by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
LEAWOOD — Father Ben Shazad is a Catholic priest in a country that is 98 percent Muslim.
He comes to Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood each summer to offer relief to the pastor and associate pastor, build relationships with the faith community and raise funds for the seminary in Pakistan.
And he comes to share his story.
Father Shazad grew up in a large family in a Pakistani village made up of 26 Muslim families and just one Catholic family.
At 10 years old, he was taken by visiting missionary priests on camels to the nearest boarding school.
After years of schooling and seminary, Father Shazad was eventually ordained a priest in 1991.
Father Shazad spent the next 10 years as a parish priest in Pakistan but later on undertook work in missiology — the study of religious missions — in Rome.
One day, while waiting in line to enter the Vatican, he met the Truesdell family who were visiting from Minnesota.
Little did he know their chance encounter would eventually blossom into a lifelong friendship, and the family would become great benefactors of his ministry.
Near the end of Father Shazad’s academic year, Archbishop James P. Keleher invited him to visit the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to help out during the summer.
So in 2004, he came to Curé of Ars Parish for the first time to work alongside then-pastor Msgr. Charles McGlinn.
Father Shazad spent two summers in Kansas before returning to Pakistan as the newly appointed rector of the minor seminary there — a crowded house unable to meet the needs of its residents.
But thanks to the relationships that stemmed from Father Shazad’s time at Curé, he was able to turn the parishioners’ generous support into a new seminary that opened in May 2011.
“This is what the universal church is,” said Father Shazad. “We need to have vision for others. This is what I learned from Msgr. Charles.”
The new facility has room for 45 seminarians and includes a library, chapel, computer room and exercise space.
Another big reason for the success of the new seminary was the help of the Truesdell family — who coincidentally now reside in Kansas and attend Curé of Ars.
Barb, the family’s mother, is grateful for the graces that have come from Father Shazad’s time at her parish.
“The people of the parish love Father Ben,” said Barb.
“It gives us great joy to support the world church,” she continued. “His seminarians are our adopted seminarians.”
As of 2012, Father Shazad is now the rector of Christ the King Seminary — the only major seminary in Pakistan. It serves seven dioceses.
But unlike at seminaries in this country, Father Shazad’s is far from an administrative post. He does everything from shopping and gardening to fundraising and maintaining the student and staff records.
The students who attend the seminary come from poor families and the seminary does not receive any government funds.
Students share in the care and maintenance of the seminary with daily responsibilities that include feeding the goats, tending the gardens, painting and cleaning in order to keep the cost of staff at a minimum.
“We are slowly building our own resources so we do not always have to depend on outside help,” said Father Shazad.
“Our Catholic educational institutions are known as some of the best in the country,” he explained. “Even some Muslims want to send their children for this good education.”
Monsignor McGlinn once told Father Shazad that the doors of Curé are always open to him — and they have been.
Father Richard Storey, Curé’s current pastor, continues to encourage the parish’s efforts to support the seminary in Pakistan.