By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — So how big can a party that began as a backyard barbecue get?
As big as it needs to get to show priests of two dioceses how much they are appreciated and loved, say key organizers of the annual Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day.
Begun 21 years ago by the late Bob Miller and his wife, Carol, and now spearheaded by son Matt Miller, the annual event set this year for Sept. 17 is expected to draw some 150 priests and seminarians from both sides of the state line, as well as a few hundred more of their best friends.
It’s a lot of work, said Butch Wagner, who is pulling together the golf tournament phase, and Katie and Homer Radford who are helping organize the army of Serra Club and Knights of Columbus volunteers that will make sure the whole day runs smoothly.
But it is more than worth it.
After all, it is one more way to show priests — retired, present and future — just what they mean to Catholics in both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“We love our clergy and want to share our appreciation,” said Katie Radford, who is expecting as many as 450 people at the day-ending barbecue at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in southern Leawood, Kan.
“I don’t know if I’m running it, or it’s running me,” quipped Wagner, who quickly added that it’s a “labor of love” for the people who work for months to get the day up and running smoothly.
“We love what our priests have done for us,” Wagner said. “And we definitely want to support the vocations that are coming to us in both dioceses. The Holy Spirit has answered our prayers and we have a good number of young men going to the seminary.”
“We’ll have the guys (priests) who married us and baptized our kids, and we’ll also have the young guys, the future priests, who will probably celebrate our funerals and bury us,” he said.
St. Michael the Archangel Parish, with its spacious parish hall, is right across 142nd Street and Nall Avenue from Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate, the Jack Nicklaus-designed, PGA Tour quality course, where priests and seminarians will enjoy a free day of golf, courtesy of sponsors, donors, and other golfers who will gladly pony up the fee to tee off with the clergy.
And the more the merrier, said Wagner.
In fact, registration for the golf tournament and the Texas Hold ‘Em and gin rummy tournaments will continue at celebrateourreligious.org, the Web site for the foundation that Bob and Carol Miller established, Celebrate Our Religious Enthusiastically, to keep events going like the Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day and the annual spring Blisters for Sisters walk.
Wagner said donors and sponsors within the Catholic community to make the day extra special have stepped up again, like they do every year.
This year, a hole-in-one on the par 3 17th hole will win the lucky golfer a brand-new Ford Fusion from Dick Smith Ford, donated by Phil Smith of St. Thomas More Parish.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue will provide the evening banquet, while the Ritz Charles Hotel will provide duffers and card sharks with both breakfast and lunch.
“There are also people who just send in their money — individuals, foundations and corporations that have always been generous,” Wagner said.
“We’re going to set up 50 tables for eight, but if we have to, we’ll get more chairs and set nine to a table,” Wagner said.
“And if we have to send out for more food, we’ll do that,” Katie Radford added.
This event began in 1991 as a brainstorm between Bob Miller and now Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan to raise money for Conception Seminary College, where seminarians from both dioceses receive undergraduate college educations.
And it began small, Wagner recalled.
“We had a few foursomes at Minor Park and grew from there,” he said.
This year, Wagner said 160 golfers will take off in both morning and afternoon “shotgun” starts and 18 holes before settling into the St. Michael Parish Hall for an evening of camaraderie.
And as always, there will be practical gifts to the priests.
Tailors from Peter’s Clothiers will be on hand to outfit any priest who needs a new black suit. In the past, drawings for such prizes as new tires, computer equipment, and department and book store gift cards have made certain that no priest leaves empty-handed.
And it’s worth every minute of work that goes into it, Radford said.
“Our priests and seminarians are very deserving of our love,” she said.
Visit celebrateourreligious.org to register.