By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Once again, they came in droves to show their appreciation, respect and love for each other.
Six days before Christmas, 19 seminarians and their families were treated to a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert W. Finn and dinner sponsored by the Serra Clubs of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph at St. Thomas More Parish.
It’s been a longstanding tradition for the Serrans, but this Advent season celebration was doubly meaningful, the bishop told the crowd of some 200 people in his homily.
Just as the church was preparing itself for the arrival of the Messiah, the diocese is preparing itself for its own joyous occasion — the ordination of six priests next May, the largest single priestly ordination for the diocesan priesthood in decades.
Four of those to be ordained were in attendance. They are transitional Deacons Kevin Drew, Benjamin Kneib, Ian Murphy and Darvin Salazar.
The other two had a good excuse for missing the festivities. Deacons Adam Haake and Adam Johnson were finishing studies at North American College in Rome, as were seminarians Alex Kreidler and Adam Mattingly whose ordinations are only a few more years away.
The only other seminarian studying for the diocesan priesthood who missed the dinner also had good reason. Patrick Puga was spending time at home with his brother, who had returned home that week on leave from military service in Spain.
Three other seminarians who could not attend because they are studying with religious orders were also recognized. They are Benedictine Brother Simon Baker of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan.; Benedictine Brother Maximilian Burkhart of Conception Abbey in Conception; and Mathew Barlett, studying for the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul, Minn.
Also as special guests were Father Sean McCaffery, who left the ranks of seminarian and deacon just two days earlier with his Dec. 17 ordination to the priesthood, and his family including parents Hugh and Carole McCaffery, still in Kansas City from Pensacola, Fla.
Seminarians and their families in attendance were:
Bryan Amthor, Joshua Barlett, Levi Cochenour, Trevor Downey, John Fitzpatrick, Samuel Geringer, Leonard Gicheru, Daniel Gill, Ryan Koster, Timothy Leete, Gabriel Lickteig, Jorge Andres Mareno, Eric Schneider, Michael Seeger and Curt Vogel.
And one other. Father Richard Rocha, director of the diocesan Vocations Office, announced that Jonathan Davis had been accepted five days earlier to begin his studies at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.
There were so many seminarians this year that an annual tradition was dispensed with. Ordinarily, each seminarian is allowed to introduce his family and thank the Serrans for their support through the years.
This year, that honor fell upon the four deacons who will be ordained in May and the one who was ordained two days before.
“It’s been a blessing through the years with the Serrans,” said Father McCaffery. “It’s been incredible, the generosity I have experienced. I have felt your care and blessings.”
“I am very, very grateful,” echoed Deacon Salazar. “Thank you Serrans, for your support, prayers and everything you do.”
“I want to be a priest to be a servant of God and people keep giving me things,” joked Deacon Drew. “God is good, and so are his people.”
Both Deacon Kneib and Deacon Murphy entered the seminary right out of high school, and are finishing eight years of college and post-graduate training. In fact, Deacon Murphy said, they met in the office of Bishop Raymond J. Boland — one on the way out, one on the way in — as they were being interviewed for acceptance.
“Thank you for being with me all the way through,” Deacon Kneib said.
“Those eight years flew by,” Deacon Murphy said. “And that’s because of you and your prayers. It’s humbling.”
He also turned to the long line of seminarians behind him, both physically and in the future as priests of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“You can’t get through the seminary without your brothers,” Deacon Murphy said. “It’s awesome to have you behind me.”
In his homily at Mass, Bishop Finn reminded the audience that it is God who chooses his priests, not the other way around.
“If he depended upon us, we’d be fearful,” he said. “But God chooses. He puts his design in the hearts of his people.”
But God’s ways are mysterious, he said, and just like the Mysteries of the Rosary, some are joyful, some are sorrowful, some are glorious and some are luminous.
Recalling the Gospel reading from Luke, Bishop Finn said that when man sometimes confronts God’s great mysteries, “like Zacchariah, sometimes we are struck speechless. We don’t know what to say.
“But maybe that’s God’s reponse to us — Talk less and pray more,” Bishop Finn said.
However God is leading us on the vocation he has chosen, the goal is always salvation, the bishop said.
“He is not leading us down a dead end, to a point of futility,” he said. “He is leading us to salvation and it unfolds in joys and sorrows, in light and glory.
“We know the Savior of the World is coming, and we know the Savior of the World is in charge,” Bishop Finn said.
“We know he loves us, that he gives his life for us, that he makes us part of his plan,” he said.
“He raises us up more than we can imagine and makes us part of his plan,” Bishop Finn said.