By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Under the lights of the Great Hall in Union Station, clergy, religious and laity gathered Jan. 27 to support the seminarians enrolled at Conception Seminary College, many of whom are from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The 24th annual Support Our Seminarians Banquet and Auction was dedicated to the centennial of the Marian Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, when she appeared six times to cousins Lucia Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto in 1917. Friends and family of seminarians, diocesan priests, Benedictine priests and brothers from both Conception Abbey in Conception Mo., and St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan., religious sisters and Catholic organization members — long-time supporters and first timers, attended this year’s SOS.
The SOS was begun in 1993, when then-Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, realized that the seminarians’ scholarships were inadequate to support the costs of attending the seminary college. He voiced his concerns to friends Larry and Ruth Moore. Larry Moore, long-time KMBC-9 news anchor, now retired, and his wife proposed a dinner dance to raise funds for the seminarians. Newly installed Bishop Raymond Boland of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Archbishop James Keleher of Kansas City, Kan., both approved and SOS was born. That first year, two seminarians were introduced to the attendees. It was successful from the start, raising funds to supplement scholarships seminarians receive so as to reduce the amount they and their families will have to pay to attend Conception Seminary College.
Moore, who will be inducted into the Missouri Broadcasters Hall of Fame this summer, said that for 24 years he and Ruth had been honored to support seminarians as “they are the future of our Church.”
Emcee Kathy Quinn of Fox-4 News, introduced the evening’s speakers, beginning with the event chairs, her brother and sister-in-law, Don and Mary Quinn.
Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James Johnston, Jr., and Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann had, late that afternoon, flown back from Washington, D.C., where they had participated in the March for Life.
Bishop Johnston commented on the sheer number of marchers, “people as far as the eye could see.” (Estimates now exceed 500,000) He said it was “an amazing day which started with Mass for about 300 young people from our diocese.” The Gospel reading for the day was the parable of the mustard seed. “Young people, through the March for Life, through their lives, are planting seeds,” he said. “And you know, the seminary is a seedbed of vocations, where vocation seeds can be nurtured and mature.”
Archbishop Naumann spoke of the great day, the thousands of young people in attendance and the many priests and seminarians in the Basilica for Mass.
“One of the greatest duties of Archbishops and Bishops is the ordination of priests,” he said. “A young priest can serve up to 50 years and touch the lives of thousands!”
The monks of Conception Abbey elected Father Benedict Neenan as their new abbot last November after Abbot Gregory Polan was elected Abbot Primate. Abbot Neenan was formally blessed by Bishop Johnston recently.
“One of the highest honors and responsibilities of being Abbot of Conception is being chancellor of Conception Seminary College,” he said. He also praised Benedictine Father Brendan Moss for his leadership as the seminary college’s rector. “We have 100 seminarians this year, twice as many as in 1993!” There are currently 28 seminarians of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese and 32 of the Kansas City, Kan. Archdiocese.
One seminarian, Aaron Hooper, of St. Bridget’s Parish in Pleasant Hill, recalled, “When I felt the Lord was calling me to the priesthood, I knelt in prayer … I had no other choice but to say ‘yes’ to God.”
The seminarians were introduced en masse, standing on the stage patiently while photographers jostled for pictures.
Then Father Richard Storey, pastor of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, Kan., addressed the crowd.
“I am grateful for our mothers and for our Heavenly Mother,” he said. “We are living in trying times; the devil likes to divide us, our nation, our families, even our Church.”
Pope Francis has spoken about being fruitful and bringing home vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. “We need to be together,” Father Storey urged. “We need to come together as one” to support vocations and thwart the divisions of the devil.
Turning to the seminarians nearby, he encouraged them to keep on. “Don’t give in to despair. You’ll get through it.
“God bless you all and let us pray together, Hail Mary full of grace …” The whole room thundered with the voices of 654 men and women praying aloud to Mary.
Cruz Gallegos, a senior at Conception Seminary College for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., said the last four years had been the best years of his life. He is the oldest of nine, and his Puerto Rican/Mexican family encouraged his early devotion to the Blessed Mother, the Rosary and attending Mass. The sacrament of Confirmation solidified his desire to “know the personal Jesus, know his faith.” Cruz began by staying 5 minutes after Mass in Adoration. The minutes increased, as did his awareness of the call to the priesthood.
He thanked the generosity of people “who love God,” allowing him and his fellow seminarians at Conception “to study peacefully, without [financial] worries and learn their faith.”
The program ended with Father Brendan Moss leading the priests, monks, and seminarians in the “Salve Regina.”
As always, the fundraiser was successful, benefiting the seminarians and Conception Seminary College.