by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “One priest ordained today will affect thousands of lives,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told an enthusiastic crowd at the Support our Seminarians (SOS) benefit dinner Jan. 31.
The gala event fell on the night of a winter storm. But the rain and sleet outside didn’t dampen the warm spirit that filled the ballroom of the Muehlebach Hotel-Marriott Downtown in Kansas City, Mo.
When seminarians gathered onstage, the thunderous standing ovation left little doubt of the commitment of the people who had braved the weather to be part of the evening.
Dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, this 21st annual SOS continued the tradition of raising funds to benefit seminarians from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and Conception Seminary College.
Because the evening’s master of ceremonies was not able to make the event, Father Benedict Neenan, OSB, of Conception Abbey took over that role, leading a chorus of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and saying a prayer to St. Bernadette.
Father Neenan then thanked the event chairmen David and Kathy Hazuka. He also recognized and welcomed Father James Albers, OSB, the new abbot of St. Benedict Abbey in Atchison, who was attending his first SOS.
Bishop Robert Finn then took the stage to thank guests for their financial support.
“We’re blessed with a full crop of seminarians,” he said and went on to announce that the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph will be “ordaining four new priests and nine new deacons this spring.”
He thanked the audience for encouraging young people to consider religious life.
“Tell them [that] to be a priest is a wonderful service,” he said. “Help them realize this is a gracious way to answer God’s call.”
Archbishop Naumann reiterated the bishop’s gratitude for donations and encouraged all Catholics to go beyond financial support in their relationship with seminarians.
“One of the things I consider most important is to get to know our seminarians,” he said.
He went on to discuss the impact the seminarians, as future priests, will have on so many lives, and thanked the audience for coming out to show their support “even though the weather was a challenge.”
Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB, took a few moments to thank those gathered and to talk about the inspiration of Pope Francis.
“What hope-filled days we have experienced with the spiritual leadership of Pope Frances,” he said, referring to the pope’s concern for the poor and oppressed.
The abbot illustrated how the pope has touched the hearts of many people by recalling times when he’s been stopped at the airport by strangers who said, “I’m not Catholic, but I love your pope.”
He encouraged seminarians to be generous in their service and willingness to listen to others and to preach and live the Gospel in humility.
“At Conception,” he said, “we work to instill in the hearts of our seminarians the virtues we see in Pope Francis.”
As the seminarians gathered onstage, the audience was treated to a video of them giving heartfelt testimony of their experiences in seminary formation, as often humorous as it was moving.
In the video, seminarians expressed their gratitude for the support they receive, saying, “We wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of [the] seminary if we had to provide for ourselves.”
Father Neenan announced that between the two dioceses, Conception now has 66 men in formation.
“Next year,” he said, “we may need a bigger stage!”
After another standing ovation, the seminarians took their seats to hear speakers Msgr. Charles McGlinn, pastor of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, and Father Greg Haskamp, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City, Mo.
Msgr. McGlinn, ordained 47 years ago, said one of the most rewarding aspects of priesthood is being involved with the people of your parish — being there for the times of their life.
“Being there for marriage, birth, illness,” he said, “and bringing people through the gate of death to eternal life is both awesome and humbling.”
Msgr. McGlinn then got the audience laughing as he recalled some very funny moments from his own ministry.
He told about a baptism where the water got out of control; an overheated bride who fainted; a father-of-the-bride who stepped on his daughter’s train and tore it off; and a frustrated father who took over the duties of flower girl as he carried his terrified toddler down the aisle.
He said his favorite memories come from hearing young children’s first confessions. What he loves most about the priesthood, though, is the Eucharist.
“Preaching the word of God and bringing the Eucharist to people,” he said. “I am unworthy, but grateful.”
Father Haskamp, in addressing the seminarians, said he saw himself in their video.
“I encourage you guys to stay on the path, because it’s a great path,” he said.
And if they follow the path to ordination, he said, to keep in mind that “it’s not about me, it’s about what God is doing.”
He counseled the seminarians to “listen to what God says and keep listening. Never presume that we’ve heard it all or reflected on it enough.
“We hope to keep God’s word in our hearts and reflect on it, so it can take flesh and speak through us.”
The program ended with the announcement of spiritual bouquets pledged by supporters.
“There is great power in prayer,” said Abbot Polan. “Thank you.”
As patrons filled out donation cards, Deacon Mike Schreck of Church of the Nativity in Leawood and his wife Melanie came to the stage to talk about being parents of a seminarian.
The couple’s son Michael is in formation and they said they felt “blessed to see this vocation blossom in him.”
Admitting it was daunting to send your child off to the seminary for eight years of education, Deacon Schreck said they “very much appreciate your financial and prayer support.”
© The Leaven, Feb. 14, 2014