by Joe Bollig
OLATHE — If you’re a child of the 1980s or are a classic TV rerun junkie, you might remember the following voice-over from a once-popular TV show . . .
“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire — THE A-TEAM (Daaa-da-daaaa. Da-da, daaa . . .).”
The A-Team was an elite U.S. Army Special Forces unit that — after breaking out of a military prison — went about doing good deeds and righting wrongs while on the run.
For a fee, of course.
While “The A-Team” was just fiction, there is a Special Ops squad right here in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Or at least that’s what the pastor of St. Paul Church in Olathe, Father Michael Hermes, calls the four retirees that he frequently turns to for, well, anything.
The few, the proud, the caffeinated
So, who are these guys anyway?
The St. Paul Parish Special Ops team is elite — only four guys. They have no leader, because each one of them is a leader. They look to Father Hermes for guidance and inspiration — and, of course, their assignments — but they are used to operating independently.
“The group consists of four retired men in the parish, gifted with love for St. Paul Parish and also with the experience and knowledge to get things done,” said Father Hermes, who became pastor in 2014.
“Whenever something needs to be fixed or improved, I can rely on these four men to come up with a plan and get the mission accomplished,” he said.
The team members are: Fred Bleedorn, Clem Bohm, Dennis McGuire and Dennis Staab.
The Special Ops team wasn’t really founded. It just sort of grew, or “accumulated,” until critical mass was reached. The stage for its genesis was set as each man began to retire and hang around the church, usually after daily Mass.
“They had to do something with us,” said McGuire with a chuckle. He retired in 2010. “We kept hanging around.”
“Father Mike would tell one of us, for example, ‘One of these windows is cracked. Can you find someone to take care of it?’” said Bohm, who retired in 2014.
Maybe it started even earlier, said Bleedorn, who retired in 2008.
“When I retired, Dennis Staab (who was then head of maintenance and custodian at St. Paul), told me I could mow the lawn,” said Bleedorn.
So, even before Father Hermes was assigned there, “Father John Torres would ask us to do things,” he recalled.
But it gained steam when Staab himself retired from his work at St. Paul in 2015.
At that time, Bohm was already serving as sacristan on Tuesdays, and McGuire was helping count money from the Sunday collections. Both had already retired.
They began to gather in the school’s teachers’ lounge after the 8 a.m. Mass. There were no prerequisites to joining the group — but the ability to drink and hold your coffee was a given.
Father Hermes would drop by. Something like “mission creep” began to take place.
“They already had an informal coffee club after morning Mass, so I knew just where I could find them,” said Father Hermes. “I started asking their advice on projects relating to the upkeep of the parish campus.
“They started taking on these projects so I so I wouldn’t have to spend the extra time working on the buildings and grounds.”
As they became more of a group, the natural next step seemed to give themselves an identity — something for “esprit de corps” to go with their “raison d’etre.”
Bohm, inspired by the U.S. military, suggested “Special Ops,” and it stuck.
Get ‘er done
The Special Ops team meets one or two days a week, usually on a Monday.
“Some days, we have nothing to do, but we still meet,” said Staab. “We have to get our coffee in.”
Sometimes, Father Hermes will send an assignment through whichever team member he saw last. At other times, he’ll stop by and make a request in person. And the team will occasionally field a call from the principal, asking if they have time to tackle a project.
Usually, however, they think of things that need to be done on their own.
Recently, they discussed repairing some outside benches, painting statues in the rosary garden, cutting down and hauling away dying trees, cleaning grills used at a citywide celebration, cleaning drains on the school roof, improving drainage around the school, and digging a fire pit for a bonfire at the new parish site.
Broadly, the work done by the team falls into two major categories.
The first is “hands-on” projects they undertake themselves. The second are those that they manage — some of the larger jobs done by outside contractors that they supervise.
Three such project management tasks included the parking lot repair, window repair and roof repair. The team conducted the research, got the bids and selected the company to do the actual work.
“They take the burden off me to do any of the research looking for solutions, getting bids and dealing with contractors,” said Father Hermes. “These guys have the expertise and experience, so whatever they recommend is always going to be positive for St. Paul Parish.”
‘Special’ kind of retirement
One of the nicest parts of being Special Ops is the freedom Father Hermes gives them. He doesn’t micromanage, said McGuire.
“We can just go do it,” said Bleedorn. “He trusts us to get it done and look out for the best interest of St. Paul’s.”
Some of these jobs — whether hands-on or project management — can be really hard work. Since each of these guys is retired, they could be anywhere else — maybe even on the golf course with their buddies.
But they’d rather be Special Ops.
“I do it because I have the time and this is my parish,” said McGuire. “I believe it’s my responsibility to support the parish. If they can use my expertise or brawn to save money and get things done, then I’ll volunteer to do it.”
For Bohm, it’s somewhat of a duty and a debt owed for years when he couldn’t do more.
“I was baptized at St. Paul’s, at the [old] church downtown,” he said. “For years, I basically just came to church. Father would walk out at the end of Mass and I left.”
Now, he works improve and beautify the church and parish grounds.
“It makes the place better and more inviting,” he said.
Bleedorn had always been active in the parish as a lector and member of the parish council. He wanted, however, to do more.
In a sense, he is following in the footsteps of his mother, who instilled an ethos of church volunteerism while he was growing up.
Retirement, however, presented him with more availability.
“”Once I retired, I wanted to give back to the church,” he said. “I said to myself [that] when I retired, I’d do something for the church.”
Labor of love
There are two things that make the Special Ops model work: trust and autonomy.
St. Paul Parish is a big parish, and Father Hermes couldn’t keep track of all the things great and small that need to be done.
Giving the Special Ops team a wide mandate is an approach that is yielding results.
“The result [of their work] is that our campus has never looked better, and we all have more pride in our facilities,” said Father Hermes.
“These men are very well known in the parish and they are respected and appreciated by everyone,” he added. “Our fellow parishioners may not see all the hidden things they do for the parish, but everyone knows who they are and how much they love St. Paul Parish.”