By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEAWOOD, Kan. — You could feel Bob Miller in the room, his brother, attorney Dick Miller told the crowd.
Looking across the huge parish hall at St. Micheal the Archangel Parish, with every table surrounded by priests and the people who came to show them how much they are loved, Dick Miller’s thoughts turned to his brother, who died two years ago, and who began the annual golf, card tournament and dinner for priests more than two decades ago.
“How thrilled Bob would be if he were here tonight,” his brother said. “He is here in spirit.”
But the event, which grew quickly from a party held at Bob and Carol Miller’s house, is all about scores of priests who were able to come, those who were not able to make it, and the young men studying to be priests — and how much they have given to people in both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“Bob had always seen priests as executing Christ’s Gospel,” Dick Miller told the crowd in impromptu remarks just before they lined up for a Jack’s Stack barbecue buffet.
“You are reflecting the Gospel through the work you do every day, bringing the sacraments and bringing comfort to people at trying times in their lives,” Miller said.
“Where would we be without everything you do and have done every day for so many years?” he asked.
Matt Miller, Bob and Carol Miller’s son, is now in charge of the annual event, held on the third Monday in September. It is a chance for priests to get away, to play a round of golf on the pro-level, Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Lionsgate, and for the after-party at the nearby parish hall, where old acquaintances are never forgot.
It is a party for priests old and young, and even a chance for young priests to recharge their batteries, both physical and spiritual.
Father Scott Avi, ordained two years ago and now a priest of the newly instituted Apostles of the Interior Life order, said he couldn’t help but feel the love and soak it in.
“You can’t give what you haven’t received,” Father Avi said. “As we get filled up, we are able to give more.”
That is exactly the purpose of the event, and exactly why it takes a growing team of volunteers to make it happen, largely from the six Serra Club chapters on both sides of the state line as well as Knights of Columbus, a full year of planning, culminating in a bone-wearying day of celebration.
Matt Miller found the work in pulling the event he inherited interfering with the work of making a living for his own family. But he didn’t even need to ask for help, he said.
“At one of the planning meetings I wasn’t able to get to, Homer (Radford) and Butch (Wagner) looked at each other and said, ‘Matt is pretty busy. We need to step up,’” Matt Miller said.
Wagner and Radford then assembled a team of Serrans to do all the heavy lifting.
“The Serra Clubs stepped up, and they have done a fantastic job,” Miller said.
It was more than worth it, Wagner said as the last of the guests filed out of the parish hall shortly before 10 p.m., the end of a day that began for him at the crack of dawn.
“I love the people I was working with and I love priests,” Wagner said. “We need to keep supporting them.”
Especially these days, said Tom Bax, another key Serra leader.
“These guys do not have an easy time of it in our society today,” Bax said. “It’s up to us to support them.”
And support them, they do. Part of the planning is raising the money to provide every priest who needs one with top-of-the-line suits, topcoats and rain jackets from Peter’s Clothiers.
Spiro Arvantakis spent the evening carefully measuring all comers for their free suits, and even that brought out a Bob Miller story.
Arvantakis said that Miller also bought his clothes from Peter’s. But hardly a fashion model, Miller would head straight to the clearance rack and buy the cheapest thing he could find, Arvantakis said.
When Miller came up with the idea nearly a decade ago to provide priests with suits that they wouldn’t have to spend their own money to buy, Arvantakis naturally thought he would be looking for bargains.
“He said, ‘No, I want them to have the best,’” Arvantakis said.
Arvantakis is so hooked on the idea of well-dressed, tailored priests that for the past three years, he has traveled to the Archdiocese of Denver, where Miller’s idea of a Priest and Seminarian Appreciation Day has spread.
And Matt Miller noted that he has received calls from Serrans in the Archdiocese of Omaha, hoping to begin the event there.
And it’s an event that the people in the two dioceses who share the Kansas-Missouri border aren’t about to end.
“Of course not,” Matt Miller said. “You see so many people having fun, that it’s all worth it.”
Or as Matt’s Uncle Dick told the priests: “On behalf of Bob, I want to thank you very, very much for all you mean to the church.”