RAYMOND — Eighty-two diocesan priests listened, discussed and inquired about the spirituality of stewardship and discipleship as a way of life during their Spring Gathering March 10-11 at the Magnuson Grand Hotel and Conference Center near Raymond. Three priests and two laypersons from the Diocese of Wichita were their guests and presenters.
"Stewardship: a Way of Life" is one of that diocese's most renowned gifts. Another is Bishop Carl A. Kemme, ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita in May 2014 after serving as a Springfield diocesan priest for 28 years. It was after concelebrating Bishop Kemme's ordination that Bishop Thomas John Paprocki became inspired by their spirit of stewardship. In September, he led a delegation of diocesan officials to visit Wichita to learn about its nationally recognized stewardship model. Since that visit, Bishop Paprocki envisioned that the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois could also become a diocese of people deeply committed to a stewardship way of life.
"I'm excited," said Father Steven Janoski, pastor of Sct. Joseph Parish, Springfield. "I think it is possible. We already do a lot in the parish; we just don't call it stewardship. The challenge will be to form people who don't understand stewardship or their role in the parish."
The gathering began with a history of stewardship in the Diocese of Wichita. "Stewardship is a journey experience; it's a conversion journey from baptism to death," said Daniel Loughman, retired chief financial officer, Office for Stewardship of the Diocese of Wichita. "It's a process, not a program. The goal was to move the parishes into a stewardship process with unity among parishes, laity and the diocese," he continued.
Priests heard from the Wichita team about the four building "pillars" of parish stewardship to assure that a sound structure is in place. The four pillars of hospitality, prayer, formation and service invite parishioners to experience, witness and live the stewardship way of life in response to their baptismal call to discipleship.
"We have had three generations of stewardship in the Diocese of Wichita," said Father Ken Van Haverbeke, director of Stewardship. "The diocese has seen some incredible blessings such as the majority of parishes have perpetual adoration chapels, currently there are 62 seminarians with 18 new applications pending. Many of the seminarians received the call in those chapels.
"Mass attendance at 75 percent is more than double the national average; no second collections; no annual appeal from the diocese. The parishes give 10 percent of their monthly income to the diocese to cover the collections and operating costs. The mission of the parish is to educate the children; therefore there is no tuition for Catholic education from kindergarten through high school."
"The best way I learned stewardship was to watch the parishioners," said Father Daryl Befort, pastor. St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Wichita. Father Befort has been pastor of St. Francis parish for 16 years and previously worked with Msgr. Thomas McGread, former pastor and founder of the stewardship process in the Diocese of Wichita. "Stewardship is by invitation; parish bulletins welcome, but stewardship is a personal invitation," said Father Befort. "The biggest hurdle is that people do not recognize their own giftedness."
Pat Burns is the stewardship director of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Wichita. In his parish, one of his stewardship acts is to scrape the trays once a week in the school cafeteria. "It's a wonderful opportunity to talk to the schoolchildren and they, in turn, witness an example of stewardship." Two of his sons became priests. "People ask me all the time, 'what did you do?'" Burns said. "My family strived to live the stewardship way of life."
St. Francis Parish is one of the largest in the Wichita diocese with 2,800 families and 250 new families have joined the parish this year according to Burns. There are 134 volunteer opportunities at the parish. One of Burn's major roles as stewardship director is to assist the communication flow and to keep the pastor informed on the parish matters. Burns meets with new kindergarten parents. "Coming to Mass is the first step in Catholic education," said Burns. Stewardship is taught in the schools as part of the curriculum. "The children's Sunday envelopes are not only for giving treasure but they are encouraged to write their acts of kindness on the envelope such as 'I walked my dog' or 'I cleaned my room,'" continued Burns.
The final speaker, Father Bernie Gorges, pastor, St. Peter the Apostle, Schulte, Kansas is also the founder of Totus Tuus, a Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship.
"Totus Tuus" is the Episcopal motto of the late Holy Father, John Paul II. "I am totally yours, and all that I have is yours," Father Gorges shared. "Knowledge comes through the senses. It leaves a desire to know Jesus through the head. We must have an experience of Jesus Christ then follow it up with the truth, with Catechesis."
The formation of Catholic stewards becomes not just formed Catholics, but disciples willing to share the teaching of Jesus Christ by word and by action. "The major obstacle in a stewardship parish is that people feel they don't have time to give," said Father Gorges. "We have to encourage them that have a talent to give and God will provide the time. He ended his presentation with a message to the priests, "You have a fantastic thing going on in the Springfield diocese. Pray that you can see what is happening in your diocese."
"This is renewing my spirit and I want to remind my parishioners that we are called to be disciples and to walk with the Lord," said Father Jeff Goeckner, pastor, St. Elizabeth Parish, Edwardsville and dean of the Alton Deanery.
Father Charles (Chuck) Edwards, diocesan Director of Stewardship and Discipleship and pastor of St. Paul Parish in Highland concluded the two-day gathering of his fellow priests. "Stewardship is an example of who we are as priests. If we get a vision of what can happen in 10 years, we are going to pastor in ways that we have longed for. "We will stretch our minds and hearts as far as we can to form a parish and diocesan commitment together. We can help each other and our neighboring parishes," said Father Edwards. "We can, as the presbyterate, show our people. Our goal by 2020 is 50 seminarians, 100 parishes participating in Eucharistic adoration and 50 percent of Catholics going to church, Amen."
As he brought the Priests Gathering to a close, Bishop Paprocki had these words for his presbyterate, "When do we start? We have already started. It's a process, and it's a process that is already underway. If you need a declaration of when you are starting; start with yourself," the Bishop concluded.