By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Priests ought to know they are loved at least once a year.
And on Sept. 19, the third Monday of September officially designated as Priest and Seminarian Appreciation Day, priests, deacons, seminarians and religious brothers learned it once again.
For the 20th straight year, men who have sacrificed to serve the church were once again treated to a day of golf, poker and barbecue and, most importantly, hanging around like guys.
The event, founded by the late Robert E. Miller and his foundation, Celebrating Our Religious Enthusiastically (CORE) and now carried on by his family since his death one month before the 2010 party, included its usual distinguished guest list:
• Four bishops — Bishop Robert W. Finn and Bishop Emeritus Raymond J. Boland of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Archbishop Emeritus James Keleher of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
• Two Benedictine abbots — Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey in Conception, and Abbot Barnabas Senecal of St. Benedict Abbey in Atchison, Kan.
• Scores of diocesan and religious order priests serving in both Kansas City dioceses.
• Dozens of seminarians studying at Conception Seminary College.
• Hundreds of golfers and other party animals who just came to enjoy the day.
• An army of volunteers, including Serra Club members from both sides of the state line.
• Numerous sponsors whose generosity not only underwrote the entire event, but raised money for Conception Seminary College as well as providing gift packs for the priests, including tailored suits from Peter’s Clothiers and a variety of gift cards.
This year’s event took yet another quantum leap in size. Having now outgrown three venues, Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day now took place at Lionsgate Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus, with the party in the gigantic parish hall at nearby St. Michael the Archangel Parish in southern Overland Park.
“These priests have given their lives for all of us. The older you get the more you realize that,” said Bob Cotter, an attorney who paid a not-insignificant fee, as did other golfers, to compete with and against the priests and seminarians.
“This is a small favor that I can give back to them,” he said.
This year especially, the message needs to be sent that priests are loved and appreciated, said Matt Miller, who is now spearheading the event.
“There is an incredible burden on the backs of priests,” Miller said. “It wasn’t easy before they were all dragged through the mud, and it’s not easy now.”
But if the party was bigger and better than ever this year, wait until next year, said Dana Zarda-Rieke and Joani Muehlberger, golf tournament organizers extraordinaire who have taken over this tournament.
“We’ll have twice as many next year,” Muehlberger boldly predicted.
Zarda-Rieke said that whatever work it takes gets paid back when they see so many priests taking a day off from the grind of running a parish for no other purpose than to have fun.
“When I talk to priests about this event, the big thing to them is the chance to just get together with other priests and have fun,” she said. “It is good to see them all having such a good time.”
“We love our priests,” Muehlberger said. “Heaven knows, they can use all the good publicity they can get.”