by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The renovated Union Station here was a resounding success as the new venue for the Support Our Seminarians (SOS) event held Jan. 29 and benefiting seminarians from both the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Catholics from both sides of the state line joined in the fun-filled evening to support vocations to the priesthood.
For the last two years, the SOS has honored the Virgin Mary in a special way and this year’s event was no exception. The night was dedicated to Our Lady of Kibeho, the title given to Marian apparitions experienced by schoolchildren in southwest Rwanda, Africa.
In the apparitions, Our Lady of Kibeho asked for a renewal of praying the chaplet of the seven sorrows, also known as the Servite rosary, which recalls the role Mary plays in mankind’s redemption as she suffers along with Jesus.
Guests at the SOS event found handmade Servite rosaries beside their place settings, along with instructions on how to pray the seven sorrows.
And as they entered the Union Station ballroom, they were greeted by Cameroon musicians in native costume, playing music typical of Central African festivals.
The event began with cocktails and an opportunity to visit a market featuring donated items, including statues of Our Lady and Servite rosaries.
In addition, attendees could purchase baked goods made by the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri.
Seminarians were kept busy packaging breads, cookies and the abbey’s famous granola for guests.
Dinner was preceded by a somber moment as audience members were told the evening would be dedicated to Wesley McKellar, a local seminarian who passed away on Jan. 25 after a heroic two-year battle with brain cancer
KMBC-TV anchor Larry Moore was master of ceremonies, as he has been every year since he and his wife spearheaded the first SOS.
This year’s chairs were Bill and Peggy Oades.
After dinner, Archbishop F. Joseph Naumann thanked the audience saying, “We can see how the Lord has blessed our diocese with seminarians — but it’s because of you.”
He welcomed Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to his first SOS, saying, “There’s no one more grateful than me that Bishop Johnson is here tonight!”
He expressed his gratitude for the new bishop, saying, “I don’t think the Holy See could have given us a better leader for St. Joe.”
The archbishop talked about the importance of monetary donations, but also emphasized the equal importance of spiritual support through prayer.
“Keep those prayers coming,” he told the audience.
Bishop Johnston then took the stage and echoed the archbishop’s thanks for support, saying of current seminarians, “We’re grateful not just for the number, but for the quality of the men.”
Abbot Gregory J. Polan, of Conception Abbey, followed, reporting that the seminary started the academic year with 108 seminarians.
He also discussed how the Year of Consecrated Life made a positive impact on the young men discerning their vocations, then invited all religious to stand as the audience applauded their dedication and sacrifice.
The evening’s highlight — and an emotional moment for the seminarians — was when they crowded the stage to a standing ovation.
It wasn’t an easy act to follow, but featured speaker Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, then shared with the audience his own vocation story.
“I am an adult convert who was brought up by Lutheran parents,” he said.
Msgr. Swetland attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating first in his class and winning a Rhodes scholarship.
“For all practical purposes, I became someone encased in the secular world,” he said of himself when he first entered Oxford University.
There, he became friends with four Catholic graduate students.
“They lived their faith day in and day out,” he said. “They knew their faith. So when I challenged them, they could answer.”
Over the next three years, the influence of these friends and the witness of their lives led him to the Catholic Church.
“By the grace of God, I came into the Catholic Church before I left Oxford,” he said. “My first confession took all day.”
Msgr Swetland went on to talk about the importance of evangelization.
“I became Catholic because men and women were willing to give witness when it wasn’t popular to give witness,” he said.
He called on the audience to support the seminarians, who have the daunting task of going into an indifferent world.
“Indifference — today this is the problem,” he said. “The opposite of love is indifference.”
“We need this new generation of priests to study harder,” he said, “but mostly, to pray more profoundly.”
“[God] is calling you,” he told the gathered seminarians, “to be extraordinary.”
The evening concluded with “Fund a Need,” an opportunity for audience members to raise cards in a live-auction atmosphere and pledge money for the support of seminarians.
Money raised through the auction and ticket sales will go to help pay seminary expenses for men studying for the priesthood from the archdiocese and from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
The proceeds will be divided equally among the two dioceses and Conception Seminary.