by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — When Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO) staff members decided to host a citywide prayer breakfast, they didn’t know what kind of crowd to expect.
How many people would venture out for a Mass and breakfast at the crack of dawn?
They needn’t have worried. The response was overwhelming.
More than 360 people came to the Ritz Carlton in Overland Park on April 14 to celebrate “A Future of Hope” by praying for the young adults of Kansas City and learning about the SPO mission.
“It’s the first prayer breakfast ever,” said Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Lauren Vaughan, who co-chaired the event.
Senior mission director Matt Karr came up with the idea and reached out to Vaughan to help organize it.
“My day job is as program events director for a chamber of commerce,” said Vaughan. “So, I plan events of this scale regularly.
“We were beyond pleased with the number of guests — both in raising support and awareness,” she added.
Vaughan is also a volunteer on the young adult leadership team with SPO. And she has good reason to believe in the group’s mission.
“I actually converted last year to Catholicism through my relationship and SPO,” she said.
Vaughn got involved with the group through the invitation of a Catholic friend.
“She said she just found a young adult group that does praise and worship,” she recalled. “I was so profoundly impacted by their relationships and the type of community and type of people they were.”
And that’s typical of how SPO works. (See sidebar.)
SPO was primarily on college campuses until recently.
Kansas City is the first attempt at noncollege campus ministry for SPO, with outreach to young adult professionals in the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
“So, it makes a natural bridge once you leave college that SPO is there also,” said Vaughan.
The prayer breakfast was a way of spreading the good news about the organization.
Twenty clergy from both sides of the state line attended the breakfast, along with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher and Bishop James Vann Johnston Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Naumann talked about the early church’s struggle to spread the Gospel, and today’s challenge to bring fallen- away Catholics, especially young people, back to the church.
“Even though in this time we see people falling away from the church,” he said, “look at this as a time of great opportunity to go out and to seek to bring the Gospel to others.”
And to share the Eucharist as well, he said.
“What an incredible gift we have! How can we fail to share it?” he asked.
Mass was followed by breakfast and presentations, starting with SPO executive director Gordy DeMarais, who thanked those gathered for their support.
Bishop Johnson then spoke about his first five months serving the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“It’s a joy meeting so many people filled with the Holy Spirit and wanting to share that,” he said.
He said he found SPO inspiring in its “desire to share faith in the community.”
“Faith is handed on, person to person, in relationships,” he added.
Father Andrew Strobl introduced SPO staff and volunteers, as well as students attending the breakfast who have been impacted by the group’s mission.
Keynote speaker Matt Karr, director of SPO in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, showed a video highlighting the group’s mission and talked about the morning’s purpose of praying for young people.
He gave the audience some sobering statistics.
“[In] every generation, people have become less connected to the church,” he said. “Now four out of five 18- to 20-year-olds are disconnected [from the] faith.”
But knowing those facts is essential, he noted.
“Getting the bad news right is important, so we can get the solution right,” he said.
Karr assured the audience that SPO is part of that solution.
“God is not done yet,” he said. “That’s good news! We started going onto college campuses, and God was with us.”
Karr illustrated that point by recounting how many people warned him it would be impossible to spread the Catholic faith on campus at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park. But they have been proven wrong.
“SPO was just voted best club on campus at JCCC,” he said.
Karr was followed by two speakers — Will Carey, a student leader with SPO, and Rachel Lackups, an SPO mission leader.
Both talked about the impact SPO has had on their lives.
“Living a life with Christ is the best life to live,” said Carey.
Lackups agreed, saying, “I have watched God heal and allow people to experience the joy and freedom of the Lord.”
Archbishop Naumann concluded the prayer breakfast by expressing his gratitude to SPO for the work it does in the archdiocese.
“As we hear these testimonies, I’m encouraged,” he said.
“The Lord doesn’t need a great army,” he continued. “He just needs a few willing individuals.
“With God’s grace all things are possible.”