Creating a Catholic community

Residents put down roots at Santa Marta


by Joyce A. Mitchell

OLATHE — More than trees and shrubs have been planted here at Santa Marta, the archdiocesan-owned retirement community in northeast Olathe. People who have a passion for caring for senior citizens have nurtured an environment where older Catholics can sink new roots and live out their lives and faith fully.

For the 12-person board behind Santa Marta, it’s rewarding to see the dream finally coming to fruition, with residents moving in and new employees coming on board.

Board member Nancy Mellard, a Leawood attorney, has relished the opportunity to be part of the archdiocesan endeavor. But she still has important work to do: She needs four new members for the Santa Marta board, individuals to replace current board members who are due to rotate out.

As chairman of the nominating and governance committee, Mellard looks for people who have expertise to bring to the board. Her own legal background is useful for reviewing contracts and making sure bylaws are followed. But oversight of a nonprofit corporation like Santa Marta requires expertise ranging from marketing, hospitality and construction, to finance and housekeeping, Mellard said. Above all, board members must keep in mind that Santa Marta is another’s home.

As the Archbishop’s Call to Share literature reminds us, sharing time and expertise is an act of stewardship too, she said. A member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, Mellard served the parish council for five years and has recently been tapped for Catholic Charities’ Snow Ball for the next two years.

But Santa Marta board members need to understand its focus.

“We just want people who are committed to an institution like this with a Catholic mission,” she said.

All the departing board members have served the maximum term of six years, helping since the early phases of construction and bond issuing.

Mellard, who joined the board about two years ago, said that she and “future members will be reaping the benefits of those who served.”

The first residents moved into the 50-acre complex last November. Santa Marta is about 50 percent full now, said Connie Haworth, executive director of the retirement community. The facility is “not just about chandeliers and architecture,” Haworth said, but about fellowship and friendship. Eventually a resident council will be formed, with a representative reporting periodically to the board to provide some resident input.

Residents continue to be enthusiastic about Santa Marta and have turned out to be great sales reps for the place.

“Residents will stop people who are on a tour to tell them how wonderful it is,” Haworth said.

Mellard said she just wished Santa Marta had been around years ago. It would have been a perfect setting for her mother-in-law, said Mellard, when her father-in-law died. And she believes her own parents, who are now 85, would have considered it had it opened when they were at the age of most incoming residents, who are in their early 70s.

“If this had been available 10 years ago for my parents, this would have been a blessing,” she said.

One of the amenities is the chapel where Mass is offered six days a week, Haworth noted, with no worries about driving through ice and snow.

For Mellard, having a chapel dedicated solely to that purpose — versus using a multipurpose room for Mass — says that Santa Marta is more than just apartment buildings and duplexes.

The chapel, like the small social room outside the dining room where people tend to gather, “says this is a community,” Mellard said. “People are laughing, talking. . . . It speaks to the whole mission of Santa Marta.”

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