by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kent and Donna Saylor met on a blind date as students at the University of Kansas. And with that date, the first words of their decades-long love story were written.
The couple married after graduation. Kent went on to law school and Donna taught kindergarten in DeSoto.
Later they moved north — first to Kent’s hometown of Morrill and later to nearby Sabetha.
They joined Sacred Heart Church in Sabetha in 1972 and raised their four daughters in the Catholic faith — building a connection so strong that all four women returned to their home parish to get married.
Donna taught CCD for 25 years. She has served as a sacristan and on the parish council.
Kent — who practiced law for a time but spent much of his career in banking and insurance — has served on the finance council.
The Saylors’ love of their church and their faith flowered in a new way recently when the couple started an endowment designed to support faith formation indefinitely at Sacred Heart.
Two smaller endowments were established for St. Augustine in Fidelity and St. James in Wetmore.
It’s a visible sign of the love they have for family — which has grown to include six grandkids — and faith. And they’re active and involved in both.
“Maybe the older we get, the more we see how important those things are,” said Donna.
The Saylors’ love story will now serve as a shining light to others across the archdiocese.
Kent and Donna have been selected as the 2014 honorary chairpersons for the Archbishop’s Call to Share annual appeal.
“Their story mirrors our theme, which is ‘A Story of Love,’” said Lesle Knop, executive director of the archdiocesan office of stewardship and development. “If their story isn’t a story of love, I don’t know whose is.”
The theme stems from a homily Pope Francis gave, in which he described the church as more of a mother than an institution or organization.
In his homily for Jan. 18-19 — the kickoff weekend for the 2014 Archbishop’s Call to Share annual appeal — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann touches on the pope’s message.
“Pope Francis said that the church began ‘in the heart of the Father, who had this idea . . . of love,’ which resulted in the Father sending his Son into the world,” said Archbishop Naumann. “The pope characterized the church as a love story.”
And every Catholic plays a role in that story.
“We — the women and men of the church —we are in the middle of a love story; each of us is a link in this chain of love,” said Pope Francis. “And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the church is.”
The church’s many ministries are divided into four pillars — pastoral care; evangelization and catechesis; education; and human services — and Call to Share serves as a “lifeline” for those ministries and programs, said Knop.
“I would say that the Saylors’ service and their history crosses all four pillars,” she added. “They’ve worked very hard in education. They’ve worked very hard in making funds for adult education and catechesis available in their parish communities.”
Because they’ve seen programs and projects ebb and flow as different priests have rotated through the parish, one of the couple’s greatest accomplishments has been to put a mechanism in place that would support a strong faith formation program at Sacred Heart, St. Augustine and St. James — all served by the same pastor — even when there are changes in personnel.
Despite this and other contributions, the Saylors were stunned when they received the message they’d been nominated as this year’s honorary chairpersons.
Their pastor at the time, Father Greg Hammes — whose own parents Leo and Mary Jane Hammes served as honorary chairs in 2012 — nominated the Saylors before he began serving as pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.
The Saylors felt many others were more deserving of this honor.
Still, they hope their commitment to the appeal will inspire others to share their own gifts.
“We’re hoping this will make people think, ‘Oh, you know, I may not be able to do a lot, but I can do this amount,’” said Donna. “Not just financially — but also time.”
Knop describes a leader in this appeal as someone who makes his or her own gift first, and she believes the Saylors — a couple she sees as spiritual and dynamic — perfectly fit that description.
“They’re not afraid to say, ‘I’ve given. You need to believe in the mission of the church and give, too,’” said Knop. “Our gifts, together, collectively, can do so much good. [The Saylors’] enthusiasm and their leadership mean a lot to me personally.”