Salina — The Diocese of Salina is one of 84 dioceses considered a “mission” diocese by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. According to the USCCB website, “ ‘Home Missions’ is the name for dioceses and parishes in the United States, including its territories and former territories, which cannot provide basic pastoral services to Catholics without outside help. Basic pastoral services include Mass and sacraments, religious education, and ministry training for priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay people.” In an April 15 news release, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, Bishop of Jefferson City, Mo., and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions, encouraged support for the annual collection, which is April 27-28. “People across the United States long to grow closer to Christ but too many cannot access even basic pastoral programs,” Bishop McKnight said. “The Catholic Home Missions Appeal helps dioceses overcome obstacles of geography, poverty, and limited resources, and fosters solidarity to help others experience the presence of the risen Lord.” In 2018, the Subcommittee approved more than $9.4 million in grants to assist dioceses and eparchies. Currently, more than 37 percent of all US dioceses and territories receive support from the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions, including the Salina Diocese.
The Diocese of Salina spans more than 26,000 square miles across northwest Kansas, and serves more than 40,000 Catholics with 35 active diocesan priests, 11 international priests and four religious order priests. In 2018, the Catholic Home Mission Appeal funded more than $10.5 million worth of projects in mission dioceses throughout the country. During the 2018 funding cycle, CHM funded three areas in the Salina Diocese: an advanced degree in bioethics, seminarian education and Hispanic ministry.
Father Kyle Berens, who is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Junction City, completed a Master of Science in Bioethics Degree at the University of Mary in Bismark, N.D. in April 2018. The diocese received a $3,000 grant in 2018 for Father Berens to complete his education. Prior to entering the seminary, Father Berens was in medical school. The thought of using his interest in medicine in conjunction with his role as a priest was exciting. The project was initiated by Bishop Edward Weisenburger in 2016. “He was telling many people that I was the diocesan ethicist,” Father Berens said. “I did not mind this title until it became a little too real and it was clear I was not prepared. About a month into my certificate program with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, I received a phone call from a young father with a son who needed a heart transplant. He asked me a question about the morality of infant heart transplants. I only knew enough to know that it was a difficult question and one that required a lot of clarity in moral principles. I did the best that I could and ultimately encouraged him to call the 24/7 call and ethicist service offered by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.” Shortly after the question about the child’s heart transplant, Father Berens said he received a question about turning off a pacemaker. “Yet, again I knew enough to know that it was a complicated issue, but did not have the confidence to offer much guidance,” he said. “I said what I could and again encouraged the person to pursue the service offered by the National Catholic Bioethics Center. I still did not know enough to answer these and other questions that were being forwarded to me.” As part of the program, Father Berens completed a capstone project, with 40 hours of clinical experience on a topic of his choice. “We had to choose a bioethical dilemma, write a 25-page research paper with a detailed annotated bibliography of at least 19 sources, acquire 40 hours of clinical experience directly related to the bioethical dilemma and develop a 10-minute presentation to be given in a professional conference,” he said. Father Berens’ capstone Project was called “To Eat or Not to Eat? Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking in the Face of Terminal Illness.” It was completed at Homecare and Hospice in Manhattan and at Valley View Assisted Living in Junction City.
“It was very difficult, but I can say that over this past year it was all worth the sacrifice,” he said of balancing parish, a parish school and his own academic commitments. “The knowledge that I gained about myself, about medicine and bioethics and about my peers has been indispensable in my ability to serve God and his Church in the Diocese of Salina.” Since completing the degree in bioethics, Father Berens has spoken at several parishes regarding bioethics, including Sacred Heart in Colby and St. Andrew in Abilene. “After earning the degree, I could confidently teach 200 plus people about the basics of bioethics and answer some complicated questions after the talk (in Colby),” he said. “After the painstaking process of earning a degree in bioethics I can now answer most phone calls and emails that come my way with simple and complicated questions about bioethical dilemmas. The bioethics degree program at the University of Mary has equipped me to bring comfort to God’s people who are struggling with difficult situations from before conception to natural death. The hard task set before me now, is keeping up with the fast-paced world of medicine and ethics!”
The second area the Salina Diocese receives assistance from the CHMA is seminarian education. In 2018, $22,000 was contributed toward seminarian education for the diocese from CHMA. Currently, the diocese has 12 men in the seminary, with Deacon Mike Leiker scheduled to be ordained a priest June 1 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina. In the last decade, more than a dozen have been ordained priests for the diocese. Contrast that with the previous decade, where six were ordained. The continued strengthening of the vocations awareness programs also shows promise, with four men currently in the inquiring stage of applying for the seminary and more than a dozen others actively pursuing opportunities to participate in discerning the call to enter the seminary. The expansion of the seminarian program is exciting. Yet annual educational expense is about $50,000 per seminarian. As a mission diocese, the support from the CHMA is one funding source that helps men actively discern a potential vocation to the priesthood.
The final area the Salina Diocese received financial support in 2018 was Hispanic ministry. One visible means of support to Hispanics in the Salina Diocese is the missionary sisters from Mexico who serve in Hays and Salina. “One goal for this Hispanic ministry is to evangelize to Hispanic families and individuals who may not be active in the Church,” said Father Carlos Ruiz Santos, the director of Hispanic Ministry for the Salina Diocese. Another secondary goal is to expand the sisters’ outreach beyond the parishes where they reside. In 2018, four religious sisters from Mexico served three parishes with a large Hispanic presence, serving more than 5,000 people in 2018. “These religious sisters have been the key in pursuing our goal of networking and communicating between the diocesan office and the parishes,” Father Ruiz Santos said. “The sisters’ presence has been a contributing factor to the increase of Hispanic Sunday Mass attendance in parishes. In one parish the average attendance is 350 people.” Numbers of Hispanics receiving sacraments is on the rise. In 2018, more than 50 Hispanics were baptized, with nearly 100 First Communions and more than 75 confirmed. Those who are actively participating in parish and sacraments are evangelizing. “Many Hispanic volunteers take initiative in reaching out to other non-practicing Hispanic Catholics,” he said. The office of Hispanic Ministry began with the assistance of the CHMA. “More than two decades ago, we had only guessed that some Hispanics were present in our diocese and that they may be Catholics,” Father Ruiz Santos said. “When the Office started with the help of the funding, we were able to address the needs of the Hispanic Community to become active members in our parishes as well as providing services and support as they receive Sacraments and Sunday Mass in Spanish.
“We were surprised by the numbers of Hispanics coming into our parishes, and our bishops realized we needed more help, especially with clergy and religious missionary sisters, to start better meeting their needs. The funding for this office enables us to keep bringing back, each year, the sisters that currently minister in our parishes.”
For more information about the CHMA is available at www.usccb.org/home-missions.