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New vocations and religious communities are encouraging signs

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

I am returning today from the “ad limina” visit in Rome that I made with my brother bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska.

In the future, I hope to communicate some of the experiences and insights gained from my visit with the Holy Father and curial offices in Rome.

In last week’s column, I shared with you some of the negative trends revealed by the comparison of this year’s “ad limina” report with that of 2012. In the next two weeks, I want to review with you some of the reasons for hope that I found in reflecting on the current report.

One of the most encouraging elements of the comparison of data from 2018 to 2011 is the portion concerning priestly vocations. The number of seminarians actually increased slightly from 28 in 2011 to 30 in 2018.

What makes this slight increase more significant is that it reveals that we are more than sustaining the remarkable growth in seminarians that has occurred in the archdiocese for the past 25 years. If you compare the data from 1993 to 2018, in 26 years we have gone from 3 to 30 seminarians.

The number of archdiocesan priests has increased by 6% from 99 in 2011 to 105 in 2018. If you add the six priests ordained this past May, the increase is more than 10%. Thirty-five percent of our current 111 archdiocesan priests were ordained since 2005 and 45% of our priests were ordained since 2000.

With last year’s ordinations, our number of seminarians is down to 24. However, in December, we had by far the largest number (54) of young men (juniors in high school or older) participate in the annual “Quo Vadis” discernment retreat. 

Of course with regard to priestly vocations, the quantity is not nearly as important as the quality.  Our screening process for admitting candidates to the seminary is greatly improved over the past 25 years.

As the New Testament reveals clearly, Jesus did not demand perfection in those he chose to be apostles. We do not expect those entering into seminary formation to be saints. We are looking for men who desire holiness and who are also willing to work conscientiously in their formation to foster psychological and emotional health, to develop good pastoral skills and intellectually to become knowledgeable in Scripture and theology.

The two major seminaries (Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis and St. John Vianney in Denver) that we send our seminarians to have excellent spiritual, human, pastoral and theological formation programs.

The seminary formation teams challenge our men not only to build on their strengths, but to be transparent about their weaknesses, so that they can become holy, healthy and well-integrated spiritual fathers for God’s people.

Leadership is the key to every successful organization and enterprise. This is also true for the church. If we have healthy, holy and dedicated priests, our parishes will prosper and flourish. I believe the future of the priesthood looks bright for the archdiocese.

This does not mean that our priests are perfect. Another recent, positive development is the establishment of our ministry for priests. Father Francis Hund visits with every diocesan priest annually to check on his well-being and to help connect him with resources to remain spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually strong.

I take seriously reports of concern about the health and conduct of our priests. On one hand, I do not believe it is prudent for me to attempt to micromanage our parishes. If a priest is a spiritual father, it is inevitable that he will not please every parishioner all the time.

At the same time, we investigate carefully serious concerns about a priest. We share with a priest concerns raised about his ministry and, based on the results of our inquiry, we take the next steps. I am also committed to appropriate levels of transparency with parishioners.

I believe because of the resources we have available to investigate serious issues of concern, as well as the assistance we can provide to our priests, our priests and parishes are healthier today.

The first permanent deacons were ordained for our archdiocese in 2011 with a second cohort ordained in 2017. Along with those who were ordained in other dioceses but have relocated to our archdiocese, we have almost 50 permanent deacons serving in the archdiocese today.

God willing, I will ordain this June a third cohort of approximately 20 men to the permanent diaconate. We have a fourth cohort of another 20 men, who have already begun their formation for the permanent diaconate.

The permanent diaconate has been a great enrichment for the archdiocese. Our permanent deacons undergo a five-year formation process in order to be well-equipped to serve in our parishes and other diocesan ministries.

I am also encouraged by the state of religious life in the archdiocese. In addition to the blessing of the well-established women’s religious communities in the archdiocese — such as the Sisters, Servants of Mary; Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth; and Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison — we have had several additional communities establish houses in the archdiocese during the past 15 years — e.g., the Apostles of the Interior Life, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, the Little Sisters of the Lamb, the Franciscan Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ, and the Sisters of St. Anne.

Likewise, I am edified by the steady stream of new men in formation at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. The archdiocese continues to be blessed with the witness and service of the Carmelite Fathers in Leavenworth and Scipio as well as the Capuchin Franciscan friars serving in Lawrence, Eudora, Perry and Meriden.

We also are fortunate to have the priestly service of members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. I am also encouraged with the arrival of the male counterparts of the Apostles of the Interior Life, the Little Brothers of the Lamb and the Friars of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ.

The archdiocese also benefits from the service of the Missionary Fathers of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. Religious life well-lived serves as leaven within a diocesan church, inspiring everyone to seek holiness with greater determination.

The growing number of well-formed diocesan priests, the addition of the permanent deacons, and the new religious communities of women and men serving our archdiocese are a source of encouragement to me.

I find the quality of our priests, deacons and men and women religious to be bright rays of hope for the future of our archdiocese. 

Next week, I will conclude this three-part series of my analysis and reflections on the implications of our 2020 “ad limina” report. I will examine in this final article the vitality of the laity within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.

About the author

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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