by Marc and Julie Anderson
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — All good things must come to an end.
Or, so the old saying goes.
For 94-year-old Nadine Conejo, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, it seems the time has come for her to close out the books a final time.
Conejo serves as treasurer of Blessed Sacrament’s Altar Society, a position she has held for nearly 63 years. In March, the organization is disbanding and donating its remaining funds to the church.
“We don’t have enough membership anymore,” Conejo said. “We used to have 120, but anymore they’ve moved away or passed away.”
Then, there’s the issue of time. Today, many women have demanding schedules between full-time work and family life.
Today, the group has eight members; only three are active.
Things were different in 1958. That’s when Conejo and her late husband Ray moved their young family to the parish, and she joined the Altar Society.
Almost immediately, Conejo was nominated and elected the society’s treasurer.
At first, Conejo will say she has no idea why she was elected the organization’s treasurer.
“They trusted me with the money,” she said with a look of mischief.
Conejo’s life experiences, however, might point to the real reason.
During her sophomore year of high school, Conejo took a part-time job as a bookkeeper. Then, of course, there was the bookkeeping class she took at school. And in the early 1940s, computers in schools were off in the distant future. So, she learned to do everything with pencil and paper.
“We didn’t have machines or anything like that. We had to do it all by hand,” she said.
To this day, Conejo has volumes of notebooks, each with handwritten records detailing the Altar Society’s dues, expenses, donations to the church, etc. The records are exact, each year grouped together with a paperclip in three-ring binders, each binder labeled as to the years within it.
For years, the Altar Society kept nominating Conejo to the position. After a while, though, they didn’t bother.
“They wouldn’t even nominate me anymore,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Just let her be.’ Nobody wanted to take the responsibility evidently, and I didn’t mind. I don’t mind doing anything for the church. When it comes to the church, I’m there.”
Due to Conejo’s meticulous recordkeeping, not once in 63 years has the Altar Society ever run short on funds. Then again, her forthright attitude might explain that.
“I made sure they paid their dues,” she said. She was even known during the society’s meetings, for example, to say things like, ‘So-and-so hasn’t paid their dues.’”
In the eyes of Conejo, reminding people of their financial promises is no different than what happens in the business world.
“If you owe me money, I’m going to ask you for it,” she said. “Don’t they do that in business?”
In 1958, the annual dues of $5 might have been a stretch for some families, and Conejo knew that. After all, she had four young children herself. Still, the money was for a good cause.
“I wasn’t taking their money. I was collecting the money,” she said. “The president took it to the bank, and then we could do things for the church.”
While nowadays $5 seems like a drop in the bucket to most people, the Altar Society has not raised its dues once since Conejo took over the books.
Like those found at Catholic parishes across the country, the women of the Blessed Sacrament Altar Society gave in ways large and small — and made that $5 per member go a very long way. For example, the Altar Society purchased library books for the parish school, donated copies of the Baltimore Catechism for use in religion classes, and purchased linens and vestments for the priests.
More recently, the group helped purchase LED lights for the church. Then, there were the society’s annual fundraisers such as Thanksgiving dinners and parish bazaars.
“We just did things for the church,” said Conejo, adding that many Advent and Lenten seasons she helped clean the altar, pews and windows while many of the members’ husbands cleaned the floors and/or did general repair work.
As she reflects back on her time with the Altar Society, Conejo said she has been richly blessed. Although she will no longer have the bookkeeping duties, she is taking it all in stride.
“In a way, I just figure everything comes to an end,” she said.