By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — This was the year that the priests of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas turned the tables on the Miller family.
The late Bob Miller left his sons Sean and Matt two charities.
One is Celebrate Our Religious Enthusiatically (CORE) which for 22 years has put on the annual mid-September Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day, a day of fun, golf and poker with a banquet at which priests and seminarians from the two dioceses are showered with gifts.
The second is Homes from the Heart, which builds concrete houses for families in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti.
Father Jerry Waris worked the Missouri side. His seminary classmate, Father Thomas Tank, worked the Kansas side.
Before this year’s Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day, the two priests wrote letters to all the priests in both dioceses, asking for donations to Homes for the Heart.
By the time the banquet began, they had raised more than $2,600, almost enough to build a home.
Sean Miller was overwhelmed.
“I got eight checks in the mail the first day, and they keep coming in,” Miller said. “Each one had a letter telling us how much Dad meant to them.”
Every year is a record year for the Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day, which began in 1992 with a golf outing at Minor Park then dinner at the Bob and Carol Miller home for a handful of priests from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
This year, nearly 200 priests and seminarians from both sides of the state line attended, as well as nearly 200 lay people who joined them for a day of golf at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in southern Overland Park.
This year’s event was also dedicated to the memory of Salina, Kan., Bishop George K. Fitzsimons, who died in his rectory July 28.
Bishop Fitzsimons and Bob Miller were boyhood friends, growing up together and serving as altar boys at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City.
Matt Miller looked over the huge St. Michael Parish hall, adjacent to the golf course and packed with people, but didn’t wonder for a minute whether the annual day had outgrown its fourth venue.
“Hey, if we need to, we’ll put up tents outside. We’re not going anywhere,” Matt Miller said.
“This day is all about priests, and my Dad was big on appreciating priests in a first class way,” he said.
“We’re playing on the nicest golf course in town, we’re having the banquet in the nicest parish hall in town, and we’re serving them the best barbecue (Jack’s Stack) in town. We’re not going anywhere,” Miller said.
Dana Zarda-Rieke and a crew of volunteers that included Serra Club members from both states handled the registration desk which kept them hopping.
“We definitely went over last year’s numbers, both in people and in monetary donations,” said Zarda-Reike who noted that they made room for 30 priests who did not register in advance.
She also said that a host of sponsors again stepped up to underwrite the day and provide priests with gifts ranging from new suits from Peter’s Clothiers to gift cards for gasoline.
“Whether the economy is good or bad, we have generous people giving,” Zarda-Rieke said.