by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director
The Kansas City Province was born on April 20, 1965, at St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, IN. More than 300 members of the American Province gathered in Halleck Center on campus, causing the provincial, Father John Byrne, to say during his welcome, “The magnificent turnout is proof positive that the breaking up of our family into three jurisdictions will only increase the fruitfulness of our Society and its future efforts in the United States.”
Father Byrne introduced the Moderator General, Father Herbert Linenberger, a member of the American Province, who was making his first official visit home since his election. The irony did not escape Father Linenberger as he began his remarks: “It is one of the singular twists of fortune that the very first opportunity I have to address all members of the American Province in an official capacity should also be my last.” The bittersweet moment was not missed on Father Linenberger or anyone else attending the chapter that would create a trinity of provinces from the one. As Father Linenberger noticed “a feeling of joy” as “we grasped each other’s hands in fraternal greetings,” he also was aware of “a catch in our voices, for we realized that fully a fourth of the members will have their paths routed to courses that are still uncharted.”
At 1:30 PM on April 20, 1965, the electors of both the Cincinnati and Kansas City provinces assembled in Halleck Center to hear Father Linenberger remind them, “Your decisions in these assemblies will have an effect that will reach into eternity.” After Father Linenberger’s remarks, the division became a reality “as the assembly arose in a body and the members of the newly-created Kansas City Province left the hall to reconvene in their own hall of elections.” Father Linenberger remained with the Cincinnati Chapter and appointed the former Moderator General and a member of the new Kansas City Province, Father Herbert Kramer, the chairman of the Chapter for the new province. Father Kramer appointed Father Lawrence Cyr to serve as secretary “pro-tem” of the Chapter. Of the possible 106 members of the province, the roll call revealed that 91 were present to vote. After prayers for guidance of the Holy Spirit, the first vote was cast for Provincial Director. Father Daniel Schaefer received 25 votes, Father Frank Laudick 11 votes, and Father Joseph Sheeran 9 votes. The remaining votes of seven or less were scattered among several of the members. After a second ballot, which saw Father Schaefer’s total reach 43, he was elected on the third ballot with 59 votes. Father Daniel Schaefer became the first provincial of the Kansas City Province.
The balloting for members of the Provincial Council followed immediately. Father Joseph Sheeran was elected vice-provincial and first councilor; Father Lawrence Growney, second councilor; Father Lawrence Cyr, third councilor and provincial secretary; and Father Robert Stukenborg, fourth councilor and provincial treasurer.
In his first address to the members of the Kansas City Province after his election, Father Schaefer acknowledged “the tremendous task which we face” but said “we have much to go on, since we have such well-qualified men in all areas of work of the Society: parish priests, chaplains, educators, missionaries, among whom we have some of the best.” He added, “We must all work together and be patient if things do not run smoothly for a while. We are all new on the job; we shall make mistakes and we will know that your charity will prompt you to be tolerant of those mistakes.”
Someone once said, “We get the leaders we deserve.” If that is the case, the Kansas City Province must have been very deserving because the humility, honesty, and servant leadership of its first provincial, Father Daniel Schaefer, helped to shape the spirit of the province in its early years which, given the geography of the province, many came to embrace as a “pioneer spirit.” In the early years of the province, the image of the pioneer came to symbolize how the members sought to implement the renewal of the Second Vatican Council. Later this pioneer spirit was captured in a willingness to take risks especially in areas of social justice and peace.
Some have interpreted this pioneer spirit as an independent streak. However one interprets the image of pioneer, Father Schaefer’s persona—a gruff, outward manner but a gentle, tender spirit of service—influenced and informed the province for many years. When one of his classmates was asked several years later to describe Father Danny, Father Frank Sullivan offered a single word: “Integrity.”
Father Schaefer’s integrity, openness and humility were on display at that initial meeting after his election. He opened the floor and welcomed any suggestions members might have regarding the new province. The first to speak was Father Herbert Kramer who, because he had been Moderator General, some assumed would be the first provincial of the Kansas City Province. But in the voting, Father Kramer received very little support for a leadership position. Still, his voice carried weight as he suggested the name of the province “might be too narrow and restrictive, and perhaps, hamper any moves that might be desirable in the future.” Father Kramer suggested changing the name “Kansas City Province” to “Central Province.” After much discussion in which other possible names for the newly formed province were offered, the members voted to ask permission that the official name of the province be changed to Central Province.
What became of this name change is not clear except to say permission to change the name must have been denied because since that day, April 20, 1965, the province has been known as the Kansas City Province.
Next month: State of Turmoil