Recently, our teachers and staff started a string of appreciation emails for why we are grateful for working (ministering) here at St. Francis. That has been playing on my mind ever since, and so, here is my response…

I am grateful for being at St. Francis because…this is my home. And I do not mean that figuratively.

Did you know I grew up only three miles away from here, at Doris and Second St.? My entire childhood, and most of my entire life, has been spent in West Wichita. My Grandpa, the only grandparent I personally knew, lived across from Christ the King, my childhood parish. My aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of my family live in houses spotted all over West Wichita. And though I went to Christ the King as a child and graduated from St. Peter Schulte grade school, my high school years saw me regularly traveling across from BCCHS to SFA for confessions, 5:30 p.m. Mass, Adoration and even Boy Scouts. For all but ten of my fifty years I have lived in West Wichita!

Did you know for fourteen of those years I have lived in the rectory here at St. Francis? It is the second longest house I’ve ever lived in!

Having served at BCCHS for eight years, and then as Pastor at Clonmel for seven, I have been constantly intertwined in families both new and old. My geographic circle of life has had Christ the King on the East and Clonmel on the West, with SFA pretty much at the epicenter. So, much of my history, because of my parish family, biological family, friendships, Catholic School family, or Pastoral ministry, has intertwined me with hundreds, even thousands, of people from this area!

Did you know that my parents go to this parish? Did you know that not only do my brother and sister-in-law, but several of my cousins go here as well? Not to mention the number of grade school and high school classmates I now currently serve as their pastor – as well as their parents who I remember from childhood. I am currently ministering to children of classmates I graduated with, and now children of former students I had at Bishop Carroll!

Still further, throughout my eight years at Bishop Carroll I served nearly two-thousand kids, which intermingled my pastoral ministry with their very practical daily lives, as well as the lives of their parents, many of whom are still parishioners at St. Francis. Even still, my time at Clonmel continues to affect my ministry as I still see many from that parish at one of our various Mass times. (Which is why I sometimes call SFA “Clonmel East”.)

You see when I’m celebrating Mass, I am not merely looking at nameless faces of thousands of people (nearly three thousand a weekend). I am looking at a labyrinth of interconnected families and persons, not only to one another, but also to me through my personal and pastoral connections.

This is why this is my home. I am honored to be involved in so many stories, so many lives, so many events, so many friends, so much family, and so much history. This parish is my home because it is filled with people I love and with whom I have active and living connections.

This is my home because I am also connected to each one of faculty, staff, and employees who minister with me here. Some are directly a part of that history I just laid out. Others have just gotten to know me, or, more accurately, seen me zooming by like the Roadrunner. I love this parish and I love this school because those of us who work for it are connected as ‘coworkers-in-a-vineyard.’ Together we serve and we share family connections and family history.

I have often joked that standing in the foyer of the Church is like watching balls of Mercury get closer together until, “fthpth”, they suck into unity. What I mean is that, about once a month, I see people standing together whom I newly realize are related to one another, or whom I have served, or who have a history at the parish that is deep and rich, or any other of a thousand possible connections. Then, like Mercury joining together, “fthpth”, I realize yet another interconnected relationship. I love this community because it is so central to West Wichita and West Sedgwick County that at some point in time its historic and personal relevance reveals itself in the shared stories of real lives of real parishioners. What a gift!

Let me finish by sharing a transformative spiritual experience I once had as a young priest in Pittsburg, KS. This happened when I was newly ordained:

At that time, when my priestly ministry was new and fresh, I began to realize and to see how so many people carry such deep burdens. Not only because I was hearing confessions, but also because I was personally counseling individuals for the first time. I was being deeply moved by the secret pains and burdens of so many people. My heart was heavy with their sadness, and I was experiencing for the first time the great honor of being a secret-bearer for so many people. Well, this experience was making its way into my prayer and reflection, until one day it burst forth into one of the most important lessons of my priesthood.

On this particular day I was celebrating Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes where in the back stands a traditional statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This meant that, when celebrating Mass, the congregation was between me and the statue. While celebrating this Mass I was in a deeply prayerful state of mind and the words of consecration were truly meaningful. Then, while I was in prayer, standing at the altar, holding my hands in the orans position (like the statue), I looked up and noticed the statue in the same position as me.

This is when the spiritual experience happened. It was like Jesus and I transposed and I became like the statue with the Sacred Heart pounding outside my chest. It was at this moment, with the congregation in between me and Jesus, that I began to notice the faces of every person in the Church like I had never noticed them before. It was like each face had a fourth dimension: story.

In a moment of spiritual insight, having reflected on the priestly privilege of being a secret-bearer, I could see the depth of history of each person written on their face. It was like their life story was visible to me. They were not strangers, nor were “one-among-many.” I could see each and every face bearing the entire story of their lives. It was then that I realized the great gift of priestly ministry–I am a story-bearer of real people, with real lives, with real experiences, and deep history. It is my job to apply the sacrifice of Christ as a response and a remedy to the story of people’s lives. I am a minster of joy and sorrow, happiness and despair, health and sickness, life and death, holiness and forgiveness. It was at this moment that I realized the depth of my priestly ministry is a personal life shared with the life-story of every person to whom Jesus has called me.

Now, fast forward to today. Consider this: I did not grow up in Pittsburg, KS. My family was not from there. I did not go to school there. Nor did I go to that parish as a child. So, if that was the depth of the spiritual experience I had after being there for only several months, can you imagine the depth of connection I feel being Pastor in the heart of the very area where I grew up? It brings me to tears to know that God would, through the Bishop, call me to serve this parish that is literally at the epi-center of my life story! I am a minster of the stories of thousands of people – for that I was ordained and because of that I get up every day, pray, and serve.

This is why I love serving here. This is my home, my place of shared story. I am proud to be pastor of parishioners and fellow ministers with whom I share nearly my entire life history. Praised be Jesus Christ.

Father Jarrod Lies, Pastor