Over the past several years, I have been invited from time to time to give a presentation at the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita, Kansas. The Diocese of Wichita is a diocese of some 115,000 Catholics in 90 parishes, and it is a powerful example to the rest of the Church in America. It is the prime example of what Catholics who commit to denying themselves and picking up their cross and following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ can do within His Church.
On a diocesan level, the principles of Catholic Stewardship have been encouraged for many decades. This has resulted in Mass attendance in the diocese being more than double the national average. This is a phenomenal statistic in today’s religious culture. Because these Catholics are so invested in their faith and Church, they have experienced the grace of conversion, enabling them to commit an abundance of their time, talent and treasure to the ministry of the Church.
Most parishes in Wichita have multiple ministries that parishioners embrace and serve. There is a special emphasis upon serving the poor and others in need. Parishioners have formed strong bonds with each other. They see each others as sisters and brothers in the Lord called to nurture and care for each other and to call each other to Gospel accountability. The Catholic Faith for these people is not just about comfort and feeling good about Jesus and themselves; it is about the hard work of the Gospel, following Jesus where He leads, and being a leader in the Church and community at large. It is about taking their Catholic Faith seriously and putting their faith to work in service of the Church.
Most Wichita parishes participate in perpetual adoration. The hours from 11:00 p.m to 6:00 a.m. are always filled with at least two people dedicating an hour a week to these more difficult times. Daily Mass attendance is phenomenal, as well. Some smaller and mid-sized parishes in Wichita have as many as 200 to 300 people at daily Mass! Other devotions, such as the Holy Rosary and novenas, as well as prayer groups and study groups, flourish.
One of the blessings that this high commitment to Jesus and the Church has brought is an increase in sacrificial giving. Every Catholic school in the diocese is supported not through tuition, but through tithing to one’s parish. Everyone is asked to give back to God a true tithe, which for Wichita is 8 percent of one’s gross income to the parish, and two percent to the charity of their choice. In turn, each parish is required to tithe 10 percent to the Diocese, with no annual appeal, other taxes, or Cathedraticum. When you have so many parishioners faithfully tithing to their parish, the parish can then include the entire budget of their parish school in their parish budget. There is no tuition for tithing parishioners. Diocesan High Schools are supported through tithing as well on the diocesan level. This, then, makes Catholic education available to everyone, not just the wealthy. But apart from Catholic education, the level of financial giving to the parishes and the dioceses enables a wide variety of services and institutions to be developed.
All of this in Wichita has taken years to develop. It is not a human effort, but through effective “Holy Spirit inspired” leadership, the people of Wichita have experience true conversion to Jesus and the principles of our Faith. They see belonging to the Church and doing what the Lord asks them to do as priority number one. They follow the Good Shepherd where He leads them.
The Church cannot legislate conversion and commitment. She cannot force people to do the most for God and Church rather than the least. But the Holy Spirit and the grace He pours into our open hearts can. All we need to do is open ourselves to the Grace of God and the unconditional love that He pours upon us. When we return even a portion of that unconditional love back to God, miracles happen! Wichita is a study in grace. May we all embrace that grace, too.