By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — The cold, drippy clouds foretold winter weather moving in the evening of Jan. 31. The forecast was for a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow. But despite the weather, about 600 people arrived at the Muehlebach Hotel downtown to celebrate, help financially, and prayerfully support the seminarians from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and Conception Seminary College at the 21st annual Support Our Seminarians Banquet. Parents, siblings, hosts of seminarians from other nations, priests, sisters and friends — they came from near and far — Kansas City, St. Joseph, Conception and surrounding towns and from Kansas City, Kan., and other cities bordering Missouri and beyond.
Many seminarians in the classes of 2014 through 2022 were in attendance, young men fresh out of high school in their first year of seminary college, men looking forward to springtime ordinations to the priesthood and all the classes in between.
As people arrived, they circled the Marketplace, browsing the displays of merchandise for sale — rosaries, books, statues and framed art, vases, china and crystal pieces. There was also a silent auction. Proceeds from the Market place and the auction would benefit Conception Seminary College and seminarians from both dioceses attending Conception Seminary College, and other seminary colleges and seminaries both in the U.S., and in Rome. Since 1999, the net proceeds have been equally divided between the two dioceses and Conception Seminary College. Altogether, from the first SOS Banquet in 1994 through 2013, the event had raised $3,080,214.
Following a welcome by Benedictine Father Benedict Neenan of Conception Abbey, the event chairs, David and Kathie Hazuka, greeted those present and reminded them that the purpose of the evening was to support seminarians and Conception Seminary College. Kathie Hazuka then suggested, “Think of all the good times, the baptisms, first communions and weddings, as well as the hard times, sickness, deaths and funerals. We couldn’t do it without priests. Please support our seminarians — our future priests — who will be there for our children and grandchildren, in good times and in hard.”
Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was pleased to announce that nine young men would be ordained this coming spring: “Four new priests will be ordained in May, and five new transitional deacons will be ordained a few weeks later. Your encouragement and support helps seminarians realize that this is a gracious vocation.” Just then the microphone stopped working. Laughter and joking comments from Bishop Finn and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kan., flew around for a moment, before Archbishop Naumann began speaking loudly.
“A hallmark of our community is the love and support of our seminarians. One of the most important things I do is ordain priests. They impact tens of thousands of people. Bishop Finn and I could use 10 more priests here (in this region) tomorrow.
“Your presence here tonight means a lot to your bishop, to me, to your Abbot (Gregory Polan), your priests and your seminarians.”
Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, spoke of the “hope-filled days we have experienced with the pastoral leadership of Pope Francis.” The pope, elected last March, has “taken center stage as a spiritual leader.
“At Conception,” Abbot Polan continued, “we work to instill those values we see so evident in Pope Francis and we saw in Pope Benedict XVI and in Blessed Pope John Paul II, in our students.”
As dinner was being served around the ballroom, a video of seminarians at Conception, Josephinum, St. Gregory the Great, Mundelein and St. Meinrad seminaries was played. The seminarians reflected on their vocations, their first days in the seminaries, the brotherhood and fraternity, resources and books available, the order and scheduling — and above all, the treasure of having time to pray and study.
Msgr. Charles McGlinn, pastor of Cure of Ars Parish in Leawood, Kan., was ordained in 1967, “two tumultuous years after the close of Vatican II.” He has been pastor at Cure for 21 years.
He spoke of being a priest, “being with people at critical times and at ordinary times in their lives. But there have been lots of funny moments, really funny moments.”
He recalled, for example, a wedding where a tiny flower girl was “scared to death” and refused to follow the bridesmaids. Her father finally picked her up, slung her over his shoulder and carrying her, he strewed flowers in the aisle. “The whole church roared with laughter,” Msgr. McGlinn recalled.
“There are a thousand stories, funny, serious, happy and sad. The priesthood is such an awesome job. But, my favorite thing of all is to celebrate the Eucharist!”
Ordained in 1993, Father Gregory Haskamp, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City, said that while watching the seminarians talk in the video, “I saw and heard myself” and recalled his days as a seminarian and a newly ordained priest.
He was constantly busy doing this and working on that, and said he lost sight of what had called him to the priesthood in the first place. Then he attended a retreat, during which the facilitator asked the retreatants, “Remember when God first called you? That word? That event? That flash of inspiration when you first felt that God was speaking to you?”
Father Haskamp said, “I knew immediately the moment for me. I was in seventh grade at St. Matthew the Apostle in Kansas City. I watched our pastor, Father John Coleman, as he worked with his parishioners and thought, ‘How great, to get to help people all day.’”
He said he didn’t realize in the early days that all the work he did — the financial, the planning, solving problems and the rest was in fact helping people. “I finally realized, ‘It isn’t about me, it’s what God is doing to and for all people.’”
He then reminded the seminarians and priests in attendance, “Listen to what God says, keep listening. With God, no word, no thought, no moment of glory can ever be lost.”
Along with financial support, many pledged support of the seminarians through prayer. Near the evening’s end, a spiritual bouquet was displayed on the video screens, showing that between now and Easter, 872 Rosaries would be said, 205 Divine Mercy Chaplets, 294 hours spent in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, 212 hours of reading Holy Scripture, 126 Stations of the Cross and more than 1,200 Masses would be attended.
As Deacon Michael Shreck of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, father of a seminarian at Conception, said, “It has been fantastic to see his vocation blossom.”
Proceeds from this year’s event are still being tallied.