Saint Paul’s Outreach to young adults lauded at fundraiser

Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastor of the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, accepts his Saint Paul 2019 New Evangelization Award from Matt Karr, regional director of St. Paul’s Outreach, at a breakfast held April 11 at Marriott Kansas City in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — If you want to know how Saint Paul’s Outreach has been doing in the Greater Kansas City area, you need only turn to the Gospel of Matthew: “By their fruits you will know them”(7:16).

The fruits have been good indeed, said Matt Karr, regional director of SPO Kansas City.

Karr was one of the speakers at the group’s 2019 citywide prayer breakfast, held April 11 at Marriott Kansas City in Overland Park. More than 500 people attended the event.

“We have a process to help young people and invite them into a relationship with Christ and into a relationship with other peers who have found a relationship with Christ,” said Karr. “And when we do that, we see incredible fruit.”

SPO is a ministry in the spirit of St. John Paul II’s new evangelization that seeks to engage young adults on college campuses and young professionals with the message of Jesus through “relational evangelism.”

“We’re in our sixth year of full-time ministry in the Kansas City area, and we have been able to look [back] and see the fruit that the Lord has brought,” said Karr.

That bounty includes seven people who have chosen or are discerning vocations as priests or religious, eight who entered the Catholic Church through SPO, and 22 married couples who met through the ministry. 

Harder to quantify, but no less significant, are the many students who have been encouraged to enter into a relationship with Jesus through an SPO missionary at the three educational institutions where they are active: Benedictine College in Atchison, Johnson County Community College in Overland Park and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The outreach has 157 missionaries on 46 college campuses in the United States, said Joe D’Amato, development officer for SPO Kansas City. 

The local chapter has 24 full-time staff (21 missionaries) active on the three campuses and with young professional adults in the Kansas City area. The 21 missionaries are formed into 11 households according to gender.

The event began with a Mass celebrated by Abbot James Albers, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. He was once the SPO chaplain at Benedictine College. The homily was given by Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.

In his homily, Msgr. Swetland observed that the breakfast, held after the Mass, had three purposes: to celebrate the work of SPO, to honor two priests who have assisted SPO and embody the spirit of the new evangelization, and to raise funds to support the ministry.

Gordy DeMarais, founder of the ministry, illustrated the need for SPO on college campuses.

“We had an opportunity to participate in a study of the landscape of Catholic campus ministry across the country with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he said.

The study found only 10% of Catholics on campus attend Mass on Sunday, only 40% are involved in some activity outside of Mass, and even those active Catholics are struggling with significant issues that impact their faith.

Karr concluded his remarks by presenting the Saint Paul 2019 New Evangelization Award to two pastors from the Greater Kansas City area.

“We desire to promote the new evangelization, and we want to give this award to highlight people in our community who can serve as an example to each of us in our work in evangelizing our city and region,” said Karr.

The two recipients were Father Don Farnan, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Kansas City, Missouri, and Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastor of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

In accepting his award, Father Farnan thanked SPO, and quoted Pope Francis: “Let us be a church that steps out of itself. Let us go to those who do not attend Mass, who have become indifferent, disappointed or even hurt by us.”

In accepting his award, Msgr. Tank honored his parishioners.

“I said I don’t want to be recognized, but I’d like Ascension Parish to be recognized,” said Msgr. Tank. “Ascension Parish is really the context within which I am able to experience and share my ministry. 

“It’s really Ascension Parish in [which] I find such a dynamic group of people who want to share their faith, wanting to share their relationship.”

The goal of the local SPO chapter was to raise $180,000, said D’Amato. About $130,000 of that was raised through table sponsorships at the breakfast. The local chapter hoped to raise the additional $50,000 during the breakfast appeal.

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