Companions in faith

LEAVEN PHOTO BY SUSAN MCSPADDEN Father Kent O’Connor, left, pastor of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, welcomes Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, to Our Lady of Unity’s parish festival this summer. The two parishes have a budding sister parish relationship. Between the two priests are Marilyn and Tom O’Connor, Father Kent’s parents.
LEAVEN PHOTO BY SUSAN MCSPADDEN Father Kent O’Connor, left, pastor of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, welcomes Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, to Our Lady of Unity’s parish festival this summer. The two parishes have a budding sister parish relationship. Between the two priests are Marilyn and Tom O’Connor, Father Kent’s parents.

by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. —  Shoppers sick of the slick packaging and commercialization of Christmas have long turned to Ten Thousand Villages in Overland Park as a place to find unique and handcrafted gifts for Christmas.

Now, the same shop will help two parishes in different cities of the archdiocese check an important item off their respective wish lists.

A community sales event at the store on Nov. 30 will help raise money for new multilingual textbooks for Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

A budding partnership between Our Lady of Unity and St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood called Companions in Faith identified those books as a catechetical need of Our Lady of Unity.

And as the parishes brainstormed ways to make it happen, Dennis Shields, a member of the community service outreach committee at St. Michael, thought of the fair-trade gift store and its opportunities for sales events to benefit local organizations.

So from  noon to 4 p.m. on Nov. 30, 15 percent of the proceeds from each sale will go toward the book fund.

Though many of the kids at Our Lady of Unity are bilingual, many of the parents who volunteer to teach classes are more comfortable with Spanish, explained Angela Markley, a member of Our Lady of Unity Parish and part of the Companions in Faith committee.

So, books in both languages will make a big difference.

Bridge building like this is what Companions in Faith is all about.

Many local parishes have developed relationships with “sister parishes” overseas, said Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel.

For example, he said, “We have a mission in Honduras.

“The archbishop has said that’s wonderful — we want to continue to support the foreign missions — but we also need to cultivate a greater sense of unity and support for one another within our own archdiocese.”’

And so, when the two parishes came together this spring, both did some soul searching to identify their own “weeds and seeds,” explained Ann Ekis, a member of the Companions in Faith committee at St. Michael.

According to the Companions in Faith mission statement, the communities come together, each sharing its own blessings, with special focus on spiritual, temporal, educational and social needs of parishioners of both parishes.

“The needs and wants just matched up so perfectly,” said Markley.

Early on, parishioners from both parishes served side by side at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ Hope Distribution Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

“Parishioners from both parishes came together in doing a corporal work of mercy,” said Father Schieber. “We could get to know each other as we worked together on something tangible in our Catholic faith.”

Then, members of St. Michael the Archangel Parish attended the daylong Unityfest at Our Lady of Unity in September.

Father Kent O’Connor, pastor of Our Lady of Unity, felt that his “parishioners have particularly benefited and enjoyed the Great Adventure Bible series (hosted by St. Michael parishioners) and the doughnut Sunday at St. Michael’s” that followed.

Our Lady parishioners look forward to hosting St. Michael participants at their overnight Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration in December, said Markley.

And Our Lady of Unity has been selected as the “fund a need” for St. Michael’s Defender’s Ball in February 2015.

The people who have been involved in Companions in Faith from both parishes love what they’ve experienced so far and hope this will keep growing in the future — the pastors included.

“Although we are always collaborating with the archbishop and the other priests of the archdiocese, it sometimes feels like we are ‘doing our own thing’ as pastors,” said Father O’Connor.

“It’s nice to work in such an intentional and clear way with another pastor,” he continued.

And all involved hope other parishes will explore how they might be able to pair up, as well.
The two parishes announced their own relationship to parishioners on the solemnity of Corpus Christi this year, especially fitting given that the name — Companions in Faith — is based on the Latin root “panis,” or bread.

Father Schieber loves that connection and the “beautiful eucharistic overtone” in the name Father O’Connor gave to the program.

“This relationship is one that’s rooted in faith,” said Father Schieber. “We are true companions in faith.”

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