By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — “Pray for me!”
That was the plea of Bishop-elect James V. Johnston as he made his first pastoral visit, hours after his press conference at the downtown Kansas City Catholic Center.
The very first place he went? The St. Jeanne Jugan Center, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, renowned world-wide and diocesan-wide for their care of the elderly, and especially priests.
“This is great! This is great!” Bishop Johnson said between “Pray for me” as he entered the ultra-modern, ultra-maintained grounds and building. “How many people are residents here?”
Seventy-one, he was told.
He met many of them. At the front door to greet him were not only the sisters, dressed in their brilliant white habits, but four of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s finest priests who now call the center their home — Father Michael Gillgannon, Father James Hart, Father Patrick Tobin and Father John McCormack.
“Do they take good care of you?” Bishop Johnston asked Virginia Santillan, one of a cluster of residents gathered near the front desk to meet the next bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.
“They are wonderful,” she assured him.
Then Bishop Johnston turned to the entire group.
“I want to make sure we got some prayer warriors going here. I will need them,” he said.
Bishop Johnston made his way to the center’s first floor coffee shop where he met another group of residents, including Mary Brasher, the mother of Father Joseph Sharbel, pastor of St. Gabriel Archangel Parish in Kansas City.
They invited him to sit down for a cup of coffee, which might have been the first offer that day for Bishop Johnston to sit down and relax.
But time was tight. So tight that he had to cancel a planned visit to see the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist at their motherhouse in Independence in order to make a promised interview with Catholic Radio.
But he took a rain check.
“Next time I’m here, I’ll have that cup of coffee,” Bishop Johnston said.
But if Bishop Johnston’s goal was prayer warriors, he succeeded. In fact the Little Sisters will make sure of it. Call it payback for the honor they just received.
“It was awesome,” said Sister Joseph Marie at the end of the whirlwind visit.
“We are very touched he stopped to see us, and took the time to be with us,” she said. “It was great, and now we will take the time to pray for him and his ministry.”