Wichita Diocese shows authentic stewardship leads to vocations

Fr. Hennen
By Father Thom Hennen

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference for Clergy and Lay Leaders in Wichita, Kan. Now, some might ask, “Why would the vocations director for our diocese be interested in stewardship?”

I’ll tell you why. The Diocese of Wichita (considered by many to be the “premier stewardship diocese” in the country) has 114,195 Catholics being served in 90 parishes throughout the 25 counties of southeast Kansas — very comparable to the 97,332 Catholics in 80 parishes throughout the 22 counties that make up the Diocese of Davenport. But here’s the thing: Wichita has 40 seminarians to our 12. Now, I know that vocations ministry isn’t all about the numbers, but there’s definitely something worth looking at in Wichita and that something, I think, is stewardship.

When most people hear the word “stewardship” they see this: $tewardship. In reality, stewardship has almost nothing to do with money. Stewardship is about recognizing that all that we have is a gift from God. We are stewards — temporary caretakers — of what God has given us, and as stewards we are called to share our gifts generously, sacrificially and proportionately for the service of God and neighbor. To put it another way, stewardship is all about discipleship.

Throughout the course of the two-day conference in Wichita money was barely mentioned, and then only as one of the many (and, in fact, one of the lesser) fruits that come from embracing stewardship as a way of life.  The greater fruit of stewardship is a deeper participation in the sacramental and communal life of the Church, including increased Mass attendance and more involvement in parish ministries. And this is where I think vocations in the Diocese of Wichita have emerged. I’m sure tuition-free Catholic schools throughout the diocese (paid for through good stewardship) have also played a big part in the nurturing of priestly vocations.


Still a little skeptical — thinking that maybe many of those 40 seminarians were from outside the diocese, drawn to Wichita because of a charismatic bishop or vocation director, or because of a few dynamic priests — I decided to do a little investigative journalism. I called the Office of Vocations for the Diocese of Wichita and talked to the administrative assistant. I learned that all but one of those 40 seminarians are from the Diocese of Wichita, each with a minimum of two years of actual residency in the diocese. The one who was not from the diocese was going to college there (which would be close enough to count as a “native” by most dioceses’ standard).  So, as best as I can tell this isn’t a “fluke.”

Of course, this didn’t happen all at once. This is the flowering of something that started  40-plus years ago with one pastor, Msgr. Thomas McGread, at one parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Wichita — a parish that was hardly in great shape upon his arrival. So, we need to be patient and recognize that solving the “vocations problem” is not about quick fixes, but about fostering discipleship.

I am reminded here of one my favorite lines from C.S. Lewis. In his book “Mere Christianity” he wrote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you get neither.” Adapting this, I think we could say: “Aim at authentic Christian discipleship (e.g., stewardship) and you will get vocations thrown in.  Aim at just vocations (e.g., numbers) and you will get neither.”

(Fr. Hennen is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or hennen@davenportdiocese.org.) 

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