance, and we will understand all things.
When it comes to the Church building, many do not see the connection between what and
who we long for deep down. The Church is supposed to be a variable garden of Eden. It is a
visible expression of the Person of Jesus Christ. Look at our widows—they’re covered with
flowers and foliage. It is supposed to be a New Jerusalem before our eyes. In the last three
years, we have endeavored to create this environment once again. We have installed all replica
pieces from a time in which the faithful immigrants who built this place had that innate
understanding of what a church building is supposed to be. We have endeavored to erect a
throne, worthy for Our God, Jesus Christ, who reigns from on high, yet is intimately among us.
The sanctuary—the sacred place where we all long to be, worship that is rightly facing this
mysterious God who makes Himself visible to us in the Eucharist. In other words, at St. Ann, we
do not find meaning in looking at one another inasmuch as finding our ultimate meaning and
the way in which we treat each other with charity by contemplating the Presence of Christ first.
When we kneel in front of the Living God, we are made like Whom we worship.
The church building is a visible and palpable version of what we believe for the Glory of God
Himself and for all to see. When our ancestors in the Faith built our current English Gothic
church, they did so making every sacrifice possible. In the years that came after 1888, our
church was elaborately frescoed with stencil and sacred image making it one of the most highly
decorated churches in Western Missouri. Replete with 17 images of salvation history on the
ceiling which told the story of salvation history from the Garden of Eden until the coming of the
Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this place was a living image for all to see of what we believe as
Catholics.


After having received the support of several members of our parish who have labored the last
eight months on committee to plan, along with the full support of Bishop Johnston, we will
endeavor, with the help of God, to restore our historic building (one of the oldest churches in
the diocese) to its former grandeur. We have partnered with Conrad Schmitt Studios of
Milwaukee, Wisconsin which is nationally known for painting and restoring Catholic Churches
for more than a century. Conrad Schmitt Studios recently completed both St. Columban in
Chillicothe and St. James in St. Joseph.


Based on the original 1907 photo of the sanctuary along with some investigation under the
tin ceiling, historic restoration experts have designed a color palette and stencil design based
on the original; historically accurate to what is called Westlake Gothic—named for Nathaniel
Westlake, an English Catholic designer from the 1880s/1890s. Our Church building is a Catholic
treasure in not only our diocese, but in Western Missouri.


Detailed articles found in the Leavenworth Catholic newspaper as well as the St. Joseph
Catholic Newspaper from 1893 also provided a very detailed expose on each medallion in our
ceiling and its meaning and placement along with the placement of the statues in the
sanctuary, and the cross. The design is a homage to the God who became one of us. The
purpose of sacred art is that we can be lost in contemplation, much like if we see the Face of
Jesus, it would not just be one look, but only the beginning of an eternity of peaceful
contemplation. Sacred art is a window into eternity. That is why the name of our campaign is
entitled Investing in the Legacy of Eternity. This is what our founders left behind for us,
something that spans far past you and me as individuals and leaves an ultimate gift of faith for
the future. What gift for the future will you and I leave behind?


In addition to artwork restoration, I would like to reveal to you as well a truly one-in-million
find that will also be a part of this project. In 1902, Fr. Keily had installed a JG Pfeffer Pipe organ
made by German Catholic builders in St. Louis. These organs were truly remarkable
instruments; for the few that are left, they are truly musical gems. Recently, we have been able
to locate one in a closed Lutheran church in Nebraska. It has been safely dismantled from the
crumbling building with the help of some generous donors from inside and outside our parish
and restoration is underway. With this instrument, we will promote Catholic culture through
music in our local community. I credit the direct intercession of Fr. Keily on this one whom I
asked to find us the organ that used to be here. He did a great job—the organ we intend to
install was made in 1901 and would’ve been installed in the Nebraska Lutheran church only a
few months before our original Pfeffer organ.


For those of us here today who have spent your whole lives in this town, there is no one left
who remembers what this building once looked like. It has been changed several times. Priest
after priest. And I want to tell you this—this is not Fr. Schneider’s project. This is not, “we want
to paint the church a new color.” What we are attempting to do is restore the original artwork
of our historic building. The building itself is a gift to be appreciated for what it is on its own. It
speaks to us, to our past, and to our future.


Intercessory prayer on this vision has never ceased to amaze me over the past three years.
Every time I have asked God for a piece of the puzzle to be put back together, especially
through the intercession of Fr. Keily, our founder, God has never ceased to amaze me. From the
lamps that hang in our Church, to generous funding from outside and inside our parish family,
to long-lost photos, to people getting homes through his intercession, through even finding
almost the exact replica of the pipe organ (a serious one-in-a-million feat) I have been
personally amazed at the power of God in this place. The power of your prayer, and the
intercession of the saints is among us.


With any serious project of this magnitude, undoubtedly, there will be so-called naysayers.
I’d like those reading to read this--there perhaps has never been a more critical time in our
church than today. While every age may say that and has its own issues, we are facing
challenges today which we haven’t faced in hundreds of years in the West and rapidly. In ten
years, the Church in America will not look the same. The question is “how will we play our role
in determining our future?” Do we want the 150-year-old legacy left to us to last? Or shall we
be the ones to say, “I got what I needed, who cares what happens when I’m dead?”
Yet, here, in Plattsburg, Missouri of all places, we have nearly doubled Sunday Mass
attendance. As your pastor, I watch you receive Holy Communion devoutly. I watch you pray.
I’ve began to hear more confessions. In other words, I see Faith here. And I feel that it’s actually
worth making the sacrifice to be priest for that. Let that be a compliment to you. Although
we’ve experienced some bumps in this area, I’ve began to see the younger families reaching
out to the elderly and becoming a part of the long-time parishioner’s lives. This is how it should
be. We should honor our elderly and faithful members. I’ve see some of our more skeptical
folks opening up your hearts a bit to some of our younger members. No one demographic owns
the Church. No one member owns the church. We are a parish family. Our parish belongs to
Jesus Christ and His time. Remember, if there are no families and kids, there’s no one to pass
anything down to. If there are no elderly in the community, we have no history and no
example. We are not a club. We are a family of Faith. And if there’s anything I want you to
remember—that’s what sets us apart as a parish. We may have our disagreements from time to
time, but what we set out to do today should bring us together. It is not your project, it is not
mine, it is an endeavor of heavenly value to restore the sacred. And our family at St. Ann spans
time and space. From the early settlers that risked everything to come to this town, to our
founder who faced anti-Catholicism head on even publically at times, (one can read his sharp-
tongued articles to the local Ku-Klux Klan in the paper) to the lean years of depression, through
the twentieth century filled with cultural shifts, a massive loss of faith, this place stands. This
building stands. Our Catholic Faith stands.


I’m going to explain this last portion in a simple way. Many parishes today are on what I would
call hospice—no baptisms, only Mass, no weddings, no education, no community. What has
happened here is of God.


I hate sports analogies, but allow me to make one here. It’s like the bases are loaded, we are
down by three runs, and there are two outs. We’re up to the plate. The ball will come down the
middle, yet we’ll look for something better, we’ll call it “another campaign” and we’ll strike out
looking.


As a priest in our time, I can honestly say I’m sick of the “has beens,” “used to haves,” and
“could’ve beens.” The tales of a glorious past filled with memories, only to look at the present
ashes. It’s time we lift our heads. It’s time we lift our hearts and minds to God. Navel-gazing,
prideful breast beating will leave us looking at ourselves. As your priest, I want what could be. I
want what we had and more. I want Heaven on Earth for you and your children, your
grandchildren. I want a place where non-Catholics and Catholics with lukewarm faith will enter
this holy place and have conversions of heart. I want a place where you will be so awestruck by
the glory of God that you will want to live a more Christian life. I want this house to be a house
of prayer as was made clear in the original dedication homily. I want the dream of that
ambitious pastor from 1888 to be just as alive today as it was when the cornerstone of our
building was laid. And I want you to want this, too. When we accomplish this, when we allow
God to accomplish this in our midst, our church will spark curiosity, it will spark Faith, it will
draw new members (yes, that’s good). It will be like the Face of Christ—a dividing line—do I
believe? Or Do I not believe. I pray that our answer is, “Yes, Lord. I do believe.” And you and I
will look into that Face of Jesus Christ through this place. We will see His eyes, His lips, His ears,
and feel the gentle touch of His hands on our heads, saying, “Yes, I died for you. I AM Present in
this place. This is my house. And My house, is a house of Prayer. Come, be forgiven of your sins.
Eat at my Table. Let me abide in you. Let me live through you.”


The committee of parishioners and I stand ready to answer questions about our Legacy of
Eternity endeavor. Our God was born in Bethlehem. He is Present on this Holy Altar at every
Mass. What binds us together here, to our past, is not only our common Catholic Faith, but our
care for the future. Indeed, the Word was Made Flesh and is dwelling among us. Amen.

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