by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Many took the stage at the 6th annual Abbot’s Table April 7 at the Overland Park Convention Center.
And several of the monks’ famous videos were shown depicting life at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.
But Mrs. Louise Naumann stole the show.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s mother gave a brief speech, expressing her joy and gratitude for the evening.
And that’s all it took.
Her sweet demeanor and self-deprecating humor won the hearts of the more than 800 in attendance.
Mrs. Naumann, along with her son, was presented the Lumen Vitae (“Light of Life”) medal given by the monks to recognize those who have followed Christ in service to his people and the church.
Also receiving the medal was the Dunn family of J.E Dunn Construction.
At the Mass preceding the event, Msgr. Ted Wojcicki gave the homily and talked about his memories of the Naumann household in St. Louis.
Monsignor Wojcicki attended high school with the archbishop in the early ’60s.
“[Mrs. Naumann] made many BLT sandwiches for us boys growing up,” he recalled.
But that wasn’t all.
“She also gave us ice cream,” he said gratefully.
Mrs. Naumann was lauded throughout the evening as an example of perseverance through faith.
In 1948, when she was five months pregnant with the archbishop, she tragically lost her husband and was left alone to raise her new son and his older brother Fred.
She went on to earn her teaching degree and to teach in the Catholic school system, eventually serving as a principal.
In a video shown during the event, Fred Naumann recalled his mother as “a strict disciplinarian and a wonderful mother.”
“She worked hard,” he said. “I admire her for being able to go on after our dad was killed.”
In the same video, Archbishop Naumann expressed thanks to his father for “having the wisdom to choose her to be my mother.”
“Her relationship with Jesus is the center of her life and what gave her strength through tragedy,” he said. “That’s what motivated her in her responsibilities as a parent and as a Catholic school educator.”
Mrs. Naumann said she raised both her sons to be living testaments to their father’s memory.
And no one would question her success.
“I feel like Fred is an excellent example of what a Catholic husband, a Catholic man, should be,” she said. “And I think Joe’s a great example of what a Catholic bishop should be.
“I’ve been proud of everything he’s done.”
Monsignor Wojcicki praised Mrs. Naumann for her humility and fidelity to the church and spoke warmly about the great works Archbishop Naumann accomplished during his time in St. Louis.
“He was instrumental in the founding of Project Rachel,” he said. “He was instrumental in the establishment of the Vitae Society.”
The archbishop continued as a champion for the pro-life movement when he came to Kansas City, and is now the chair-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a fellow St. Louis native, also praised the archbishop as a leader of the faithful, and gave special credit to the archbishop’s mother.
“When I look for the secret to his life, obviously it would be his faith,” he said. “But then comes his mom, Louise.
“When you see her, when you meet her, when you marvel at her — you know where a man like Archbishop Naumann came from.”
Calling the archbishop “a gift to the archdiocese and to me,” Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher thanked him for bringing so many new groups into the archdiocese, particularly the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Community of the Lamb.
Little Sister Benedicte and Little Brother Christophe referred to the archbishop as a great father, brother and friend.
“We feel very comforted in his presence,” said Little Brother Christophe. “And we were like sheep with a shepherd.”
Accepting the medal on behalf of himself and his mother, the archbishop acknowledged four generations of his own family present at the event.
He also thanked many friends and associates from his days in St. Louis, who made the trip west for the evening.
Archbishop Naumann spoke movingly of the respect he has for the woman who was his first teacher.
Mrs. Naumann was her younger son’s kindergarten teacher, but, more than that, she gave him his first lessons in his Catholic faith.
“Her witness of love for Jesus, his church, and true devotion to his Blessed Mother have impacted my life and been the guiding lights for my own spirituality,” he said. “I’m in her debt.”
The archbishop marveled at his mother being able to raise two boys on a Catholic school teacher’s salary.
“My mother constantly sacrificed her own wants and desires so Fred and I really wanted for nothing,” he said.
Mrs. Naumann’s main recreation as she raised her boys was being an active member of the Legion of Mary.
“Mom, you taught me not so much with words but by your example to place God first, [and] the church, family and friends second,” said the archbishop. “And you taught our family that the poor and the vulnerable have a special claim on our hearts and resources.”
The archbishop told the audience that, though he has earned many titles in his career, the one he is most proud of is simply being “Mrs. Naumann’s son.”
Archbishop Naumann also expressed gratitude for the privilege of sharing the night’s honor with the Dunn family.
“Anything that’s good and noble going on in the community,” he said, “there’s a Dunn that’s part of it.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks the light of Christ shines more brightly in our community than [it shines] in the Dunn family.”
The Dunns have a long history with St. Benedict’s Abbey. In 1945, when the monks launched their centennial expansion program, Ernie Dunn served as the program’s first chair.
The Dunn family has continued helping the abbey and the community for more than 75 years.
“As we know,” said Abbot James Albers, the [Dunn family’s] philanthropy goes beyond the Kansas City area.”
“Many things go unnoticed,” he said. “But that’s the kind of people they are — supporting Catholic and Christian causes, and doing so in a way that’s very humble in nature.”
When Bill Dunn accepted the award for the family, he praised his parents for giving him and his four brothers Catholic educations through college.
“We were also taught to give back our time and talent and treasure to our church and many other causes,” he said.
Indeed, their company donates 10 percent of its pre-tax earnings to charity every year. Along with the family foundation, they support over 400 charitable causes annually.
Dunn also spoke lovingly of his deceased sister Mary, who was born with Down syndrome.
“She taught us all about humility and patience,” he said, “and helping those less fortunate.”
The evening closed with an opportunity for the audience to support the prayer and work of the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey.
A $160,000 challenge gift in honor of the closing of the 160th anniversary of the foundation of the abbey was announced, and the audience was reminded to save the date for the 7th annual Abbot’s Table on April 27, 2019.
To view videos from the Abbot’s Table event, go online to: kansas monks.org/abbotstable2018. For more information on the event or St. Benedict’s Abbey, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (913) 360-7908.