The 75th anniversary of Nativity of Mary could not have been celebrated at a more opportune time for the Catholic parish that has been serving southwest Independence since celebrating its first Mass at Pitcher Elementary School on Sept. 11, 1938.

“This parish has been through some tough stuff recently, and those things have weighed on us,” says the Rev. Bob Stone, pastor of the parish at 10017 E. 36th Terrace. He believes an anniversary celebration like the one Nativity observed on Sept. 8 not only builds excitement, but also brings parishioners together and strengthens their feelings of belonging to the community and to the parish.

“(The anniversary) really helps people come together to celebrate the good things that have happened here and to move forward with a strong sense of community oneness,” Father Bob said in a pre-anniversary interview.

The parish, whose campus includes Nativity of Mary School, is “really doing well and its numbers are up,” says Father Bob, who came to Nativity four years ago from St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in south Kansas City.

Since taking the parish reins, some 100 families have been added to the church that once met for 38 years in the school basement, because there was more room there than in the original church, where the first Mass was celebrated on April 17, 1949.

Though the state of the parish is “pretty good because the school is doing really well and (its) numbers are up,” all is not perfect, the pastor says.

“We struggle with the fact that we are not a huge parish. But we have a great, nice, large school, and it’s always a challenge to maintain all of that,” he says. “But we will meet the challenge and continue to go on because it’s very important to our community.”

Some 400 present and former Nativity parishioners were at the 10:30 a.m. Mass, celebrated by Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese and several past parish priests.

Father Bob says the parish adopted “Family and Faith for 75 Years” as its theme.

Following Mass, the daylong celebration continued with a barbecue dinner in the parish hall, where the Parish Ministry Council was offering such 75th memorabilia as Christmas ornaments, tumblers and commemorative T-shirts. Also, in observance of the Altar Society’s 75th anniversary at Nativity, a piece quilt donated by Mary Ann McClure and quilted by Altar Society members was raffled.

Then there was the first-ever presentation of the Nativity of Mary Medal, which was presented to 10 parishioners for their years of dedication and service to the parish. Recipients are Esther Cunningham, Ray Singer, Ralph Wolfgeher, Mike Fetters, Madge Sutherlin, Bud Vitt, Norm Steffen, Lucy Lamb, Marty Mosbauer and Vera Mosbauer. Each received a medallion on a chain with the image of Mary holding the Christ child. Martin and Vera Mosbauer also hold the distinction of being the first couple married at Nativity of Mary Church. On June 24, 1939, the Rev. John J. Whalen pronounced them “man and wife” at his home at 3601 Blue Ridge Blvd., which also served as the church at that time. Martin, 94, was an usher at the church for 56 years.

Adding to the festivities was a silent auction featuring 25 original paintings of longtime member Elvera Helmsley, several afghan hangings/throws donated by another parish family and a table full of Nativity memorabilia. Auction proceeds will be used to pay off the debt on the new church, dedicated on Dec. 11, 2004.

Giving credit where credit is due, Father Bob praised the efforts of Father Bob Rost, Nativity pastor at that time, for spearheading the drive for a new church building. His efforts became a reality on Dec. 21, 2003, at a ground-breaking ceremony. Bishop Raymond Boland presided.

Says Father Bob: “Some pastors in the past tried to get permission from the bishop to build, but Father Rost was instrumental in pushing this community to say we really need a proper church. So we give him a great deal of credit because he drove that whole thing so that we have this wonderful building (today).”

As Nativity and its 650 families look ahead to the next 25 years, Father Bob hopes the parish community remains stable.

“But as we see throughout the city and other places, demographics can change,” he notes, explaining other people can move into the area who are not Catholic and have an effect on the parish. “So I would hope that the community would stay strong. ... But I feel very positive that we are going to do everything we can to keep a strong school, to maintain the stability of the parish and to be a stabilizing factor in this part of Independence.”

Asked if there was anything on his heart that he would like to share with his flock, Father Bob replies:

“I would just say this community has been on a long journey for the last 75 years, and it has been a journey filled with faith and hope and love and caring, and that is evident in everything we do here. We need to celebrate that journey and realize that this is just a milestone and not the end. We have to journey forward and to continue to love and care and have hope and faith in each other in doing God’s work in this part of Independence.”

Happy Anniversary!

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.