By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEAWOOD, Kan. — A local Catholic business owner and a Benedictine monk met on a plane in 1991. No, this isn’t a bad joke. Robert E. Miller and Father Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo., were talking during the flight and their conversation turned to Conception Seminary College and the needs of its monks and seminarians. Miller, who owned an insurance firm, had an idea. Why not have a golf tournament fundraiser for Conception that would also give a free golf day to priests of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, with an after party at his home. Priest Appreciation Day was born.
It grew to encompass priests and seminarians from both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Metro Serran Clubs joined in the planning and the party. The day was spent golfing or playing cards, and a BBQ feast concluded the day. Prizes were awarded to priests and seminarians for their golf game. The first one had about 35 attendees and each year a few more priests and seminarians showed up. Twenty-five years passed.
Bob Miller passed away in 2010. His son Matt is now in charge of the annual event, his other sons golf and assist Matt if needed, and Bob’s widow, Carol Miller comes every year. Father Polan was elected ninth Abbot at Conception Abbey in 1996. In 2011, the event was moved from the Missouri side to Kansas. And it continued to grow.
The 25th annual Priest Appreciation Day was held at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan. Sept. 19. The BBQ feast, catered by Jack Stack, and after-party was at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, around the corner from the golf course at 142nd and Nall Ave. in Leawood. Fifty tables of 8 were mostly filled, by priests and seminarians, monks, Bishop James Johnston, Jr. of KCSJ and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Kansas City, Kan. Archdiocese, many Serrans and local Catholics wanting to show appreciation to their priests. Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher was also in attendance and thrilled at the turnout. “Best in 25 years!” he said.
Matt Miller looked around the room, saying, “There must be 200 – 220 priests and seminarians here tonight. Dad would be proud and pleased! Since Sean (a brother) and I had already bought the insurance firm before Dad died, this was my only inheritance, and it’s been a blessing to me!”
The golfing and poker games were enjoyed by both clergy and laity, and the after party was rollicking.
Archbishop Naumann said grace before the BBQ was served, asking God to “bless our conversation, bless this food from your hands and those who prepared it.”
Winners of the golf contests were announced to much cheering, jeering and laughter, and prizes were awarded. Serrans served as bartenders and there was laughter, hugs and conversations. Abbot Polan, recently elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order, the order’s highest office, was attending his last event in the area, before resigning as Abbot and leaving for Rome.
Bishop Johnston had been in Omaha, attending an event of the Equestrian Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. As soon as it concluded, the bishop raced home and made it here in time to play 17 holes of golf that afternoon.
His teammates praised Bishop Johnston as the “team’s ringer.” A teammate said, “He told us he only plays golf 2 or 3 times a year, but he’s good! 25 foot putts! He’s either really good or Someone is watching over him!”
All proceeds from the day will go to support the needs of the clergy and seminarians on both sides of the state line, and Conception Seminary College.