By Michele Kueny
Special to The Leaven
Few Kansas City success stories can claim such a humble beginning.
Kneeling in a dimly lit confessional, 26-year-old unemployed Carrie Kafka waited in silence as the priest contemplated a fitting penance. What gently filtered through the screen to her ears was unorthodox, unexpected: words that would change the course of her life and, over the years, the lives of many.
“Msgr. [Bradley] Offutt instructed me to pray about a position at the diocese,” said Kafka. “Director of young adult and campus ministry. This is where the Holy Spirit began his work.”
A seed, sown in the refuge of the confessional, would flourish into the iconic young adult apostolate City on a Hill.
Fifteen years later, Carrie (Kafka) Pirotte, now a married mother of five and a member of John Paul II Church in Olathe, is returning to City on a Hill to help navigate the organization’s next chapter.
“Director and chaplain Father Andrew Mattingly assembled a board of directors,” said Pirotte. “Together, we have incorporated, formed a 501(c)(3), adopted bylaws, brought on Father Dan Morris as co-chaplain, hired director of operations Taylor Downey and are preparing to launch a national search for our first executive director — all in just five-months!
“Nothing happens quickly in the church, but when the Holy Spirit decides, it takes its own course. And he clearly wanted this ministry to thrive. In our short history, he has opened and closed doors as he sees fit.”
The first door opened in 2006, the day after Pirotte’s confession. Spreading her blanket on the lawn at Crown Center’s Free Friday Night Flicks, Pirotte providentially met Atlanta transplant Matt Maes, a new diocesan hire.
“It was as if God brought Matt to Kansas City for City on a Hill,” she said. “He provided programming vision and was incessant about starting a Catholic sports league.”
Maes’ advice proved invaluable.
“Catholic Challenge Sports is directly responsible for drawing young men who did not initially recognize the Spirit stirring in their heart,” said Pirotte. “A great team experience, amazing men and women who served as authentic witnesses of faith, resulted in dozens of conversions and over 100 marriages.”
Another door opened when former vocation director for the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph Father Steve Cook brought Pirotte to Boulevard Brewery and singlehandedly negotiated Tuesdays at the Boulevard, City on a Hill’s classic large group event.
“That’s when City on a Hill took off,” said Pirotte. “Mass was celebrated at a simple, beautiful parish in the urban core. From there, we’d walk to Boulevard. I’ll never forget standing in the choir loft of Sacred Heart-Guadalupe, looking at the pews below, packed. There was such a longing for community with like-minded people desiring more than what the secular world offers. For some newcomers, it may have been the first Mass they had ever attended with enthusiastic participation — on a Tuesday, not a Sunday. I’m sure it was intriguing for them.”
With Tuesdays at the Boulevard reaching capacity, and Pirotte running events with one assistant, the Holy Spirit opened another door.
“Young adults are a transient community, but they also tend to be single, with expendable time, passion and incredible skill sets,” she said. “We were noticing gifted professionals attending events three to four times a week, and I felt compelled to tap into that. I needed to delegate before I burned out.”
A core team of volunteers formed to spearhead activities, instituting a leadership structure still employed today.
In June 2021, Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, officially announced City on a Hill’s new independent status in a letter to the larger Catholic community.
“I am proud to offer my blessing as City on a Hill becomes an independent, nonprofit, lay apostolate,” the letter read. With the blessing and financial support of both Bishop Johnston and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, City on a Hill is commissioned to serve young adults across the metro. Under the governance of a seven-member board of directors, with Pirotte serving as chair, the organization’s new structure allows the ability to increase staff and grow as quickly as the Spirit wills.
“I remember toward the end of 2010, our leadership team met to brainstorm,” said Pirotte. “We recognized that there were Catholic young adults unaware of our community. To us, that was tragic. We wanted City on a Hill to be a household name. I still want to see that come to fruition because it’s life changing. It truly can change the course of your life.”
City on a Hill serves young adults in their 20s and 30s. A full list of events and groups can be found online at: www.kansascityonahill.org.
About City on a Hill
City on a Hill is an apostolate that reaches over 2,000 young adults on a yearly basis. With over 600 engaged members (weekly or biweekly involvement) and 100 young adults in formal leadership roles, City on a Hill is one of the foremost Catholic young adult communities in the nation.