Glennon High building is gone, but memories remain
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - The demolition of the old brick building was completed last week. Glennon High School, which closed in 1971, was consigned to memories. Except for a few items.
Marty Denzer/Key photo
A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands in her grotto on a hillock near the site of Glennon High School. The still-pristine statue looks much as it did when Glennon's girls processed to the grotto to crown Mary Queen of May.
Dan Davies, administrator of Glennon Place Retirement Center, which was built on the campus of the high school and nearby convent for the Sisters of Mercy who taught there, rescued several artifacts from the wrecking ball. The four-sectioned cornerstone, a 400- pound concrete cross that stood guard over the entrance to the school and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a hillside grotto survived.
"A few alumni from the old high school came by," he said, "when we started demolishing the old building. They wanted bricks as memorabilia and we gave them some. I would like to offer these things to the Diocese if someone there wants them."
In the mid 1880s, Bishop Hogan invited the Louisville-based Sisters of Mercy to come to Kansas City to establish the order here. Two sisters arrived in 1887. Having become independent of Louisville by 1891, the new community incorporated in 1894 as the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy of Kansas City, Missouri.
According to the 1992 diocesan history, This Far By Faith, Bishop Hogan recommended the new community purchase a five-acre tract on Hardesty just north of St. John Avenue in the rapidly growing northeast section of the city. On the site were many fruit trees and a two-room log cabin.
The sisters purchased the land from James A. and Mary May Stokely in February 1900, and construction began on a combination school and convent in 1901. The cornerstone alone weighed 900 pounds. The cabin was moved to the western side of the property and served as living quarters for the sisters until the convent was completed.
In the fall of 1901, 30 girls enrolled in the new St. Agnes Academy, named for Mercy Sister Mary Agnes Dunn, one of the two sisters who established the order in Kansas City. Ten of those students were boarding students. The academy also served as a grade school for Holy Cross parish.
A high school department was added in 1906, and 10 students enrolled. Boys who attended the Holy Cross grade school in the Academy building began attending classes in the Holy Cross Parish hall in 1908, an arrangement that continued until Holy Cross built its own school in 1922. At that time, the academy became primarily a high school, retaining only boarding students in the grade school.
In 1908, a new wing was added to the building, doubling its size and its enrollment. The sisters added music, expression, art and dance to the high school curriculum, all disciplines taught by well-respected experts in their fields.
The Academy was accredited by the Missouri State Department of Education in 1911, by the University of Missouri in 1920, and the North Central Association in 1933. The curriculum offered college prep classes, general academy courses, commercial courses, music, dance, art, dramatics, physical education and outdoor sports.
The school touted its extensive campus and "healthful" location in its recruitment literature.
St. Agnes Academy remained a girl's school until 1940, when it became coeducational and was renamed Cardinal Glennon High School in honor of Cardinal John Glennon of St. Louis, a former Kansas City priest. Both boys and girls attended until 1960, when Bishop Cody requested the high school return to its former all-girls enrollment..
Over the years, the school and gymnasium were added on to, increasing classroom space. When the new Glennon high school was built in 1945, the old auditorium was converted into a library.
In 1965, a new convent was built for the sisters. The old convent was torn down, but the cornerstone remained, perhaps because of its weight, perhaps to serve as a memorial to the founding sisters.
In 1971, Glennon High School was consolidated with St. Mary High School in Independence, and its students distributed to St. Pius X, Lillis and St. Mary high schools.
The property was sold to a private corporation that built a nursing facility, Glennon Place, on the campus, connecting the new building to the old high school. About 30 of the more than 80 residents lived in the old school building, which served as a residential care facility. The Mercy sisters who still lived in the convent were not affiliated with Glennon Place but visited the residents and served as extraordinary ministers of communion.
In the 1990s, the sisters moved out and the new convent was eventually sold to Harvester's Church, which utilizes some of its rooms as a food pantry and emergency services. The original cornerstone is still in place to the west of the newer building.
Davies said the auditorium and gymnasium were in the area that connected the new facility to the old building. Part of the former stage is visible in the wall that now divides a staff break room from the residents' dining room and a small library, resembling wainscoting. He pointed out where ceiling fans had hung to cool the auditorium and where the basketball goals probably had been.
The concrete cross and cornerstone sections lay near the parking lot for staff and visitors to the retirement home. The Marian grotto is about halfway up a small incline to the east of the old high school site. Mary stands, glistening white, with flowers placed all around the ground near her feet, just as she must have stood through the years of May crownings and living rosaries enacted at her feet.
Davies said he was amazed at the pristine quality of the statue.
"In this area we have a lot of poverty and a lot of graffiti. But amazingly, the spray-painting kids have never touched the statue. Even the wrecking machines that knocked tree branches to the ground and swung around the statue never touched it."
He said the nursing facility is considering building some kind of a park on the site of the old high school.
"I don't plan on selling the artifacts. If the Diocese is interested in any of them, they are welcome to them," Davies said. "If not, maybe the local community would be interested in contributing to a Glennon High School memorial park, with the cross, the cornerstones and the statue used in the park.
"After all, I do believe Glennon was a pretty influential high school in its day."