By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY —The year 2015 is a banner year for Kansas City area Serra Clubs members: It is the Year of Consecrated Life; it’s the 80th anniversary of the forming of the nation’s first Serra Club in Seattle; it’s the ordination year for nine of the 33 seminarians of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and there are applications to the seminaries filed with the diocesan Vocations Office for 13 new seminarians. It also marks 68 years of prayers, encouragement and support for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and for the men and women who answer the call, from members of the Serra Clubs of Kansas City.
The club’s name honors Blessed Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary priest who founded nine missions in California to aid in the conversion of the native peoples and helped establish a Spanish presence in California.
In 1934, four Catholic friends in Seattle decided to meet monthly over a meal to discuss ways Christian values could be part of their professional lives. The group soon increased in size and scope. Serra International chartered its first Serra club in 1935 in Seattle, Washington. Informed lay leaders who understand and live their own Christian vocations to service and dedicated priests and religious were then and remain the two great needs of the Catholic church.
What began, Serra Club KC President Martin Meyers said, as “a kind of Catholic Kiwanis Club,” to form Christianized business and professional men, quickly became the personification of prayer, promotion and support of priestly and religious vocations. The Kansas City Serra Club, chartered in 1947, which serves downtown, midtown and south-central parishes, meets twice monthly at Our Lady of Sorrows for Mass, lunch and a business meeting. Meyers said when the club was established, it was common for businessmen to enjoy “two martini lunches,” one reason why the twice monthly meetings are held over the lunch hour, although few businessmen have time nowadays for a long lunch. Meeting attendance is down from years past, but those unable to attend meetings give time and talent and treasure where it’s needed.
Meyers, an attorney and Serra member since 1999, said, “I joined Serra because I recognized the value and indispensability of vocations to the ministerial priesthood and religious life. I want to do my part to support those vocations.”
Over the years, two more Serra Clubs were established. The Serra Club of South East Kansas City was chartered in 1992, and serves parishes in southeast Kansas City, Raytown, Grandview, Belton, Lee’s” Summit, Blue Springs, Pleasant Hill, Harrisonville and Independence. The current president is Katie Radford. The club meets twice monthly at Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview.
The Serra Club of Kansas City North was established in 2004. President Pris Pawlikowski said about 26 members attend the monthly club meetings at St. Patrick Parish as do Friends of Serra. She said the club serves parishes in Clay County and Platte County.
The Serra Club of St. Joseph was chartered in 1981, serving St. Joseph area parishes.
Meyers, and past KC Serra Club president Dick Shaw both said Serrans work behind the scenes, praying daily for vocations, “O, Jesus, our great High Priest, hear our humble prayer on behalf of your Priests, Deacons and Religious in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. Give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of their lives. Be with them in their loneliness, sorrows and frustrations. Show them that they are needed by the Church, they are needed for souls, they are needed for the work of redemption. O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Vocations, take to your heart your children and be their comfort, their joy and their strength. O Lord, please send us many holy, prayerful, joy-filled priests, deacons and religious.” (Adapted from Cardinal John Joseph Carberry’s Vocation Prayer)
“Why am I a Serran?” Shaw, who joined the Serra Club in 2004, said he was invited by Serran Jerry Meiners. “I had just retired from Rockhurst University and was working on figuring out how to live without a paycheck. Jerry called me and said, ‘Shaw, you should be a Serran!’ I said, ‘Why, I’m not a tree-hugger!’ He explained that the Serra Club was an organization committed to supporting an d promoting priestly vocations and vocations to the religious life.”
Shaw had attended Catholic schools and the seminary for a time. The thought of giving his time and talent to promoting and helping increase vocations was appealing. A former professor of Marketing, he recalled thinking, ‘I had taught Business Communications at Rockhurst and served as yearbook editor. I can do this!’”
He joined the Kansas City Serra Club and quickly became very involved; serving as president 2012-2014 and currently serves as District Governor. His wife, Daffy, also is a Serra Club member.
All three Kansas City Serra Clubs work together on activities that affirm and promote vocations, support seminarians and retired priests, honor religious sisters and raise vocation awareness in youth.
Kansas City Serra Club president-elect Greg Vranicar, who will take office in June, said he was invited to join the Serra Club by long-time friends, Dick and Daffy Shaw. Vranicar joined in 2010. Serrans are always looking for new members to instill new life and vigor into the club, he said.
Vranicar, Planned Giving Director of the diocesan Stewardship and Development Office, said he believes that “by making life better for priests and by recruiting more evangelizing and satisfied priests who will reach out to their congregations in new ways,” the life of the Catholic Church will be renewed and restored. The new evangelization could be powerful, he said. “That’s why I’m in Serra.”
The clubs also work individually on projects and activities that put faith in action. For example, the Northland Serra Club collects (from club members and three parishes) and delivers home baked treats and other goodies to the diocesan seminarians at Conception Seminary College just before mid-term and final exams. Pawlikowski said several Serrans drive up to Conception for Mass and lunch with the seminarians, who are always delighted to receive the treats. The club also ships exam-time treats to seminarians at other seminary colleges and in Rome.
Shaw said the Serra Clubs purchase cassocks and breviaries for newly ordained priests, and dalmatics (robes with wide sleeves worn by deacons at Mass) and breviaries for newly ordained deacons
The Kansas City Serra clubs collaborate on activities including the Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day, a day of golf, Poker, barbeque and prizes. Originally a Serra-run event, the day is now organized and run by the Bob Miller family, longtime advocates of vocations. Bob Miller died in 2010. Serrans help host the day and purchase the black suits and other prizes awarded during that outing. A similar event, Nuns Appreciation Day, hosted and worked by Serra Club members, is a summertime event of barbeque and Bingo to show gratitude to the religious Sisters serving in the Kansas City community. Other events include Blisters for Sisters, an annual walk-a-thon to raise funds to support and show appreciation for religious sisters; the Seminarians Lake Retreat, a fun-in-the-sun break at the Lake of the Ozarks funded by proceeds from the Serra Chili party.
The annual Support Our Seminarians (S.O.S.) Banquet, a gala dinner and auction to be held January 30 at the Sheraton Crown Center Hotel, is a major Serran activity. Proceeds from the sale of tickets and the auction support the education of seminarians from this diocese.
Serrans work at the Fifth Grade Vocations Days, a two-day event held at Archbishop O’Hara High School, to introduce and raise awareness of priestly and religious vocations. Companion camps for 6-8th grade boys at Conception Seminary and at the Franciscan Prayer Center in Independence for 6 – 8th grade girls, are events supported and worked by Serrans.
In April 2014, for the first time, three seminarians from Conception Seminary College assisted at the Kansas City Parochial League (4 – 8th grade) Invitational Track Meet held at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph. This is planned to become an annual event, supported by the Serrans.
Several dinners —Dinner with Retired priests and d Christmas Dinner for Seminarians and their families — are planned and hosted by Serrans. Priesthood Sunday, a day when parish celebrations are held and priests receive “Thank You” cards sent by Serra Clubs; the annual Religious Jubilee celebration for religious sisters and order priests celebrating 25, 50 and longer anniversaries of their professions of vows, are recognized and honored by Serrans. The “Adopt a Seminarian” Program gives seminarians additional encouragement, support and love from Serra Club members.
In addition, there is an annual luncheon meeting attended by the three Kansas City Serra Clubs and the Bishop. A monthly Third Thursday Mass for Vocations is offered in the Our Lady of Ephesus Chapel at the Catholic Center.
Some of the activities are sponsored jointly by Serra Clubs of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Serra Clubs of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, including the S.O.S. Banquet and the Sister’s Appreciation Day.
When asked why Serrans do so much for priests, seminarians and religious sisters, Meyers said the “Serra Club is a visible subset of the Church community that helps priests, religious and seminarians see their vocation’s value, to God, to others and to themselves. The Serra Club’s support is very important.”
For several recent years, the number of seminarians from the diocese was down. Meyers said it was most likely due to resistance in the families of the young men. In fact, during the years 2005 through 2014, there were 25 priestly ordinations in the diocese. Now, there are 33 seminarians in various stages of formation, nine of whom will be ordained priests later this year.
And the Serra Clubs have encouraged, promoted and appreciated every one of those vocation discernments through prayer, affirmation, awareness and support.