Sisters bypass flashy capital campaign for a more personal approach in reaching a $1.1 million goal
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — To build their new monastery, the Little Sisters of the Lamb are social networking the old-fashioned way: They meet people.
It’s not your usual approach to fundraising. When Paul Lavery first heard about it, he was a little skeptical.
In January, Paul and his wife Carla met with the Sisters, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, and five other couples to discuss plans for a capital campaign to build a new monastery at the site of the old St. Benedict Church in Kansas City, Kan.
The Sisters didn’t want a big, showy effort. They didn’t want to shoot for the big money.
What they wanted was something smaller and humbler. They wanted to get to know people, and they wanted people to know them. Whatever God told people to give, small or large, they would give.
“This was not going to be your usual, ‘Hey, we’re just here to get your $10 or $25 from you’,” said Paul Lavery, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. “[Instead,] this kind of grass-roots, humble approach came about. I have to admit, at that initial meeting I was somewhat skeptical about it working.”
“But after thinking about it, it just seems to be the natural approach with who they are,” Lavery continued. “They don’t want someone to just donate because they were asked. They’d rather get to know these people and have them say, ‘We really want to help because we know you now.’”
And so, beginning with that small core of six couples, now called the Spirit Group, the Little Sisters of the Lamb are getting to know an ever-widening circle of friends and trying to raise the $1.1 million needed to begin construction at the end of summer.
This will not be easy.
But the Sisters and the Spirit Group are not intimidated in the least. They trust in God.
Putting down roots
After first visiting the archdiocese in August 2006, the Little Sisters of the Lamb came to Kansas City, Kan., in 2009 at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to establish a monastery — their first in North America.
The Sisters established themselves in the former rectory of the now-demolished St. Benedict Church at 36 S. Boeke. The old, careworn rectory, however, was not suitable for the long-term life of the community.
“The house is very inefficient, and the layout is not consistent with their community life,” said Mike Morrand, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and of the Spirit Group.
As an offshoot of the Dominicans, the Little Sisters retreat to their individual rooms, called “cells,” where they pray, read and meditate before they go out on mission. The Sisters — in true Kansas pioneer spirit — made do with what they had, but they looked forward to making a home in a more traditional setting.
Little Brother Christophe, from the motherhouse in France, came to Kansas to produce the original drawings of a proposed structure and build a model. From this, an architect drew up more detailed plans. They named the proposed monastery “Lumen Christi,” or the Light of Christ.
A chapel, the largest building, is at the center of the monastery complex design. Walkways connect it to eight cells for the Sisters, three cells for visiting priests or Little Brothers, four cells for young women who want to visit and experience the community’s life, a garage for their one car, and a commons area.
The projected commons will contain a refectory (for dining), a library, a par- lor, a dispensary, a sacristy and a kitchen. The section containing the Sisters’ cells will feature a very small kitchen and library. The complex will form a square, with an inner courtyard, and be approximately 12,000 square feet.
One of the most interesting things about the proposed monastery is its design, said Morrand. The onion-shaped cupola of the chapel is a nod to the spiritual richness of eastern Christianity. The whole complex is one story, except for the chapel, which is a little higher.
“They don’t want it to be too big,” said Morrand. “They don’t want it to be [taller] than the surrounding buildings.”
Meeting folks, making friends
Even though the Little Sisters have been in the archdiocese for a year and a half, there are many who don’t know they are here — and fewer still who know of their monastery project.
“The Spirit Group was formed, basically, to put together an awareness campaign,” said Morrand. “That’s because the order is not only new to Kansas City, but new to North America. This is the first place they’ve established in all of North America.”
Initially, the Little Sisters and the Spirit Group will focus on Wyandotte and Johnson County parishes, but they plan to expand the campaign beyond the greater metropolitan area.
“We’re kind of through the initial stages [of the awareness campaign],” said Morrand, “and we’ve touched just about all the [Wyandotte and Johnson County] parishes with introductions to the parish priests as to who the Little Sisters are in the Priests’ Information Packet.”
Raising awareness goes beyond just informing people about one capital campaign, said Currie Myers, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park and of the Spirit Group.
“It’s not so much everything is being done just because you’re trying to get a capital project started, which is very unusual,” said Myers.
“The way we go about it is raising awareness about the Little Sisters and the work they do,” he continued. “That is such a simple way of spreading the good news that people want to be involved and contribute in any way they can.”
The Spirit Group couples divided the parishes among themselves and began to personally visit pastors to explain who the Little Sisters were and what their monastery project was all about. They also asked for their support — but only that.
“We were very clear from our initial meeting with Archbishop Naumann [in January] that this would be a grass-roots campaign — that we weren’t asking the pastors to help with the fundraising efforts,” Myers noted.
Although the awareness campaign will continue, the next phase is also now underway, in which the Spirit Club is identifying liaison couples in each parish that will work with pastors to find people who want to help the Little Sisters build the monastery.
Different kinds of activities have been undertaken to raise funds. At some parishes, the Little Sisters have sung vespers, followed by refreshments and a meet-and-greet. If people so desired, they could sign a pledge card.
Some parish couples have hosted small dinners of 10 people and a couple of the Little Sisters. Generally, Spirit Group members call people they know and tell them about their work.
“We do outreach in many different ways,” said Myers. “Generally, it’s through people you know. You pick up the phone or send an e-mail, and that starts the process.”
“We’ve communicated with friends, initially in Holy Trinity Parish, and we’re reaching out to other parishes,” said Paul Lavery. “What we’ve tried to do is tell the Little Sisters’ story and introduce them, when appropriate, to everyone we can.”
In some cases, parish leaders were invited to have dinner with the Little Sisters.
“A lot of times the committee leaders will go back and raise funds for [the Little Sisters] specifically,” said Myers. “For instance, our Knights of Columbus did a pancake breakfast and the proceeds went to the Little Sisters. You may have many different ways of reaching out.”
The Little Sisters haven’t reached their goal, but they’re already successful, because they’ve reached so many people.
“There is more than one way to reach this goal. But they want to reach it in a way that stays true to their charism,” said Paul Lavery. “Their goal is to meet and know as many people as possible . . . and any gifts that are given, whatever they may be, they want to come from the heart.”
The Laverys’ own six-year-old son gave the Little Sisters all his cash — $2. The Sisters were so delighted they wrote him a long, heartfelt letter.
“You would have thought he gave them all the money they needed to build the place,” said Lavery. “They were so touched by that. They wrote him an amazing thank-you letter, referencing [the Gospel of Mark’s] story about the poor widow who gave all she had.”
“It’s that spirit that they’re looking for,” he continued. “Not to have people give everything they have, but to have the gifts truly be given from the heart.”
If you would like to donate money, materials or skills to the construction of the Lumen Christi monastery, call the Little Sisters at (913) 621-1727, or write to them at: Little Sisters of the Lamb, 36 S. Boeke St., Kansas City KS 66101.