by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “We have the highest enrollment in the seminary college in almost 40 years!”
This was the good tidings Abbot Gregory Polan announced to Catholics attending the 17th annual Support Our Seminarians Benefit on Jan. 29 at the Marriott Allis Plaza Hotel in Kansas City, Mo.
In honor of this year’s designation as “The Year of the Priest” by Pope Benedict, the evening was dedicated to St. John Vianney, also known as the Curé of Ars.
A French theme permeated the event, complete with an Eiffel Tower in lights overlooking the silent auction “marketplace.”
Guests enjoyed dinner and French desserts while “artist in residence” Mike Debus, from St. James Academy in Lenexa, came onstage and painted a beautiful Madonna to open the live auction.
“My inspiration for the painting came from Michelangelo’s ‘Pietá,’” Debus told the crowd.
Inspiration was also provided by musician Mikey Needleman and vocalist Cayleigh Bustillo, who performed as the Madonna was being created.
KMBC-TV anchor Larry Moore was master of ceremonies, as he has been every year since he and his wife spearheaded the first SOS Benefit.
After dinner, Archbishop Joseph Naumann thanked the audience saying, “It’s important for our young men to have your support and to know you’re here tonight.”
He said that often parishioners approached him, saying, “Please don’t take our priest away,” and said it heartens him to know our archdiocesan priests have such a strong connection to their parishioners.
Bishop Robert Finn from the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph echoed the archbishop’s thanks and acknowledged the seminarians’ families who were able to attend the benefit.
“I always tell our parents, ‘If you send your sons to us, we will take good care of them,’” he said. “We do everything we can to make sure they receive top-notch formation and will be able to be given all the graces they need.”
The highlight of the evening was the introduction of the seminarians by Father Samuel Russel, president-rector of Conception Seminary College.
“We are very humbled — not just by the numbers, but by the quality of these young men,” he said. “I really stand in awe of them because it’s not something we’re doing at Concep- tion. It’s something the Lord is doing.”
Vocation director for the archdiocese, Father Mitchel Zimmerman, was then called onstage along with Father Richard Rocha, vocation director for the Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph, where they were then joined by the priest candidates from Conception Abbey.
Before the Nigro Brothers took over to call the live auction, Moore thanked all those who helped make SOS a success, in particular, Jodie Stockwell and Tim and Katy Forrest, who served as co-chairs of the event.
Money raised through the auction and ticket sales will go to help pay seminary expenses for men studying for the priesthood from the archdiocese and from the Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph. The proceeds will be divided equally among the two dioceses and Conception Seminary.