by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Msgr. Stuart Swetland was installed as pastor of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish here on July 10, it was a celebration of life and hope and homecoming.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the main celebrant and homilist, introduced the new pastor to the congregation with an invitation to parishioners to “show your welcome and approval.”
When his request was met with enthusiastic applause, the archbishop joked:
“I take that as approval.”
While acknowledging the many duties he has as president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Naumann explained that Msgr. Swetland “has a love for this community and a desire, in addition to his other responsibilities, to be a shepherd for this community.”
Msgr. Swetland sees the Lord working through the archbishop’s invitation to accept the assignment.
“God is good,” said Msgr. Swetland. “He’s asked me to be a pastor at one of the great parishes in our archdiocese with these wonderful people.
“I’m very honored that [God] has called me to this. And I hope I can serve these people the way that God would wish me to serve them.”
Deacon Bill Scholl will be assisting Msgr. Swetland, while continuing as consultant for the archdiocesan office of social justice.
“It’s been many years since the people of Our Lady and St. Rose have had a pastor who is just pastor of their parish,” he said. “We’re really optimistic and hopeful that some great things are going to happen.”
In addition to welcoming a new pastor, this was the parish “Homecoming Mass” to celebrate being fully reunited after the pandemic.
Mass began with a procession of parish members carrying candles decorated to represent their families and their experiences over the past two years.
“The candles seemed like something that everyone could make their own and personalize,” said parishioner Patricia Goering. “And so, they became a visible symbol of our whole parish family coming back together.”
The candles were placed between two photo displays used to share special events that happened during the pandemic and memories of loved ones lost.
Because most parishioners here are Black, the displays were a solemn reminder of the racial disparities surfaced by the pandemic.
Indeed, when COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in the United States, life expectancy dropped 1.87 years among white Americans. Among Black and Hispanic populations, however, it dropped by 3.25 and 3.88 years, respectively.
Moreover, the pandemic revealed inequities in health care, unemployment and food insecurity which have always been part of the minority experience but were seen more clearly through the lens of the pandemic.
“I think all of us as a nation have become very much aware of the needs of Black America,” said Deacon Scholl. “And I think this is a chance for the church to put a great deal of intentionality into it.
“We’re already doing that with our meditation on ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’ the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter against racism.”
The archbishop has taken it a step further by giving this parish a dedicated pastor.
“I think it’s really a sign of how much Archbishop Naumann has a heart for the Black community,” said Deacon Scholl.
In his homily, the archbishop talked about the importance of priests as an example to all of Christ’s love.
“The life of the priest is, in part, a reminder that each of us has this special, unique mission that has been entrusted to us by God,” he said. “Each one of us has been called by name to bring the love of Jesus Christ to others.
“The particular role of the priest is to help each member of his flock realize this special love of Jesus for them and discover the way Our Lord wants to use them to build up his kingdom in the world.”
After Mass, a welcome celebration gave Msgr. Swetland and Deacon Scholl an opportunity to meet parishioners and discuss the future.
“Today’s second reading,” noted Msgr. Swetland, “said that we’re all called to be holy and to give God praise and glory.
“And that’s what we want to do here at Our Lady and St. Rose.”