The Diocese Today 1984-2007

Bishop John Joseph Leibrecht
Bishop John Joseph Leibrecht

“The most important thing in my life is to be with the people in prayer.” –Bishop John J. Leibrecht


1943 Family Photo
1943 Family Photo

The fifth bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau came from a family that gave the Church in Missouri not only a bishop, but a priest brother and a cousin Dominican sister. Born Aug. 8, 1930, of German and Irish parents John and Ellen (Begley) Leibrecht, John Joseph was baptized in All Souls Church in Overland. There he attended elementary school before entering St. Louis Archdiocesan Latin School prior to admission to St. Louis Preparatory Seminary and later Kenrick Seminary. He was ordained by Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter for the archdiocese on March 17, 1956. Father Leibrecht received his doctorate in education from Catholic University, Washington, DC, in 1961. After serving at Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis, he was named Assistant Superintendent of Archdiocesan Schools, becoming Superintendent from 1972 to 1981. He served three years as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant, MO, before being ordained as bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on Dec. 12, 1984, three years after his silver jubilee of priesthood.

Press Conference
Press Conference

The Man

When asked what kind of person the bishop is, diocesan personnel characterized him a man of wisdom and excellent judgment; collaborative, supportive, empowering, approachable, available, pastoral, consultative, disciplined; possessing a sense of humor, relaxed before a camera and a great communicator.

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Assignments of Bishop Leibrecht in the Archdiocese of St. Louis

• Associate Pastor, St. Louis Cathedral, 1956-58
• Post-Graduate Studies, 1958-61
• Principal, Rosati-Kain High School, 1961-1963
• Staff member, Office of Education, 1963-72 • Superintendent of Education, 1972-81
• Pastor, Sacred Heart Church, Florissant, Missouri, 1981-84

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The Diocese, 1984

As the bishop stepped into office in 1984, he found himself chief shepherd of 63 parishes, 26 missions, and 2 chapels. Assisting him were 66 active diocesan priests, 14 religious priests representing 9 religious communities, 203 sisters representing 30 religious communities, and one permanent deacon. There were 3 high schools, 27 elementary schools and 7 hospitals under Catholic sponsorship.

When Bishop Strecker left office, he noted that the greatest challenge facing the Church was the Christianization of society. Bishop Leibrecht undertook this challenge by focusing on the mandate of Vatican II to the laity to assume their rightful place in the Church’s mission. He felt responsible to inspire his flock to personal spiritual renewal and to train them for collaboration in the work of the Church. Other priorities set for the diocese were evangelization, social justice, and vocation awareness.

Formation of the Laity

St. Agnes Cathedral Parish RENEW sign
St. Agnes Cathedral Parish RENEW sign

In the 20 years since Bishop Leibrecht assumed office, the laity have been outstanding in their dedication to the faith and their church. One of the first actions of the bishop was to oversee RENEW diocesan-wide. A thousand people became involved in leadership training in preparation for Season I launched in October 1984. The momentum continued until the close of RENEW in late 1986.

From two dozen lead couples, marriage preparation leadership expanded to 120 couples. The St. Francis de Sales Society, which fosters the spiritual life of the laity, resulted in five chapters throughout the diocese. The Cursillo Movement continued to build momentum in lay spirituality. In 2003, a team of Spanish-speaking leaders extended this lay movement to an immigrant population.

Listening Sessions
Listening Sessions

The new bishop’s leadership was conducted on the model of a two-way street. In 1985, to prepare for the US bishops’ proposed pastoral on women, Bishop Leibrecht established listening sessions, beginning with meetings for women religious in Poplar Bluff and Springfield. He also held listening sessions in Portageville, Chaffee, and Pierce City in preparation for his participation in the proposed pastoral letter on the economy to be drafted in Washington the same year. Because it was to contain a chapter on family farms, which were gradually disappearing throughout Missouri, it held special interest to the farmers of the diocese.

Through the leadership of his predecessors and the zeal of the laity of the diocese, the bishop had at his right hand many consultative groups to assist his mission:

New regions formed
New regions formed

• The Presbyteral Council
• The Diocesan Pastoral Council
• The Diocesan Finance Council
• The Diocesan School Board
• The Liturgical Commission
• The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women
• The Diocesan Council on Family Ministries
• The Mirror Advisory Board
• The Diocesan Lay Endowment Board
• The Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission

In 1988, Bishop Leibrecht approved a plan of the Vincentian Fathers to form a mobile team to travel to parishes desiring formation in spirituality and lay leadership. The team also offered service in the Dioceses of Belleville, Illinois; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Owensboro, Kentucky.

The Vincentian team began to plan for regional leadership in parishes of the diocese.

Leaders were appointed to spearhead regional planning in all areas of the diocese, including four districts in the southeast, three in the southwest, and three in the central counties. The goal of Regional Catholic Leadership (RCL) was to have people trained in planning skills. By 1991, 30 leaders had been formed.

Among the places where the laity have made an important contribution is the RCIA. In 1990, the diocese offered Beginnings and Beyond, a week-long institute for those involved in the renewed catechumenate. The RCIA has been responsible for a remarkable increase in the number of Catholics. Between 1995 and 2004, the diocese welcomed 3,591 new Catholics.

Five years later in 1995, the diocese began planning for more Catholics and fewer priests. St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Cape Girardeau hired a lay manager, as did St. Agnes Cathedral Parish in Springfield. In 1998, the Office of Worship began a series of workshops dealing with Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. After planning and consultation at the diocesan and regional levels, Bishop Leibrecht appointed Parish Life Coordinators to parishes and missions in Aurora/Verona, Kennett, and Mountain Grove/Cabool.

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SMPG Program Cover 1988
SMPG Program Cover 1988

THE FIRST ANNUAL Southern Missouri Pastoral Gathering was held in Cape Girardeau in 1988. Its purpose was to provide continuing education and formation for adults across the diocese. To make it accessible to all, the site for the event alternated between Springfield and Cape Girardeau until dwindling attendance and increasing expenses brought this effort to a close in 2000.

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The eighties and nineties saw the rise of many cultural issues that called the bishop to direct his people in accord with Catholic thinking and tradition. Among these were the nuclear arms buildup, issues of population control, feminism, the culture of violence, AIDS, and homosexuality. In addition, antiCatholic bias remained strong in some areas of the diocese. Since distances proved a challenge, the bishop chose to rely on several methods of communication.

Bishop talking to reporter
Bishop talking to reporter

Soon after his installation as bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese, in early 1985, Bishop Leibrecht initiated a regular column in The Mirror, the diocesan newspaper. Its title, “Walking Together,” is based on the biblical account of the disciples meeting the Lord on their way to Emmaus after the Resurrection. But it also names the basic determination of the bishop to walk with his people and together with them to work toward the spread of the Kingdom of God in the southern Missouri diocese and beyond. The column serves to instruct, guide, inform, and clarify a wide range of religious and secular topics. The people were encouraged, via the same publication, to send in questions regarding matters of Catholic doctrine. The bishop promised to answer them within a year in a second column to be titled, “Stand Firm in Faith.” Three hundred questions were received and answered between 1996 and 1997. The following year the bishop added video production to the Communications Office, using materials from the Catholic Telecommunications Network of America. In 1998 a diocesan Web site was launched and the parishes were encouraged to use computer communication. In 2000 the bishop began a series of one-minute messages on five radio stations in the diocese.

TV production
TV production

However, the bishop did not substitute secondhand instruction for the value of personal presence. On the tenth anniversary of his appointment to the diocese, the mileage accrued on the travels of the bishop along the roads of southern Missouri would add up to 13 times around the world (whose circumference is 22,000 miles). Since then, he has more than doubled that total. It is significant that in 1986, for the first time in its 29-year history, the small mission church of Christ the King in Bunker received the visit of a bishop.

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Selected ‘Walking Together’ topics

Prayer • The Vote • Creation • Guns • The Nuclear Age • The Bible • The Just War • Church Tradition • The Trinity • Lay Leadership • Ecumenism • The Eucharist • AIDS • The Bootheel • The Synod of Bishops • The Resurrection • Church Doctrine • New Catholics • Seniors, • Disasters

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Evangelizing efforts

Earlier bishops had established a precedent of evangelizing outreach. Bishop Leibrecht did not hesitate to continue the tradition. At his installation, a census revealed that the Catholic population was still in the minority, scarcely five percent of the nearly million people in the territory of the diocese. In 1987, the bishop took part in the Christian Unity Week observance by addressing the annual meeting of the Springfield Council of Churches at Drury College. His topic was “Ecumenism: The Past and the Possible.” This was before the appearance in 1995 of the papal encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, on ecumenism.

In 1988 the bishop published his first pastoral letter, “Being Catholic in the Bible Belt.” In conjunction with the letter, Father William Harten bach, CM, a member of the Vincentian team produced a video. It provided an overview of the pastoral enhanced by dramatic content.

Some of the controversial issues sparked interaction with people of varying beliefs. For instance, according to one parishioner, ecumenism is present in the pro-life movement by way of Email. “I am corresponding with people from different denominations about life issues and we’re all thinking alike,” she says. “There is an undercurrent of ecumenism among the people in the pews.”

The bishop spoke of his experience: “Coming to the Bible Belt was a big change! I had many assumptions about my faith and about the Church that were not previously challenged. It doesn’t take long to be challenged here or to talk to Catholic parishioners who are being challenged in their workplaces or to children being challenged in their public schools.” His concern is summed up in his own words: “As Catholics across the southern part of our state, we need to do everything possible to reach our neighbors in a spirit of understanding and respect. Nothing should keep us from that mission.” The bishop’s second pastoral letter, issued in 1992, was titled, “The Parish: A Presence and Work of the Lord.”

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VOICE FOR LIFE was founded by Rosina San Paolo, then an employee of The Catholic Center, in 1988. In the beginning it served the Catholic parishes in Springfield and the surrounding areas. In 1994, upon the request of San Paolo and Margaret Schatz, Bishop Leibrecht granted permission for Voice for Life to become diocesan-wide. Voice for Life is made up entirely of volunteers. At this writing, it has 15 board members, including a chaplain, and 54 parish representatives. Bishop Leibrecht supports Voice for Life in its aim to promote the sanctity of life and combat the immoral forces that threaten it.

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The administrator

The former Springfield Catholic High School (above) was remodeled to provide office space for the bishop and diocesan staff members in what is now known as The Catholic Center (below)
The former Springfield Catholic High School (above) was remodeled to provide office space for the bishop and diocesan staff members in what is now known as The Catholic Center (below)

It did not take long for the new bishop’s administrative skills to surface. Within a year into office, he rededicated both cathedrals as the focal points of the eastern and western sides of the diocese: St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield after a renovation planned by his predecessor, Bishop Law, and St. Mary Cathedral after a renovation planned by the pastor, Monsignor Joseph Gosche.

From the time of his arrival, the Diocesan Development Fund began to grow through the increasing generosity of the people. Beginning at $972,000 in 1986, the latest campaigns have raised almost two million dollars.

In 1986 Springfield Catholic High School moved from its original location next to St. Agnes Cathedral to a newly constructed campus. The school building was renovated and became The Catholic Center, home of the chancery. Re-aligned operations resulted in four offices affording greater collaboration at the diocesan and parish levels: Administration, Education, Ministry, and Worship.

The diocesan building ventures during the bishop’s tenure included 13 new churches, 14 new rectories, 14 parish centers, a free-standing Catholic Campus Ministry complex in Springfield, three new school buildings, and 11 major school renovations. The bishop attributes the success of this expansion to the generosity of the laity. Commenting on this in 2004, Bishop Leibrecht said, “We’ve done a lot of building around the diocese, and most of it has been financed internally because pastors invest excess parish funds so that we could loan those funds to parishes at lower rates than those available from a commercial bank.”

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New church buildings erected 1984-2004


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Springfield—total plant • St. Joseph, Advance—total plant • Our Lady of the Lake, Branson—total plant • St. Edward, Cassville • St. Elizabeth, El Dorado Springs • Our Lady of the Ozarks, Forsyth—total plant • St. Patrick, Greenfield—total plant • St. John the Baptist, Licking—total plant • Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mansfield—total plant • St. John Vianney, Mountain View—total plant • St. Joseph the Worker, Ozark • Holy Family, Shell Knob • St. Peter, Stockton—total plant

Parish Centers

Holy Trinity, Springfield • Holy Trinity, Aurora • St. Denis, Benton • St. William, Buffalo • Sacred Heart, Conway • Sacred Heart, Dexter • St. Anthony, Glennon • St. Mark, Houston • St. Mary, Joplin • St. Francis de Sales, Lebanon • St. Lawrence, New Hamburg • St. Mary, Seneca • St. Francis Xavier, Sikeston • Sacred Heart, Verona

Rectories, built or purchased

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Springfield • St. Joseph, Advance • St. Joseph, Billings • Sacred Heart, Bolivar • St. Edward, Cassville • St. William, Gainesville • Our Lady of the Cove, Kimberling City • Holy Trinity, Marshfield • St. Canera, Neosho • St. Joseph the Worker, Ozark • St. Joseph, Scott City • Sacred Heart, Webb City • St. Mary, West Plains

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McAuley High School, Joplin
McAuley High School, Joplin
Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau
Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau

With his training and early experience in overseeing Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the bishop was elected in 1990 as chair of the USCCB’s Education Committee, which addressed issues in Catholic schools and colleges. Two years later the diocesan offices of Catholic Schools and Religious Education issued requirements for catechetical certification, assuring the quality of the teaching of religion in the Catholic schools and PSR programs. In 2004, over 750 lay catechists served youth in the diocese.

Stained-glass window in Notre Dame High School Chapel
Stained-glass window in Notre Dame High School Chapel

At the reopening of the school in Sikeston, which now has 120 students, the bishop said, “This gives me a great sense of personal satisfaction because I remember the weekend in 1987 I came to ask at all the Masses if you were interested in reopening the school.” He was “delighted” with the further expansion of Springfield Catholic High School, completed in 1997, and heartily supported the construction of a new 40 acre campus for Notre Dame Regional High School in 1998 and the 25,000-square-foot addition to McAuley Catholic High School in June 2001. At Southwest Missouri State University, a freestanding Catholic Campus Ministry Building was dedicated in 2001. With a heavy heart, he saw St. Mary School, West Plains, close in May 2001.

Springfield Catholic High School
Springfield Catholic High School

Adult Education

The catechetical education of adults has also been of special concern to the bishop, who in 1992 was one of the bishops representing the US Catholic Church when accepting the church’s new Universal Catechism from John Paul II in Rome.

In conjunction with Creighton University, Omaha, NE, a religious studies program began in Springfield and Cape Girardeau in 1988. By 1990, 184 people had completed the two-year program. To make continuing Catholic education among the laity a real possibility, the bishop established an endowment fund for lay leadership. Its original $7,000 in grants was distributed for tuition and conference fees in 1995 and has now grown to an annual average of $45,000.

Another opportunity for adult education was initiated by the diocese in cooperation with Loyola University of New Orleans. Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension (LIMEX) offers a graduate degree in theology or pastoral ministry allowing students to complete the degree at a local site in the diocese. In 1991, 12 Catholics from the east side of the diocese began studies. Since 1991, more than 62 people from the diocese have graduated from Loyola.

From 2002 to 2004, 115 persons were trained in adult education methodology and began to serve as parish adult faith formation teams.

Creighton session in Springfield
Creighton session in Springfield

A leadership training institute weekend, organized by the DCCW, and Regional Catholic Leadership and held in Springfield in 1995, was attended by 115 Catholic men and women. Most recently, a one million-dollar donation to the diocese in 2001 was split between the Lay Leadership Endowment Fund and support for future outreach, possibly modeled after Catholic Charities.

A late development allows Catholics a voice in the education of their children. Catholic parents and others have participated in the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) Education Network. Through this network, both public and parochial school parents can receive information on educational issues pending in Congress and the Missouri General Assembly. By this means they can influence how federal and state monies are distributed and lobby for tax credits and voucher legislation as well as for legislation affecting Catholic school children enrolling in public schools for special education and assistance to parents seeking early childhood education.

Youth Ministry

Recognizing that youth are the future of the Church, in July 1993 Bishop Leibrecht hired Leigh E. Sterten as full-time Director of Youth Ministry in the diocese. Bishop Law had made a provision for a fulltime director in the early 80s, but budget cuts prevented a long-term commitment. Before that time, youth were ministered to on the east side of the diocese by a part-time director with the diocesan vocation director sharing responsibilities. During the year before Sterten was hired, Sister Rosalie Digenan, DC, diocesan Director of Religious Education, worked to mobilize a contingent of 800 youth and adults to attend the first World Youth Day in Denver in August, 1993. Based on the excitement and momentum of that experience, Sterten began to plan for the first annual Diocesan Youth Conference for high school youth to take place in April 1994 in West Plains featuring Anna Scally as keynote speaker.

Young representatives from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993
Young representatives from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993

To commemorate the success of 10 consecutive annual youth conferences, Anna Scally returned as co-keynote speaker in 2003. More than 500 participants representing 39 parishes were organized to provide various works of service to the community of West Plains.

The Director of Youth Ministry continues to lend training and serves as a consultant for parishes wishing to make their youth ministry programs more comprehensive as specified in the US Catholic Bishops’ document, “Renewing the Vision.” Organization of youth ministries into regions enables groups to hold their own regional rallies for junior and senior high school youth across the diocese.

Priestly Vocations

Among the bishop’s continual concerns is the spiritual and physical health of his priests. He continued the tradition set in place by former bishops by holding the annual Priests’ Institute. Among its purposes was bringing together the priests of the eastern and western parts of the diocese for continuing education and community building. In 1990, 82 priests of the diocese gathered in Branson for the 25th Priests’ Institute. In attendance was the initiator of the Institute, Kansas City KS, Archbishop Ignatius Strecker.

The first deacon for the diocese, Thomas Brewer, was ordained in 1997. Since then, five permanent deacons have been ordained, adding to the eight permanent deacons previously ordained in other dioceses.

In 1993, before the national scandals involving the clergy were exposed, the diocese issued a formal sexual misconduct policy. It applied to all priests, diocesan employees, and volunteers. At the peak of the media coverage in March 2002, the bishop issued a letter on sexual abuse to be read at all Masses on March 13 of that year. “We took action as early as 1993,” read the letter. “Although we did not make it public, we retired the offending priests. When the scandals were made public nationally, we confirmed what had already been done,” announced the bishop.

As the priest shortage becomes more acute, the people are asked to pray for and support their clergy and to pray for and foster vocations in every possible way, especially by encouraging vocations among their children and grandchildren.

Health and Family Issues

As the culture and the courts wrestle with ethical issues of human dignity, birth control, abortion, partial birth abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gender identity, Bishop Leibrecht has consistently spoken for the Catholic position. He has encouraged Catholic hospitals to form new partnerships. His aim is to help in the crusade against an increasingly secular milieu that would curtail monetary assistance to institutions adopting policies opposed to those advocated by the state and federal governments.

Arcadia Valley Hospital faced a financial crisis, laying off 26 employees in 1984. This only foreshadowed future problems serious enough to close it in 1999. The religious community operating St. Vincent Hospital in Monett sold it to a Springfield-based medical center. The hospital at Mansfield closed. St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, the second largest medical center in Missouri and part of the Sisters of Mercy Health System of St. Louis, opened hospitals in Lebanon, Cassville, and Aurora and entered into partnership with St. Francis Hospital in Mountain View. St. Francis in Cape Girardeau and St. John’s in Joplin have significantly expanded their facilities and the number of people they serve.

In the conviction that families are the root of society and the domestic church, early in the bishop’s tenure, the diocesan Family Life Office used the PreMarriage Inventory (PMI) to help couples explore their values and compatibility and to propose the goals and ideals of a happy and blessed union. In 1985, the bishop approved the use of Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study (FOCCUS). Facilitated by the Family Life Office, this instrument is used by volunteer married couples who meet with engaged couples and discuss the meaning of marriage in terms of their own experience and Church teaching.

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Catholic General Hospitals

Springfield, St. John’s Hospital Main Campus
Cape Girardeau, St. Francis Medical Center
Aurora, St. John’s Hospital – Aurora
Cassville, St. John’s Hospital – Cassville
Joplin, St. John’s Regional Medical Center
Mountain View, St. John’s St. Francis Hospital
Lebanon, St. John’s Hospital – Lebanon

Special Hospitals

Springfield, St. John’s Mercy Villa

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Social/Charitable Services

Hope House, a women’s shelter in Springfield sponsored by the diocesan Office of Social Ministry and staffed by two women religious members of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, had opened in 1982. The shelter provided temporary housing for abused women. A number of other shelters had opened up in the area. These offered counseling and additional services and were readily available to the increased number of women needing this kind of help. As a result, Hope House closed in 1997. As for counseling and home visits by pastors, priests have noted that, with both the husband and wife working to meet the financial needs of family life, daytime visits can no longer be counted on to meet with parishioners.

Describing the role of the Office of Social Ministry in the diocese, Donald Emge, director of the office, included a number of pertinent topics in a 2003 report. They are divided under the headings of an understanding of the various peoples living in the diocese, diocesan services of charity and justice in behalf of the poor, the social issues facing the diocese and the role of the diocesan office in relation to these issues.

The People

2003 Guadalupe Celebration
2003 Guadalupe Celebration

Among the people living in southern counties are the hill people who for generations have inhabited the Ozarks. Now, two generations away from subsistence farming, the young have lost the subsistence skills of their ancestors and sometimes rely on government assistance. They are caught between the simpler lifestyles of an earlier age and dreams of self-sufficiency. Despite 50 years of valiant evangelizing efforts, very few of this group belong to the Catholic Church.

Cotton Field in the Bootheel
Cotton Field in the Bootheel

Catholic peoples of both the eastern and western areas of the diocese are farmers who work fertile acreage that can support crops, beef, and dairy operations. As fewer of these families rely solely on farming for income, they seek work in the cities and pride themselves on “taking care of their own.”

Professional people—doctors, lawyers, teachers, business leaders—in the towns have usually been raised in larger, urban areas and are more than likely to be Catholic.

Patterns of poverty similar to those found in the hill country characterize the delta region. Like the hill people, they are often unchurched.

Retirees inhabit much of the Arkansas border area. Having lived farther west or north, they are drawn by the low cost of real estate and taxes to enjoy the scenic beauty of rural Missouri. As their health declines, they tend to return to their cities of origin where better health care is available. These retirees bring wealth, energy, and ability to better the social conditions of their surroundings.

(Left) A monument called Mary, Queen of Peace was sculpted in 1983 and overlooks the grounds of the seminary. (Right) There were approximately 60,000 participants in the 2004 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, MO
(Left) A monument called Mary, Queen of Peace was sculpted in 1983 and overlooks the grounds of the seminary. (Right) There were approximately 60,000 participants in the 2004 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, MO

The arrival of large numbers of people from other countries to the area is the latest characteristic of Missouri society. Primarily from rural areas, the ever-growing Hispanic population accepts low-paying jobs that enable them to send money home for the support of their families. Some lack proper immigration documents. Consequently, they remain powerless and fearful. A high percentage of these immigrants are Catholic, but their expression of faith differs from devotions common in the US. The Office of Hispanic Ministry was established in The Catholic Center in 1996 to counsel, support and assist these people.

A group of about 180 Vietnamese priests and brothers of the Congregation of Mother Coredemptrix centered in Carthage has served Vietnamese Catholic refugees for 31 years. Their annual Marian Days celebration attracts more than 60,000 Vietnamese to a city of 11,000 people. Consisting of refugees from North Vietnam in 1953 and of the Saigon fall to Communist forces in 1975, the US Vietnamese Catholic population has surpassed 450,000. Through Bishop Law’s intervention, the Vietnamese religious order acquired the property formerly owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to be used for their seminary. The community’s main focus, however, is evangelization of Vietnamese Catholics in the US

In 2004 the Vietnamese Congregation of Mary, Queen, one of 33 congregations of women religious serving the diocese, celebrated the 25th anniversary of its presence in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese. Formed by the Holy See as an American Region of their religious congregation headquartered in Vietnam, the sisters have Missouri convents in Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City, with another convent in Irving, TX. The sisters fulfill various ministries among Vietnamese Catholics and others.

The Services

Almost every parish in the diocese is significantly involved in charity to the needy. Frequently Catholics play a pivotal role in developing a community-wide effort. Although Catholics constitute a minority of about five percent of the population, they continue to be major or even primary benefactors of social efforts in their communities and serve in leadership roles.

Within the last 20 years people have less time to volunteer. This is especially true of the rural areas where people have a longer commute to their places of employment and where farmers no longer working their land find jobs away from home. Nevertheless, parishes have consistently contributed to the welfare of those around them.

Whole Health Outreach in Ellington, originated and directed by Rita Schonhoff, is a rural ministry to which many parishes contribute. Rural health ministry in the diocese would collapse without parochial assistance. Schonhoff uses St. Anne Mission church, Ellington, which closed in 1985, as a residence. The base for her home health ministry is in the community of Ellington. With the financial help of surrounding parishes struggling financially themselves, Schonhoff’s outreach extended to preschool children in Ellington. Among other services offered in the program is a sister who is a drug and alcohol counselor, a sister who is a chaplain to the terminally ill, the availability of a shelter for abused women and what is known as a “Families in Crisis” network.

Although charitable action is everywhere visible, organized efforts to create systemic change are harder to come upon. Some organizations already in place are the following:

• Whole Kids/Whole Health Outreach, Ellington
• Guadalupe Family Growth Center, Ellington
• Bootheel Catholic Ministry, Kennett
• Casa Esperanza, Joplin & Webb City
• The Kitchen, Springfield
• Project Hope, Cape Girardeau
• Texas County Food Pantry, Houston
• Doniphan Food Pantry
• Willow Springs Food Pantry
• St. Susanne’s Food Pantry, Mount Vernon
• Southern Stone County Food Pantry, Kimberling City

The Diocese Today

In a 2003 census, the following diocesan statistics were reported:

• 63,325 Catholics
• 65 Parishes
• 19 Missions
• 74 Diocesan priests
• 57 Priests from religious institutes
• 97 Women representing 33 religious communities
• 68 Brothers
• 23 Elementary schools
• 3 High schools
• 4,657 Students enrolled in Catholic schools
• 5,977 Students enrolled in religious education classes

As the first decade of the new millennium approaches midpoint, the consciousness of the Catholic laity of the diocese is deepening in the understanding that the wonders of the faith, the sacraments and vibrant Catholic life are transmitted only when everyone assumes stewardship of the Church.

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The entrance to Nazareth Hermitage
The entrance to Nazareth Hermitage
Hermitages, such as this one, circle the Nazareth Hermitage. The one-room buildings are equipped with a kitchenette, work area with desk, bathroom, bed, and chapel
Hermitages, such as this one, circle the Nazareth Hermitage. The one-room buildings are equipped with a kitchenette, work area with desk, bathroom, bed, and chapel

NAZARETH HERMITAGE near Ava houses a group of hermits. These women lead lives of prayer, solitude, and silence, and assist one another in the necessities of life.

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