by Moira Cullings
MOUND CITY — The St. Rose Philippine Duchesne award is an honor for any of its recipients, but the honor held special meaning for this year’s recipients: Deacon Dana and Deborah Nearmyer.
St. Rose Philippine was a French nun and educator who, at an advanced age, fulfilled a lifelong ambition of ministering to Native Americans by spending a year with the Potawatomi in what is now Linn County.
Deacon Nearmyer is himself a voting member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation and a member of the Northern Cherokee Nation.
“My great-grandmother, who helped raise me, was a very intense part of my upbringing and she was born in the Oklahoma territory even before it was a state,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
“She and my grandma on that side had a deep impact on my spirituality,” he added.
Knowing the impact St. Rose had on Native Americans in Kansas, “it was coming full circle for me,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
“And [with] us working with [St.] Kateri Tekakwitha and her intercession for the camp [in Williamsburg], it’s been really mind-blowing,” he continued.
Since 2006, Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City, which has its own shrine to St. Rose, has presented an award named after her to a person or persons in the archdiocese who embody her giving spirit.
On Nov. 19, one day after her feast day, the Nearmyers were added to the list of its recipients.
They received a plaque following Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by Sacred Heart pastor Father Barry Clayton, with assistance from Deacon Don Poole.
The couple was “surprised and humbled” to receive the award, particularly knowing that Louise Naumann, the archbishop’s mother, was its first recipient in 2006.
“She’s such a role model to me as a mom and a Catholic woman,” said Deborah, speaking of Mrs. Naumann. “She’s amazing and one of the giants in our world when it comes to living a faithful life.”
The Nearmyers have had a critical impact on young people in the archdiocese over the years, beginning with their work in youth ministry at Church of the Nativity in Leawood and extending to Camp Tekakwitha at Prairie Star Ranch, Benedictine College in Atchison and St. James Academy in Lenexa.
Deacon Nearmyer currently serves as the lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of evangelization and Deborah is the director of faith formation at St. James.
“Dana and Debbie have served as mentors for many young people who are now adults in our parishes and serving here and other parts of the country,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“They’ve really helped so many young people come to fall in love with Jesus and the church,” he continued. “Their impact in the church will be felt for decades — and really generations — to come.”
The Nearmyers’ work with youth is one of the many reasons the couple was chosen to receive the award this year, as 14 young people were confirmed during the Nov. 19 Mass, said Father Clayton.
“We wanted to honor their really profound commitment and the wonderful inspiration that they have offered to youth for a number of years now,” he said. “Our archdiocese has been really blessed by them.
“I personally think they’re saints in the making.”
For the Nearmyers, the opportunity to serve the archdiocese has been a gift.
“I think every day we wake up, wanting to waken people up to the dignity they have and to what Jesus is doing for them,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
The couple explained their work wouldn’t be possible without the guidance of several local leaders, including Archbishop James P. Keleher, Archbishop Naumann and Msgr. Tom Tank.
“They know the mercy and love of God, and they know the brokenness, and they see it in us and expect us to live in the goodness of the Lord anyway,” said Deborah.
The Nearmyers will never know how their efforts have impacted the archdiocese and beyond.
“But I pray every day for the impact of the Holy Spirit in the life of northeast Kansas and the individual hearts that are here,” said Deborah.
“I just think being a part of this community is the greatest gift God gave us,” she added.