The spirituality of the Missionary Society of the Precious Blood is rooted in the radical reconciliation Jesus accomplished at His crucifixion.
“It’s about reconciliation, inclusivity and hospitality,” stated Precious Blood Father Mark Miller, recently retired pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Patrick parishes in Sedalia and the St. John the Evangelist mission in Bahner.
“It’s about believing and proclaiming that Jesus Christ shed His Blood for all, that no one is left outside that redemptive act,” said Fr. Miller.
Such an understanding transforms the way people interpret life, speak to each other, speak about each other and determine who belongs — namely, everyone.
“When you read what we (Precious Blood Fathers) write and listen to what we preach, you’ll notice that aspect of breaking down walls and building bridges,” said Fr. Miller.
A whole different world
Fr. Miller, 75, was the last in a line of priests and brothers of the Missionary Society of the Precious Blood to serve in Central Missouri, dating back to 1881.
Following a sabbatical, he will take up residence near the Precious Blood Center in Liberty, near Kansas City.
Serving in Pettis County marked both the beginning and the conclusion of his full-time priestly ministry.
He was a deacon at Sacred Heart for about two months in 1970 and returned as a newly ordained priest the following year, when Father Vincent Hoying became pastor.
“We made a good team,” said Fr. Miller.
Fr. Hoying instructed and modeled for his young associate the importance of loving the people and ministering to them with tenderness.
“He told me to try to understand people’s perspective and then try to help them broaden their understanding that life is always beyond ourselves,” said Fr. Miller.
Fr. Hoying quickly befriended people of all faith traditions and freely gave of his time.
“There was something about his personality that allowed him to enter into the lives of the people,” said Fr. Miller.
At that time, Sacred Heart parish consisted of people living west of Ohio Avenue, while St. Patrick parish consisted of those living east.
Diocesan priests ministered at St. Patrick, while Precious Blood priests ministered at Sacred Heart.
“In the ’70s, I had practically no connection to St. Patrick parish,” said Fr. Miller. “I knew nothing about the east side of town. I just never went over there.”
He spent most of his time and energy at Sacred Heart School, teaching classes and attending school functions.
He helped moderate what was known as the Ecumenical Five (“E5”) youth group, through which local Catholics and members of four local Protestant congregations organized weeklong, service-oriented mission trips each summer.
“Those work camps brought about an expansion of people’s minds and an opening of their hearts,” said Fr. Miller. “In a sense, they got to see a whole different world.”
Bridges and avenues
The Church in Pettis County continued to evolve during the years between when Fr. Miller was reassigned elsewhere in 1975 and when he returned to Sedalia as pastor in 2011.
Precious Blood Fathers had been leading and ministering in both Sedalia parishes since the early 1980s. People from both sides of Ohio Avenue were crossing the “great divide” for Mass and activities in both Sedalia churches and in Bahner.
St. Patrick and Sacred Heart had begun collaborating on such essentials as confirmation preparation, marriage preparation, youth ministry, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and Sacred Heart School, the diocese’s only Catholic school for pre-kindergarten through high school.
Mexican and other Latino immigrants, many of them Catholic, began settling in and around Sedalia in the 1990s, attracted at first by job opportunities and later by a sense of community.
Both parishes set about addressing the distinct spiritual gifts and needs of these immigrant adults and their sons and daughters.
Fr. Miller arrived to lead what was becoming a bilingual community.
Sacred Heart School had undertaken an ambitious building expansion that was completed shortly before the Great Recession hit in 2008, leaving a substantial parish debt.
He and those who advised him worked on a plan to eliminate the debt — a task completed earlier this year — while addressing the school’s long-term financial stability.
All the while, he helped parishioners recognize the benefits of even closer collaboration within the local Church.
They worked with Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and his advisors on a plan to combine both Sedalia parishes and the Bahner mission into a single parish with three worship sites.
Bishop McKnight will offer Mass in Sedalia on Sept. 22 to celebrate the establishment of the combined parish, which is to be named in honor of St. Vincent de Paul.
Chapter and verse
Fr. Miller noted that the Precious Blood charism of promoting hospitality and reconciliation, even among people whose outlooks are at polar opposites, can be challenging.
“How do we unite with people who we consider to be ‘other’ than ourselves, and to see how they are actually part of who we are?” he asked.
Equally daunting is the task of applying the Sacred Scriptures and Catholic social teaching to the pressing and often divisive issues of the day.
Rooted in Biblical truth and articulated by Popes throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, Catholic social teaching focuses on human dignity and restoring right relationships among people and all of creation.
“Somehow, we have to find ways to use the Scriptures and our Church teachings to find better ways of dealing with the social and civil issues that confront us,” he said.
He believes that too often, people address problems from a political mindset rather than a Scriptural or ethical mindset.
“I once heard someone say that we need to make sure our Sunday readings and our newspaper articles are talking to each other,” he stated.
Placing the emphasis
Fr. Miller emphasized that the call to inclusion and reconciliation belongs not only to Precious Blood priests or brothers but to the whole Church.
He hopes the people of Sedalia and the rest of the diocese will continue to grow in their understanding of Catholic stewardship as a necessary means of following Christ.
He hopes they will work to bring greater kindness, mercy and compassion to an era tainted by bitterness and division.
He believes it’s important to ask: “Are we American Catholics or Catholic Americans?”
“If we place more emphasis on being American, then we are going to allow our social media to have more impact than our Sunday readings,” he said. “But if being Catholic is our defining characteristic, then it’s going to impact the way we process the things we see in the news.”
He believes the Missionaries of the Precious Blood always had a good working relationship with the Jefferson City diocese, its bishops and diocesan priests.
“I think that speaks well of our shared mission and desire to achieve a common purpose,” he said.
What is that common purpose?
“To establish the Kingdom of God on earth,” he said.
Fr. Miller rests assured that his successors in Pettis County — Father Joseph Corel and Father David Veit — are well suited to the opportunities and challenges ahead.
He requested prayers of thanks for all that God has been able to accomplish in this diocese with help from Precious Blood priests and religious.
He also requested prayers for God to raise up more priests, brothers and sisters for service in the Church.
“For me, it’s all been a tremendous gift,” he said.