by John Huertz
Special to the Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — He’s not a carpenter. But he’s built many a house just the same.
Now, Msgr. Thomas Tank has been recognized for housing the homeless of Wyandotte County — and helping found an agency to carry that work into the future.
Community Housing of Wyandotte County honored Msgr. Tank’s dedication at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., on June 15 at its first Center Circle fundraising event by making him the first person ever to receive the new, annual Msgr. Thomas Tank Award.
“Msgr. Tank is a man that leads by example through his hard work and dedication to serving others,” said CHWC executive director Donny Smith. “Not only in his pastoral duties, but also for the good of the greater community.”
CHWC stabilizes, revitalizes, and reinvests in Kansas City, Kan., neighborhoods by promoting affordable housing, home ownership and community building.
“I think home ownership is one thing that is important if you want to build a sense of community,” said Msgr. Tank.
“If there’s a lot of rental property, there isn’t as much of a sense of community.”
Feeling safe and secure is crucial, too.
“That’s one reason community housing doesn’t just do housing, but community development,” he said. “Working with the police, and so forth.”
“CHWC is only one example of Father Tank’s ability to look at a large picture,” said CHWC board member and former interim executive director Susan Carroll.
“He was my pastor for 14 years,” she said, “and his ability to penetrate the truth of the Gospel and put that into terms that every layman can understand is unbelievable.”
CHWC asked Msgr. Tank in March if he’d be willing to be recognized. But no one told him that the recognition would bear his name.
When asked what it was like to win an award named after him, his response was first a laugh, and then a deadpan, “We live with surprises.”
Still preferring to be called “Father Tom” almost a decade after being made a monsignor, the now-pastor of Church of the Ascension is Overland Park is uncomfortable with accolades.
“He is so humble,” said Church of the Nativity parishioner Cindy Creal of Leawood. “He would never flaunt the fact that he’s involved in getting something going.
“He also has a way of bringing people on board. It’s hard to say no to Father Tom.”
Good housing and good neighborhoods are long-standing pastoral interests of Msgr. Tank. CHWC is a successor organization to Catholic Housing of Wyandotte County, a group he helped found in 1997.
Besides being the archdiocesan vicar general at the time, he was also the pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Kan.
“There is a very, very strong neighborhood tradition around St. Peter’s, with a lot of vitality,” he said. “But we also noticed there was a real need for some improvement in housing there.”
So he gathered a few Catholic priests and businessmen around the St. Peter’s rectory table. He explained how he saw the situation in the neighborhood and what he thought should be done about it.
“We were all trying to do our best with our parishes and also figure out ways to work together for the good of the church and of the city,” said Father Michael Hermes, who was at St. Joseph-St. Benedict Parish at the time.
“Father Tank was one of the driving forces for organizing a not-for-profit to take on the job of building new homes in the urban core,” he said.
Msgr. Tank helped obtain seed money from a foundation, and Catholic Housing of Wyandotte County was born.
“If anyone deserves to be recognized for what they’ve done for housing in Wyandotte County, it’s Father Tom,” said Father Hermes.
Catholic Housing of Wyandotte County later merged with Neighborhood Housing Services to form Community Housing of Wyandotte County.
About 500 people attended CHWC’s June 15 event, which raised about $110,000 for programs in the Bethany, Chelsea, Kensington, Polish Hill, Prescott, St. Peter’s Waterway and Strawberry Hill neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is one of CHWC’s 2011 supporters.