University Shift

Two years ago, Father Tom Curran, president of Rockhurst University, asked if I would be willing to join the college staff to advance its mission.  He indicated that I had a unique position as an alumnus who is a diocesan priest that served in the urban core, and he thought I could help make connections between Rockhurst and the community.  We eagerly presented the idea to the bishop (under whom I serve), who did, in fact, assign me there, along with a couple of parishes in the inner city.  It has been a good venture for me to return to the school I attended over forty years ago and to parishes that I served for a decade more than twenty years ago.  But many things there, of course, have changed.

For numerous reasons, mostly having to do with mission, finances, and college needs, I have shifted work and ministry this winter from Rockhurst to Avila University, where I am engaged in enhancement of the school’s spirituality, religious roots, and the wonderful charisms of the Congregation of Sisters of Saint Joseph (CSJ) that sponsor the university.  In addition to internal affairs that impact students, faculty, and staff, Avila also embraces its surrounding neighborhood.  Dr. Jim Burkee, president, has met with many neighbors; his safety and security team has been of great assistance to nearby homeowners; residents enjoy walking the trail that surrounds campus as well as the walkways that meander through it.  Over the recent holiday break some neighbors and friends reached out to and hosted international students who remained on site during the academic hiatus or provided care packages for them.  Sometimes supporters will join Catholic students for Mass or other prayer events at the campus chapel, located in Foyle Hall.

Sunday Mass is offered at 11:00 when school is in session.  You are invited to join—just remember that it’s not every week, only when students are there.  I will preside there the next three Sundays and whenever it doesn’t conflict with my parish obligations and duties.  If you are looking for a ministry of service in 2024, you may want to consider assisting a particular student (e.g., providing care packages or inviting him/her for meals, etc.), assisting students that seek academic, career, or life coaching (through the student support center), or even sponsoring a meal or coffee/donuts after one of the Sunday Masses for those students that attend the service.

Though Avila has a small Catholic contingency, we hope to revive the celebrations and relationships that are deeply rooted in its history and surroundings.  We also hope to learn from other religions and cultures that are well represented on campus.  One of the tremendous lessons I learn from working in KC’s city center, where non-white and non-Catholic lifestyles and customs direct action and thought, is that we have much common ground upon which we can build and much that we can learn from one another.  Avila is blessed with a diverse student population.  Like Rockhurst, it seeks unity in diversity with neighbors, with one another, with our past and future.  The CSJ mission, since its founding in 1650, is “to live and work so that all people may be united with God and with one another.”  Their motto is “to serve God and care for the dear neighbor.”  As neighbors to one another, I invite you to visit campus and, if you feel called, to assist this year in some way that impacts the life of a student.  Though my connection to college has shifted a bit in recent months, it remains an exciting and valuable ministry of hope as college students enter the world of adulthood and give back to their communities.