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Archdiocesan year in review

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s tempting in the aftermath of a presidential election — and a contentious one at that — to look at the year in terms of politics and politicians.

But that’s not what Catholics, guided by the light of faith, see when they look at the past year.

Why? For Catholics, this was the jubilee Year of Mercy — from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016.

In his proclamation opening the year, Pope Francis gave a loving invitation to all Catholics to experience the generous, unbounded gift of God’s transforming love and mercy.

As Holy Doors for the Year of Mercy were opened all over the world, six of them were opened in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Plenty of people passed through those doors.

The year wasn’t, however, entirely about the jubilee. This was also the year that Pope Francis went to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Thousands of Americans, including some from the archdiocese, greeted the pope as a fellow pilgrim.

Like any year, the past year brought both sadness and rejoicing. We mourned the deaths of four pastors, but rejoiced at the ordinations of two transitional deacons and one priest.

Even with great diligence, only a fraction of archdiocesan life could be captured in a weekly offering of 16 pages. Nevertheless, a perusal of the year’s events recorded in The Leaven’s pages reveals a diverse, vital and vigorous Catholic community — certainly something to celebrate.

So, before we close the book on this eventful year, let’s take one last look back at the events and people that affected our lives as the church of northeast Kansas in 2016.


  • Matt Schambari was named the new president of Hayden High School in Topeka. He took the helm on July 1.
  • More than 40 children, members of the Schola Cantorum choir from Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, sang at a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Jan. 6 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • The Kansas Catholic Conference sponsored a Red Mass for those in law and government on Jan. 13 at the Church of the Assumption in Topeka.
  • The annual Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Snowball was held on Jan. 16; co-presidents were Ken and Marilyn Hager and honorary presidents were Suzie Walti and Cathy and Chris Nigro.
  • Catholics from the archdiocese braved “Snowzilla” Jonas for the Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington, D.C. Some groups were stranded as flights were canceled, while others found the going slow via trains, buses and cars. Meanwhile, the march in Topeka went off without a hitch.
  • A Topeka regional women’s retreat was held on Jan. 23 at Christ the King Parish.
  • In an effort to better serve the growing Hispanic population of Johnson County, the archdiocese created three new parish centers with bilingual priests: Good Shepherd in Shawnee, Holy Cross in Overland Park and St. Paul in Olathe.
  • Gwen and Kevin Tucker, members of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, were named honorary co-chairpersons for the 2016 Archbishop’s Call to Share appeal.
  • The annual Support Our Seminarians benefit, hosted by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was held on Jan. 29 at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.


  • CEF Futures, a group of young professionals who promote the work of the Catholic Education Foundation, hosted an art event on Feb. 5 at the Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City, Missouri. The event raised funds for 36 Guardian Angel Scholarships.
  • About 230 students attended the Kansas Catholic College Student Convention on Feb. 5-6 at Prairie Star Ranch near Williamsburg.
  • Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann met with Hispanic leaders on Feb. 9 at Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, to share the archdiocesan mutually shared vision for the next 10 years.
  • Father Joseph Arsenault, SSA, and 750 other priests from around the world were commissioned as “Missionaries of Mercy” on Feb. 10 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Msgr. Thomas Tank and Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher were among those honored at the 20th anniversary of the annual Men Under Construction Lenten retreat on Feb. 13 at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
  • The Kansas City and Phoenix chorales took home a Grammy award for Best Choral Performance on Feb. 15. The musicians recorded Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” over four days in St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • The Kansas Catholic Conference mobilized Catholics and other Christians for an interfaith Rally for Religious Freedom on Feb. 17 at the Capitol in Topeka. More than 1,000 people filled the Capitol rotunda.
  • Longtime Hayden High School, Topeka, basketball coach Ben Meseke was honored on Feb. 23 by having the school’s basketball court named in his honor.
  • More than 600 youths from across the archdiocese attended the Junior High Youth Rally on Feb. 28 at Prairie Star Ranch near Williamsburg.
  • Denise Ogilvie was named director of outreach for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
  • About 200 catechumens and about 400 candidates celebrated the Rite of Election at three ceremonies around the archdiocese, prior to entering the Catholic Church at Easter.


  • Eight institutions in the archdiocese — one in each region — opened their doors to the faithful for a full day and night of eucharistic adoration in response to Pope Francis’ call for “24 Hours for the Lord.”
  • The archdiocese sponsored a listening event regarding parish ministries for individuals with special needs and their families on March 8 at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Father George Henry Bertels, 87, died on March 31 at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.


  • Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed the new Gianna Family Care Clinic in Shawnee on April 1.
  • Father Edward M. Hays, 85, died on April 3 at St. Luke Hospice Care in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Living out the “feminine genius” was the focus of the second annual Living in Truth women’s conference on April 9 at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
  • The archdiocese held the first of four healing services for those who have been affected by any sort of harm or abuse by the church on April 12 at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee.
  • St. Paul Outreach hosted a citywide prayer breakfast on April 14 at the Ritz Carlton in Overland Park.
  • Archbishop Naumann gathered with priests, deacons, religious and laypeople for the first archdiocesan-sponsored Holy Hour for Priests on April 17 at Ascension Parish in Overland Park.
  • The Haskell Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence celebrated its 30th anniversary on April 23 with an outdoor meal and Mass. Chaplain Father Michael Scully, OFM Cap., was the main celebrant; Father Duane Reinert, OFM Cap., the former center director, concelebrated.
  • Archbishop Naumann appointed Allison Donohue on April 27 to be the new archdiocesan pro-life consultant, succeeding Ron Kelsey upon his retirement.


  • Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant at a Mass on May 7 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Ascension Parish in Overland Park. Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher and pastor Msgr. Thomas Tank were concelebrants.
  • Nativity School in Leawood and Resurrection School in Kansas City, Kansas, began a “twinning” relationship as part of Archbishop Naumann’s 10-year mutually shared vision.
  • Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was the commencement speaker on May 13 at Benedictine College in Atchison.
  • Christ’s Peace House of Prayer, the archdiocesan retreat center near Easton, held its annual St. Isidore the Farmer feast day celebration on May 16.
  • Archbishop Naumann ordained Michael Guastello and Daniel Coronado to the transitional diaconate on May 22 at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant at the 100th anniversary Mass of the building of St. Leo Church in Horton.
  • Archbishop Naumann presided at the annual Corpus Christi procession, cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on May 29.
  • Archbishop Naumann announced on May 29 the formal decree establishing a new parish in Olathe with a campus at 167th St. and Ridgeview Road. The new parish incorporates parts of four other parishes. Father Andrew Strobl was named as its pastor.
  • Archbishop Naumann ordained Father Agustin Martinez a priest for the archdiocese on May 28 at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Seventh- and eighth-grade students from St. Agnes School in Roeland Park made it to the national finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge in Washington, D.C., one of only two schools in Kansas and one of 100 schools in the nation to do so.
  • Katie Locus, formerly a teacher at the Kansas School for the Deaf and a member of St. Paul Parish in Olathe, assumed her role as the new consultant for deaf ministry on May 31. She succeeded Pat Richey.


  • Members of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka met on June 2 to work out a strategic pastoral plan for the coming year.
  • The Leaven won 14 awards at the Catholic Media Conference, held June 1-3 in St. Louis. The awards were three first place, four second place, two third place, four honorable mentions, and the Father Michael J. McGivney Award.
  • Archbishop Naumann presided at the blessing and groundbreaking of a new mausoleum on June 22 at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Topeka.
  • Father Patric Riley, 61, died on June 12 in his rectory while receiving hospice care. He was the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Eudora.
  • Archbishop Naumann celebrated the 100th anniversary Mass on June 25 of the dedication of Holy Angels Parish in Garnett.


  • Nineteen men and women completed a three-year course of studies as part of the Escuela de Teología Básica, and received their certificates from Archbishop Naumann during a graduation ceremony on July 11 at the Blessed Sacrament Family Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth marked the transfer of leadership to new members of its Community Council. Sister Constance Phelps was elected the new SCL community director, succeeding Sister Maureen Hall, who held the post for six years.
  • Joseph Hornback, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee, was appointed president of Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park.
  • An official archdiocesan delegation of 108 Catholics attended World Youth Day 2016 from July 26-31 in Krakow, Poland.


  • The rural youth tour featuring keynote speaker Chris Padgett made stops at St. Leo, Horton, on Aug. 13 and St. Boniface Parish, Scipio, on Aug. 14.
  • Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher led a retreat for deacon candidates on Aug. 17-21 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Archbishop Naumann, Abbot James Albers, OSB, and Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, celebrated a Mass on Aug. 28 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstones of St. Benedict and St. Patrick churches in Atchison. Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB, was installed as pastor.
  • Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas assumed management of Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lansing.


  • Archbishop Naumann was part of a panel discussion at the Peace in Our Community prayer breakfast on Sept. 10 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Seminary and instructor at Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, was elected abbot primate of the worldwide men’s Benedictine Confederation on Sept. 10 at Sant’Anselmo Monastery in Rome.
  • The four Catholic bishops of Kansas joined forces to create a video informing Catholics of their responsibilities as faithful citizens and voters.
  • Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant at the 150th anniversary Mass on Sept. 24 at Holy Angels Parish in Basehor. Following the Mass, the archbishop presided at the groundbreaking of the new Our Lady of the Angels perpetual adoration chapel.
  • The first monthly iCARE Mass and social for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities was held on Sept. 24 at Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park.
  • Bill Kirk was named the new executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation.
  • School president Bill Ford announced on Sept. 30 that Rita and Lamar Hunt Jr. had donated $1 million through the Loretto Foundation to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.


  • For the 10th consecutive year, Benedictine College in Atchison was named in the top tier of colleges and universities in “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News Media Group.
  • Samantha Romero, stewardship and development director of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, and parish volunteer Rachel Myslivy won “Best Parish Stewardship Video” at the International Catholic Stewardship Council annual conference on Oct. 3 in New Orleans.
  • Archbishop Naumann announced that the name of the new Olathe parish was to be St. John Paul II and installed Father Andrew Strobl, the founding pastor, at a Mass on Oct. 10 at Madison Place Elementary School, Olathe.
  • On Oct. 16, parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park joined Catholics around the world in celebrating the canonization of St. Jose Sanchez del Rio with a special Mass and procession.
  • Archbishop Naumann invited archdiocesan Catholics to participate in a Year of Mercy 33-day self-directed retreat called “33 Days to Merciful Love” by Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, from Oct. 18-Nov. 20.
  • The Leavenworth Interfaith Community of Hope launched a capital campaign on Oct. 18 to build a new $600,000 shelter and day center.
  • Father Thomas Kearns, 82, a retired priest at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, was assaulted and robbed on Oct. 21 outside the rectory garage. Two men were later arrested and charged.
  • Fifty religious orders gathered for the Ultimate Vocations Fair on Oct. 26 at Church of the Ascension Parish in Overland Park. The religious were in town for the National Religious Vocation Conference.
  • The Catholic Bar Association held its first national conference Oct. 27-30 in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • More than 70 Catholics from eight Wyandotte and Johnson County parishes gathered at Sacred Heart Church in Kansas City, Kansas, to prepare for a four-year process of reflection that will culminate in the fifth national Encuentro in Dallas in 2018. The event was sponsored by the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry.
  • The Catholic Education Foundation’s annual Gaudeamus, its largest annual fundraiser, attracted a sold-out crowd of more than 1,500. Attendees welcomed Bill Kirk, the new CEF executive director. The CEF also honored longtime patrons Tom and Sandy Long with the Angels Among Us award.


  • Betty and Ben Zarda and Tom and Mickey Zarda received the Deo Gratias Award from the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas on Nov. 3 at the foundation’s annual award dinner on Nov. 3 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • Holy Family School in Topeka was named this year’s Catholic Education Foundation “School of Excellence.”
  • Tom Racunas was appointed the new lead consultant for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry office.
  • Abbot James Albers, OSB, blessed the newly dedicated St. Benedict and St. Scholastica Memory Care Neighborhood on Nov. 10 at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.
  • About 250 people attended the last jubilee Year of Mercy Holy Doors pilgrimage on Nov. 19 at Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner. The pilgrimage, sponsored by the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry, included eucharistic adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation, closing of the Holy Door and a reception. This was the last of six Holy Door pilgrimages sponsored by the Hispanic ministry and the last Holy Door to be closed in the archdiocese.
  • The first Rural Youth Conference in the archdiocese, sponsored by the Northeast Kansas Youth Council, was held Nov. 19-20 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka.
  • The Holy Family School of Faith received the St. Philippine Duchesne Award on Nov. 20 during a Mass at Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City.
  • Father Thomas Nicholas Hesse, 79, died on Nov. 26 at Aldersgate Village in Topeka.


  • Archbishop Naumann blessed and celebrated Mass in the newly renovated and enlarged adoration chapel on Dec. 3 at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
  • Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant of a Mass for the Kansas City Chapter of Legatus on Dec. 19 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. A reception and dinner followed.
  • Archdiocesan Serra Clubs hosted a parent/seminarian Mass and luncheon with Archbishop Naumann on Dec. 29 at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. The archbishop also celebrated vespers and had a meal with archdiocesan seminarians.
  • Youths of all ages came together for a night of praise and worship, eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation during “One Thing Remains” on Dec. 30 at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. The event featured performer Tony Melendez and Archbishop Naumann.

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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