by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director
“As you must realize, things are in a state of turmoil as we try to get organized in the new Province,” Father Daniel Schaefer wrote in his first official letter to the members of the Kansas City Province on May 6, 1965. “It will take us time to put things into working order. Therefore, we ask you to be patient with all of us.” Father Schaefer implored the priests of the new Province to send Father Robert Stukenborg, provincial treasurer, “whatever excess stipends you have on hand, so that there will be a supply for us to distribute to those
in need.”
The financial turmoil at the beginning of the Province was underscored in a June letter when Father Schaefer announced that on May 24, 1965, “the total amount in the combined bank accounts of Del Bufalo Seminary, the Kansas City Province, and the Parent Corporation was $115.93.” To help make ends meet, Father Schaefer asked all members “to send in whatever you can every month.” To keep the Province solvent in the early years, the members were generous in not only sending in official monies but also personal funds they had available which Father Stukenborg invested.
The provincial also announced policies concerning wills and hospital insurance indicating that “we do not know of any insurance plan that will be of benefit to us.” This was the procedure followed for several years as Father Stukenborg believed it was less expensive to pay the medical bills on individual members who were sick (or offer a donation to the hospital that took care of them for free) than it was to pay the premiums of insuring all the members. This was the policy until the 1990s when an aging membership and the dramatic increase in medical costs encouraged the Province to enroll in an insurance program.
Father Lawrence Cyr was appointed the Director of Missionaries on June 8, 1965. Since members were frozen in the geographical area they were serving at the time of the division, the first few years of the new Province saw a few missionaries shifting from one Province to another. Those in formation were allocated according to the specific needs of the respective Province. Just two months after its founding, the Province experienced its first death. Father John Baechle, a hospital chaplain serving at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin died of a heart attack.
In August, 1965, the Provincial Council made its first assignments of pastors, assistant pastors, and chaplains. In the fall of 1965, Father Schaefer appointed several priests serving in various areas of the Province to help Father Vince Hoying, vocation director, to recruit vocations for Del Bufalo Seminary.
Early in 1966, the Province lost its second member when Father Urban Hoying, pastor of one of the largest parishes in the Province, St. Mary’s in Garden City, KS, died on January 8 of a heart attack. He was only 50 years old. His untimely death was a shock to the Province, as Father Schaefer wrote. “We must believe that the hand of Divine Providence touched our Province not to discourage us, but to invite us to trust Him and to rededicate our cooperative efforts in 1966.”
The financial crisis deepened in the first year as Father Stukenborg indicated the Province debt was more than $400,000. “It appears that we will have to rely heavily upon outside help if we want to make real progress in our Province,” he wrote. “All of us must watch for opportunities to make people realize our need. Every bit of extra income will help.”
Though the sudden deaths of two of its members and the early financial struggles staggered the new Province, leadership continued the immense task of organization that helped the Province find its footing. In January, 1966, the provincial council announced the creation of ten districts to discuss and carry on the work of the Province in local areas. The ten districts included three in Wisconsin (Fond du Lac, LaCrosse, and Park Falls), and three in Missouri (Sedalia, Liberty, and St. Joseph), Chicago, Linton, North Dakota, Garden City, Kansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The recommended reading material for the first district discussion was the Decrees of the Second Vatican Council. Since the birth of the Kansas City Province coincided with the last session of the Second Vatican Council, the two events have been closely intertwined. Vatican II helped to shape the spirit of renewal that has marked the Kansas City Province since its inception.
In preparation for his first canonical visitation in 1967, Father Schaefer captured this spirit of renewal that was sweeping the Church at the time by asking the ten districts to “study a specific portion of the C.PP.S. Constitutions” in the light of the Vatican Council’s decree, Perfectae Caritatis. Addressing resistance among the some members in the Province concerning the renewal of Vatican II, Father Schaefer wrote, “This is not a ‘rebellion’ against old traditions in an effort to change things for the sake of change; this is a re-study to bring about ‘Renewal.’”
On the Feast of St. Gaspar in 1967, Father Schaefer reflected further on the spirit of renewal inspired by St. Gaspar. “Conciliar renewal is not measured so much by changes in customs or in outward criteria as much as in a change of certain mental habits, of a certain interior inertia, of a certain resistance of the heart to the truly Christian spirit,” Father Schaefer wrote. “The first change, most important of all, is what is ordinarily called conversion of the heart.”
Next Month: Embracing a Spirit of Renewal