Bishop Thomas Lillis had promised, when he closed Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, that he would establish a new parish with that name. He later decided to establish a parish just to be called St. Peter’s in June 1922, at 35th and Kensington. However, this did not come to be. When he decided to establish two new parishes in 1925, the name of one of them was to be St. Peter’s. The first choice for the site of the parish was at Meyer Boulevard and Wornall Road. However, there were so many property restrictions that it was not feasible. Instead, the parish was located further east, at the site of a cornfield, where a two-story, pre-Civil War, white farmhouse and barn stood. The house on the property had stood at 28th and Cambell for about 40 years, and had been moved to the site about 1911. Charlotte and Holmes streets were not paved. There was no building standing between Oak and Paseo along Meyer. Here Fr. James Neeley Vincent McKay, the parish founder, and Fr. M.E. Coates, who had been charged with founding St. Therese Parish at 58th and Euclid, were to live.
A corrugated iron building served as the church, and won the title “the Tin Cathedral.” It was 70’x20’x13′, was lined inside with wallboard, and was built by parishioners. The building stood midway between Holmes and Charlotte on Meyer Blvd., on the high elevation of the property. The property was purchased for $9000. No interest was charged by the Bishop and the debt was payable over a 10 year period.
The parish was established November 8, 1925 and Fr. McKay was assigned as the first pastor of about 75 families. Its territory was taken from St. Francis Xavier, Visitation and St. Elizabeth parishes. The beginning boundaries were: north, 59th Street; west, Wornall Road; south, 69th Street; East, Brooklyn from Paseo, and north on Paseo to 59th Street.
November 8, 1925 is also the date of the first gathering for the Sacrament of Eucharist. There were 78 parishioners present at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. Bishop Lillis came to celebrate the 10 a.m. Mass that day with 175 parishioners in attendance. A reception was held that night at the parish house, and 350 people came to meet the new pastor.
The following week a confessional and pews were installed in the church. The outside was painted white, and the church was heated by a “cannon ball” stove. What furnishings there were, had been donated by friends of the pastor and parishioners.
A religious education program was begun immediately, and was held after the 8 a.m. Mass. The first teachers were Elizabeth Burke, principal, Dorothy Murphy and Emma Rees.
By the summer of 1926, due to fullness at the two Masses, an addition was made to the church which increased the seating by 70, and extended the communion rail by eleven feet. On November 7th of the same year, the St. Peter’s Parish News began publication.
In March 1928, ground was broken for a building which would contain the church, the school and the convent. J.P. Dillon served as the architect. The design was of modified English Gothic, with a residential feeling. The temporary church had to be moved about 50 feet to make room for the new stone building. One of the unusual features of the new building was the fact that a Yale Memorial tile roof was used. At the time it was only the third building in the U.S. with this kind of roof.
The apse of the sanctuary contained three lighted art glass windows, which provided additional light for the church. The high altar was frescoed cream and gold with figures carved on the frontal. The altar came from the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul on 9th and McGee.
Classes from grade one through five were begun in September 1929, with the Sisters of Mercy teaching in the school. There were seven classrooms on the first floor. Classrooms on the second floor were not finished at the time. Opening day there were 115 children being taught by four sisters. By 1931, a complete program of eight grades was available.
In the early 1930’s, the “Tin Cathedral” was sold to Beacon Airways and moved to Richards Field where it was used as a classroom for aviation instruction.
The rectory was built in 1935, replacing the little white farmhouse. Above the entrance to the rectory is a canopy and a four foot statue of St. Peter. It was sculpted by Wallace Rosenbauer, Director of Sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute.
The ground was broken for the present church on December 26, 1943. Due to wartime restrictions on building, permission to build had to be obtained from the government. However, as early as 1941, Msgr. McKay had persuaded the Holy Name Society to take charge of a campaign fund raiser to build the new church. On November 1, 1941, McKay signed an agreement with the firm of Carroll and Dean to design the church. The Kansas City Star, on February 13, 1944, stated that when the Parish approached the city about a rezoning matter connected to the church, it created a “City Hall teapot tempest.” In the architectural plans drawn up by Carroll and Dean, the platform, steps and wall in front of the church extended 6 feet into Meyer Boulevard’s parkway. However, the plans were reviewed by the City Council’s Art Commission, who later decided that the design was “a work of art” and recommended approval. The wall carries the inscription, “I have built a House to His Name, That He might dwell there forever.”
The church was dedicated on September 8, 1946. It was 143 feet long and 54 feet wide. It reached a height of 67 feet. The church could seat 700 on the main floor and 131 in both balconies. It contained a special Lady Chapel, seating 50. The choir was located in front of the church, and overlooked the sanctuary, high to the left of the congregation, behind a Gothic plaster grille.
The Stations of the Cross were designed and executed by John Howard Benson, a noted calligrapher. They are panels of slate with incised texts and numbering.
On December 15, 1948 the architects of the church were given a certificate of award from the Kansas City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The church was designated as the outstanding example of institutional architecture in the area for 1947.