By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It will be a celebration reserved for his closest friends — all 130,000 or so of the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph that he has come to love.
At 7 p.m. May 3, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which he led the renovation of, Bishop Emeritus Raymond J. Boland will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.
A reception will follow for all his friends at the Catholic Center, 20 W. 9th St., near the Cathedral in downtown Kansas City.
And, for those who are worried about the health of the 81-year-old, two-time cancer survivor, Bishop Boland plans to preach the homily, one year after cancerous growths on his vocal chords were detected, treated and removed.
Tough? That’s only part of it. Bishop Boland recently had a cataract removed from his right eye. On April 17, he was scheduled to have cataract surgery on his left eye.
“Last year, was the year of my voice. This year is the year of my eyes. Next year, my nose is going to fall off,” Bishop Boland joked.
He was bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph for less than four years when his first win over cancer happened, and surgeons removed part of his colon. That surgery led his predecessor, Bishop John J. Sullivan, to quip that Bishop Boland was a “semi-colon,” a memory that still makes Bishop Boland laugh.
But that 1997 surgery and recovery also told him how much he was loved by the people of the diocese, and how he loved them.
“This is why I have stayed,” he said. “These are the greatest people in the world, and the greatest team of medical doctors.”
Bishop Boland said that when his first cancer was diagnosed, he had just completed his tour of every Catholic classroom in every Catholic school in the diocese. Not just the schools. Every classroom.
“I didn’t want to meet the children in a big assembly. I wanted to visit them in the classrooms so they could have more of a personal connection, and as a result, I was known among the kids,” he said.
When his colon cancer was diagnosed, the people of the diocese — led by the children — bombarded both heaven with prayers and Bishop Boland’s mailbox with good health wishes.
“I got over 2,000 cards and letters, and I have kept many of them,” he said.
Born in Tipperary, Ireland, on Feb. 8, 1932, Bishop Boland was ordained at All Hallows College in Dublin for missionary service with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., on June 16, 1957.
He honed his administrative skills serving in parishes until he was called to serve at the chancery in several key positions, including being tapped by Cardinal William Baum, a Kansas City native, to plan Pope John Paul II’s first state trip to the U.S. capitol in 1978.
Ten years later, Bishop Boland was selected to lead the Diocese of Birmingham,
Ala., and was ordained a bishop on March 25, 1988.
That date fell on Holy Week this year, so Bishop Boland chose May 3.
“I picked that day because it was the feast day of two other bishops, Philip and James, who were two apostles,” he said.
May 3 also happens to be the ninth anniversary of the ordination of Bishop Boland’s successor, Bishop Robert W. Finn.
“When I realized that, I asked Bishop Finn if it was all right that I had chosen that date,” Bishop Boland said. “He said he was honored.”
Bishop Boland said he hopes to be of strong voice again when he takes the pulpit at the Cathedral on May 3.
“My vocal chords are still not back to normal. People are telling me that I am sounding better all the time, but I don’t know that,” he said.
It will also be one more opportunity he won’t pass up to live up to his motto as bishop: Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes — Go Teach All Nations.