Five years of Pope Francis, MCC’s annual Assembly theme

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, leads the opening prayer of the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly, Oct. 6. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Catholic Conference, held Oct. 6 at Helias Catholic High School, attracted several hundred folks from the state’s four dioceses: Kansas City-St. Joseph, St. Louis, Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Jefferson City.

The bishops, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso of St. Louis; Bishop James V.  Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph; Bishop Edward M. Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City, were present for the opening prayer, Pledge of Allegiance and keynote address.

The Keynote speaker was Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, J.C.L, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who has served in church courts as an advocate, a court of appeals judge and as a conciliation and arbitration clerk. He served two years as judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and has served as the chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society of Wisconsin, an association of Catholic lawyers and judges. Until his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Chicago Archdiocese, he was also an adjunct professor of canon law at Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee, and Sacred Heart Seminary, Hales Corners, Wis.

In addition to his auxiliary bishop duties he is adjunct professor of canon law at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Ill., and associate judge in the Second Instance Court of Appeals for the dioceses of the Province of Chicago. He also is National Chaplain for the Knights of St. Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary and vice president of the Board for the National Black Catholic Congress in Baltimore, MD. In 2010, Cardinal Francis George appointed him Postulator for the Diocesan Phase of the Cause for Sanctity of Father Augustus Tolton, the first priest of African descent in the U.S. who served in the Diocese of Alton (now Springfield, Ill.) and in the Chicago Archdiocese.

“Good morning everyone,” Bishop Perry said. “Thank you for the invitation to speak to you relative to your theme: ‘Pope Francis and the Church at the peripheries’.

“First of all, let me say that I’m aware, being an outsider, this is holy ground here in Missouri. Particularly Jefferson City…one of my tasks is seeing to the cause of the declared sainthood of one who sprung up from the soil of your own state here, that is the Diocese of Jefferson City, on that farm, which still exists, where Augustus Tolton and his family were slaves.”

“We bring several groups of pilgrims down to visit that farm and the church there in little Brush Creek, where he was baptized, and he was launched there in the midst of a Civil War by his mama, Martha Jane, who took this harrowing escape up to Hannibal, and then across the treacherous Mississippi River to get to the Illinois side, which was at that time a free state.”

“Without his mother, Martha Jane, we probably never would have heard of him.”

“But he went on, through certain difficulties, trying to get an education, in a milieu at that time that exercised by law and lawless customs, the separation between white and black.”

Bishop Perry went on to say that Augustus Tolton eventually made his way to Rome and was ordained a priest there, “because it was impossible to be ordained a priest here, for someone of his background.

And then was sent back here…to work amongst the people of Quincy, Ill., only to encounter certain difficulties there of a racial nature.”

“Father Augustus Tolton, being the good man and the good pastor that he was, attracted all kinds of people. People spontaneously came together, as white and black, under the same roof of his church, St. Joseph’s there in Quincy. And that was a no-no for that time, you understand the history.”

“So, he was told to get out of town. The Archbishop of Chicago picked him up and asked him to come help a group of fledging black Catholics who were worshiping in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in downtown Chicago, where he worked for about 7 or 8 years until…he dropped dead from heatstroke.”

“But we’ve never forgotten Augustus Tolton, for his image and his sense of pastoral ministry at a time where society and the Church was unready for integration. And his memory looms large. That’s why the Jefferson City diocese is holy ground. The state of Missouri is holy ground. And we look forward to, in the near future hopefully, being able to celebrate with all of you his beatification and canonization. We’re working hard at that. We ask for your prayers as well as your support for that great cause.”

Bishop Perry spoke at some length about people currently on the peripheries – the poor, the illiterate, the marginalized, the oppressed, immigrants and refugees, the imprisoned, those labeled public sinners, the aged, the sick, the unborn—all of whom and more have become subjects of the pope’s catechesis. Pope Francis highlights, describes and often decries “the hot topics of the day” in his homilies, speeches, candid commentaries and official documents.

“Journalists love to opine about this pope,” he continued, highlighting how different Francis is from his predecessors or as a breath of fresh air from more traditional images of the papacy. “He is popular with Catholics and non-Catholics alike. People notice he is approachable, his human genuineness, his rapport with people of all walks of life, his active solidarity with those who suffer in any way, even with those who disagree with him. He interacts easily with children, prisoners, those whose bodies are wracked with pain and disfigurement, disaster victims and those mistreated by the inequities of society.”

The bishop summed up his analysis by saying, “Unlike some of his predecessors, he has appeared less other-worldly in his manner and more a man of the earth; a man—a bishop, whose shortcomings and gifts are displayed before the world.”

Following the keynote, attendees checked out one of several morning workshops. The workshops included ‘Border Line: Our Catholic Commitment to Security, Mercy and Truth in Immigration Policy’, ‘Growing in Awareness of Human Trafficking: Knowing is Power’, ‘LGBTQIA: What’s a Catholic to Say?’, ‘Pope Francis’ Theology of Accompaniment: The Church Serving the Peripheries’ and ‘The Opioid Crisis: A Catholic Response’.

Mary Ernstmann of St. John Francis Regis Parish in Kansas City, diocesan winner of the Citizen’ s Recognition Award, stands with Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for a photo. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

All gathered for lunch in the school cafeteria after the morning workshops. Then it was time for the afternoon workshops, which included, ‘Campus Ministry: A Field Hospital for Young Adults’, ‘Catholic Charities: Serving the Poor and Vulnerable in Missouri’, ‘Immigration Law: Understanding a Complicated System’, ‘Protecting the Unborn, Legislative Victories’ and ‘To Live or Die: A Jury Decides’.

Closing Ceremonies and Mass followed. During the closing, the Citizen Recognition Awards were presented to an individual or couple from each diocese. The awardee from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was Mary Ernstmann of St. John Francis Regis Parish in Kansas City.

The Closing Mass was celebrated in the gym, with the Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City serving as principal celebrant. Concelebrating were Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis; Bishop Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau; Auxiliary Bishop Rivituso of St. Louis, and Bishop emeritus Gaydos of Jefferson City, with Fathers Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic High School and Michael Boehm of St. Louis.  They were assisted by Fr. Joshua Duncan as Master of Ceremonies and Deacons Ray Purvis and John Schwartze. The choir was the Helias High School Show Choir.

After Mass, it was time to board buses or find where the car was parked and head for home.


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September 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph