Bishop's intervention softens yearslong dispute between Kansas City parish, diocese

Kansas City, Mo. — A five-year dispute between the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and a midtown parish regarding the future of its vacant school building has been tempered with the intervention of Bishop James Johnston.

The building once housed St. Francis Xavier Parish’s school, near 53rd Street and Troost Avenue, and has been the subject of heated controversy once Kansas City’s former Bishop Robert Finn began working with developers to construct a faith-based dormitory in its place. Parishioners, meanwhile, hoped to transform the building for community-enhancing programs.

The diocese has now confirmed that it will no longer move forward with Domus Development’s 82-unit project, intended for Catholic students at the nearby Rockhurst University and University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“I appreciate the fact that [Johnston] took time to study the issue, and really brought fresh eyes to where we are, what the needs are in the community and what the needs are in the universities,” said Kevin Collison, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier.

Collison attended the Feb. 28 meeting between the bishop and the parish council, where Johnston confirmed that the diocese would pursue neither the Domus apartment building nor the charter school, which was an alternate plan.

After the City Plan Commission rejected the apartment plan three times since 2012 due to lack of community engagement on behalf of the developers, the Kansas City Council committee assigned a mediator in the fall of 2015, who ultimately failed to reach a compromise.

Between Finn’s April 2015 resignation and Johnston replacing him in November 2015, progress on this decision had been largely stalled until recently. 

“Bishop Finn envisioned Domus as somehow connected with the university, but it was more of what he was coming up with and not really observing what the organic need might be for the two schools,” Collison said.

“It wasn’t a grassroots idea. … We’ve got a promise from [Johnston] that, however this new project evolves, the needs as a parish will be taken care of,” primarily their need for a parish gathering space.

Parishioner Ken Spare said he and fellow parishioners were especially pleased that Johnston intends to make use of the existing building, though specifics are still uncertain. “We always felt it was too good a structure and too unique architecture that it’d be a waste to tear down,” he said.

“It’s very promising that after all this time, the Domus project is off the table and no longer hanging over our heads. We’re very pleased, and from what I understand, this bishop wants to talk to people and doesn’t want to go down the same road as Finn, so that’s a good thing. But we’ll wait and see.”

[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]

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