Local Religious life

A short but fruitful priesthood

Father Travis Mecum, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, died on March 27 in palliative care at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Shortly before he died, Father Travis Wade Mecum said something to Rick Wiseman, a friend who visited him at the hospital.

“Rick, I want to tell you, being a priest these last four years — with the support of Archbishop Naumann — have been the best years of my life,” he said.

Father Mecum, 55, died on March 27 while in palliative care at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.

While interviewing Father Mecum for his July 9, 2021, podcast “The Shepherd’s Voice,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said, “One of the most important things I do as a bishop is ordain priests. One priest I ordain . . . will serve the church for decades and influence the spiritual lives of tens of thousands of people.”

Travis Mecum and Anthony Mersmann were ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas at the Cathedral of St. Peter on May 23, 2020. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Father Mecum was a priest for three years, 10 months and four days. Despite his short tenure, he did indeed influence the lives of many even as he lay dying.

Only God knows how many lives he touched.

“That’s what I told him,” said Tammy Legleiter, an older sister, and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Hays. “He saved so many people from suicide and brought them back to the church. I told him how proud I was that he saved people’s souls and lives.

“When he was in hospital, he still replied to people on Facebook and answered parishioners’ emails. Parishioners visited him in the hospital.”

Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at his funeral Mass, held on April 5 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. Burial was at Resurrection Cemetery in Lenexa. Arrangements were by Porter Funeral Home of Lenexa.

A desire for the priesthood

Father Mecum was born on March 10, 1969, in Hays, the youngest of five children of Gary and Clara Rose (Gould) Mecum. His father was the mayor of Olmitz and a deputy sheriff in Barton County.

The Mecum family belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and were the only non-Catholic family in Olmitz.

Two things began Mecum’s pilgrimage to Catholicism and the priesthood.

The first was when his family attended the installation Mass of the new Catholic pastor of St. Ann Parish in Olmitz, the late Father Ultan Patrick Murphy from Ireland.

The second was a friendship with Father Murphy.

The school bus stop was at St. Ann Parish. To reach it, Mecum would cut through the rectory garden and there he would occasionally meet Father Murphy.

“We struck up a friendship,” said Father Mecum in a 2020 interview. “He really began my formation as a Catholic. My parents were not aware of it at the time. Watching him as he shepherded the community through the difficult and the wonderful times, I identified with that. I wanted to be just like Father Murphy. So, when I told my parents at age 11 I wanted to be a Catholic priest, it was a shock to them.”

Father Travis Mecum turns to face the crowd gathered for his ordination to the priesthood on May 23, 2020. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

They were adamantly against this. Nevertheless, Mecum began to secretly attend occasional Masses.

When he was 15, he contacted a Lutheran bishop about going to a Lutheran seminary, and then a Lutheran pastor when he was 25. Both discouraged him.

Mecum graduated from Otis High School in 1987. He and his family moved to Overland Park.

 He attended Bethany College in Lindsborg, Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas City Kansas Community College and MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. He joined the U.S. Army reserve and was active duty for two years.

His employment history included stints at Black & Veatch and Angel Berry Realtors. He became a sleep technician and worked for SomniTech; St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri; Shawnee Mission Medical Center; and MidAmerica Neuroscience Institute/Rowe Neurology Institute, Lenexa.

First steps on the pilgrimage

After a few years of fruitless “church hopping,” he told his mother that his desire to become a Catholic priest never left him. She surprised him by saying, “If you feel that strongly about it, maybe you should go and do it.”

The first step was to become Catholic, which he did in 2013 (his mother would follow him in 2014, and his father in 2015).

Pat Centner, a pastoral associate and tribunal advocate at St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village, remembered how Mecum plunged into becoming a Catholic with enthusiasm.

“As soon as he was moving toward Catholicism, he wanted to do ministry,” said Centner.

Father Travis Mecum poses for a photo with Pat Centner and Jayson Molnar following his ordination to the priesthood. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

He took the Eucharist to the homebound, those in nursing homes and in hospitals, and he developed a deep love for the sick and frail. He sang in the choir and had “an exceptional voice.” He became an altar server.

“He was a happy person,” said Centner. “He loved corny jokes. One thing he did was play Santa Claus for entire groups of families. He enjoyed being with people and celebrating the good.”

At the same time, he was very serious, solemn and reverent when it came to matters liturgical.

Ordination and priestly ministry

Mecum entered St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, which specializes in “later-in- life” vocations in 2015. He was ordained a transitional deacon by Archbishop Naumann on May 18, 2019, at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park.

And then, he had an unconventional ordination to the priesthood by Archbishop Naumann on May 23, 2020, at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance was strictly limited, and everyone was masked and socially distanced.

Father Scott Wallisch, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, was present as archdiocesan vocation director.

“It was emblematic of his journey to the priesthood that even his ordination was not easy or smooth sailing,” said Father Wallisch. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen. He didn’t do it for the glory or the fanfare. We asked [the two ordinands] if they wanted their ordinations delayed until more people could be there, but he said ‘No, I just want to become a priest.’”

Father Travis Mecum, left, stands with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Father Anthony Mersmann following the priests’ ordination in 2020. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Later, Father Mecum served under Father Wallisch at St. Joseph Parish.

“He was a unique priest with a unique set of gifts,” he said. “One of those gifts was a heart for those in hospitals, nursing homes or homebound. Soon after he got here, he went to work visiting those folks, giving them a priestly presence.

“We were only blessed to have him as a priest for a short amount of time, but he touched a lot of lives during that time. He was present to a lot of people. People gained a lot from the wisdom he shared in the confessional. He gave great homilies and people learned a lot from them. . . . He had a lot of simple wisdom he shared in various ways with people.”

Father Travis loved serving as a parish priest and all that it entailed, said his sister Julie Fields from Rochester, Minnesota. He was a dedicated caregiver for his parents. He loved spending time with his family and their cats.

“He enjoyed writing poems and short stories, as well as verses for cards and songs,” said Fields.

Father Mecum did not waste his suffering and fatigue in his last days. He offered it up to God on behalf of a man who was considering becoming Catholic, said Father Wallisch.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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