Archdiocese Local

Leo and Mary Jane Hammes: Salt of the Earth

by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
Special to The Leaven

When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13), he might very well have been talking about this year’s honorary chairs of the Archbishop’s Call to Share annual appeal.

Each year, pastors from around the archdiocese are asked to submit names of couples for consideration as co-chairs. From the long list of candidates, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and the Clergy Advisory Committee select a couple who live out Christ’s call to “go out and teach all nations” and whose lives exemplify selfless stewardship.

Leo and Mary Jane Hammes of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca do just that.

“We are always to see Christ in one another, to model Christ and live out the Gospel,” said Father Ric Halvorson, one of the archdiocesan priests who nominated the Hammeses. “We are meant to inspire. . . . The Hammeses are examples of inspiration for all of us. The call to share is so essential to the mission of the church, not just here in northeast Kansas, but in the world.”

“We are all called to be a part of it,” he added. “The Hammeses are a good example of people that, because they are faithfilled, respond to the call.”

For Leo and Mary Jane, their response to live the Gospel is part of the fabric of their being. Their Catholic faith is paramount to their lives.

“It means everything,” said Mary Jane. “It’s number one.

“Although our family is close, God is first in our lives.”

Although Leo’s education was in engineering, his roots were always in the land. From 1973 until his retirement in 2007, Leo was a grain and livestock farmer outside of Seneca.

“I wanted to raise my kids on a farm and learn the ethics of farming,” he said.

He and Mary Jane, who worked as a hospital nurse, raised their five children with such basic values as hard work and support for their rural community, as well as for the church.

“They have been tremendous leaders,” said Lesle Knop, executive director of the archdiocesan office of stewardship and development, who helps sponsor the honorary chair.

“We’ve really tried to show people who are quiet, faithful stewards — not people who would normally get attention,” she said. “Each one of us is called by God to a life of discipleship. Each of us is called to give back a little of our abundance. We are called to be stewards.”

Stewardship, Knop continued, “begins in the domestic church, the churches of the home. A lifelong orientation toward service begins in the home, and stewardship is learned from early childhood.

From there, she said, “the seeds bloom into a mature Christian.”

“The Hammeses teach us to be grateful by their example,” she added.

Indeed, the Hammes are a sterling example of the domestic church. Although they have done more than their fair share of work for the church, perhaps their greatest accomplishment is that all five of their adult children — ranging in age from 33 to 45 — and their 13 grandchildren still practice the faith. Their youngest son, Father Greg Hammes, serves as a priest for three parishes in the archdiocese.

When asked what they did to promote the faith, Leo’s answer was simple.

“We tried to be honest and fair,” he said. “Kids are going to follow what you do. We wanted to be a good example to our children.”

They tried to live out their faith in the community, as well, he said.

“People need to evangelize, to share,” said Leo. “They need to become involved — just don’t be a one-hour-a-week Christian.”

Father Hammes agrees.

“My parents lived their faith and tried to practice what they preached and what the church teaches,” he said. “They were never pushy, but they lived their faith. Their example impacted us and has been passed down.”

In his homily for Call to Share, Archbishop Naumann said, “Sometimes when we hear the word ‘vocation,’ we think that it only applies to priests or religious Brothers and Sisters. Actually, each of us through our baptism and confirmation has received a call to follow Jesus.”

The Hammeses strive to do that daily.

“If you share your talents, you will be rewarded and blessed,” said Mary Jane. “It makes you feel good you’ve done something for someone else.”

Moreover, she added, “We try to do God’s will.

“Sometimes it’s hard. But we try — and that’s the main thing.”

“The most important lesson is that we need to trust in God, and he will see us through,” said Leo. “When things look bleak, there is always a better day.

“We just need to trust.”

Like so many of their predecessors as Call to Share chairs, the Hammeses were surprised by their nomination.

“We always thought we could do more,” said Leo.

But Knop disagrees.

“They were so sweet in their humility, in their witness, in their kindness toward each other,” she said.

“The lessons we learn from Leo and Mary Jane are that faithfulness is key,” she continued, “trusting in the Lord and opening your hearts to God’s teaching, keeping the commandments and being generous with your time, talent and treasure.”

“Not all of us can go to the four corners of the world,” said Knop, “but we can each be effective in our little corner of the world.”

“They are just genuine people,” she concluded warmly, “the salt of the earth.”

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Woodeene Koenig-Bricker

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