by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Friday, Jan. 27, I participated in the 24th annual Support Our Seminarians (SOS) banquet.
The event raises money to help fund the cost for the formation of the seminarians from our archdiocese as well as from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The SOS event also provides financial support to Conception College Seminary in Conception, Missouri.
This year, special recognition was given to Larry Moore, the legendary Kansas City television news anchor, and his wife Ruth, who helped to establish the annual SOS event. Larry Moore served as the master of ceremonies for the first 23 SOS banquets. At the time of the first SOS event in 1993, there was a total of three seminarians for both dioceses. This year, there are more than 60 seminarians in formation for the two dioceses.
What a dramatic change in less than 25 years! I am grateful to Archbishop James P. Keleher, Father Scott Wallisch — our vocation director — Martha Hodes, Ruth and Larry Moore, the priests of the archdiocese and our very active Serra Clubs for all that they have done to create a culture that is supportive of priestly vocations.
With 10 times the number of seminarians in formation for our archdiocese today compared to 24 years ago, what has been accomplished is simply amazing. Nevertheless, I believe that we need to ramp up and intensify our priestly vocation efforts.
During the past 10 years, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has celebrated, on average, the ordination of three new priests per year. If we could sustain similar numbers in the next 10 years, we would slightly grow the number of archdiocesan priests.
Nevertheless, each year, the process for determining the spring pastoral assignments for our priests seems impossible. We never have a sufficient number of priests to meet adequately all of the pastoral needs of the people of the archdiocese.
Without the 15 international priests, the significant number of religious priests and the generosity of our retired priests remaining active, I would be forced to close parishes and reduce the number of priests available to serve in specialized pastoral ministries, e.g., Catholic high school chaplains.
The irony of such reductions is that I am convinced that, if I were able to assign full-time priest chaplains to all of our high schools, the archdiocese would experience a significant increase in the number of our seminarians.
With the smaller dioceses of Lincoln, Nebraska, to our north and Wichita to our south each having almost twice the number of seminarians, I am convinced that we have not yet realized our full potential. For this reason, it is my earnest desire for every parish in the archdiocese to have an active vocation ministry.
I want a group of parishioners in every parish committed: to pray for priestly vocations, to educate their fellow parishioners about the need for priests and to provide opportunities for parishioners to encourage vocations to the priesthood. While these committees will be uniquely focused on fostering priestly vocations, their broader mission is to awaken within the hearts of every parishioner the universal call to holiness.
Every member of the archdiocese has a vocation to discern and embrace God’s will. Through our baptism and confirmation, each one of us is called to be a witness to the beauty and truth of the Gospel of Jesus. God has a plan and a unique mission for each of us, no matter if we are single, married, divorced, widowed, a religious Sister, a religious Brother or priest.
Our vocation office is sponsoring The Hundredfold Workshop on Friday, March 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Savior Pastoral Center, 12601 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, Kansas. Rhonda Gruenewald, a nationally renowned speaker and author of the book, “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry,” will share her experience of beginning and developing a parochial vocation ministry.
The workshop is free and open to everyone in the archdiocese. You can register online at our archdiocesan website at: www.archkck.org. You can also contact Melanie Savner in our archdiocesan vocation office at (913) 647-0303 for more information.
Every pastor has been asked to send a delegation to The Hundredfold Workshop. If you are interested in assisting with your parish vocation ministry, I encourage you to inform your pastor about your willingness to help.
Approximately a dozen of our parishes already have vocation ministries. These groups not only encourage young men applying for the seminary and support seminarians in their discernment, but they also support their parish priests.
One priest told me how his parish vocation ministry on Priesthood Sunday sponsored coffee and doughnuts after all the morning Masses. On this occasion, they provided blank cards for parishioners to write a thank-you note to their priests. This particular priest received several hundred cards from parishioners of all ages. He was humbled and encouraged by the kind words of appreciation and affection from his people.
He decided not to read them all at once, but rather to keep a stack on the desk in his office. On difficult days when he was stressed, tired and worried that he was not doing a great job as a priest, he would read a few of the cards. He derived great strength and encouragement from these kind, heartfelt messages from his parishioners. This simple project motivated him to serve his parishioners with renewed zeal and energy.
Priestly vocations are not primarily about numbers, but the quality of the men who will lead and shepherd our parish communities. Dedicated and caring pastors are the most important ingredient to vital and vibrant parish communities.
Please consider helping your parish community foster priestly vocations. Participating in The Hundredfold Workshop could be a wonderful gift to offer God as part of your Lenten observance. Part of your vocation, of God’s special mission for you, may be to help raise up the next generation of holy, zealous priests — men who will be shepherds after the heart of Jesus Christ.