In a particular Seinfeld episode, George has a job interview with a company president who is leaving town. George shows up the next workday, but no one there knows that he was hired. Nevertheless, he is given the Penske file. Having no idea what do with it, he transfers its contents into an accordion folder and tells everyone who asks that he’s working on the Penske file. I was hired at Rockhurst by the company president who also left town. He instructed me to work with another person who likewise left to take another job. So, when people ask me what I do at Rockhurst, I joke that I’m working on the Penske file.
Though I am doing a lot of other stuff at parishes to which I have also been assigned, I am creating a mental accordion file for how to serve the University through the future Alvin Brooks Center for Faith-Justice (ABCFJ). Because the job did not exist before me, it is an empty file. But as I meet and listen to community leaders, I am starting to fill it with what I am learning.
Here is some of it. The future ABCFJ will be uniquely positioned on Troost Avenue, formerly a symbol of division in our city but, over the past quarter century, is proving to be a place of unity for our city’s diversity. Troost will probably be renamed (possibly Truth, Trust, or Reconciliation Avenue) as a sign of a more wholesome future. Through the Center, Rockhurst can be a hub for ongoing conversion in our city, a dedicated space to enhance neighborhood relationships, a connector for people of faith throughout the metro area to put faith into action in arenas in which they find energy and can give time and effort, and primarily a service-learning site that helps young people become men and women for others through community engagement. Rockhurst students are encouraged to keep one foot in the classroom and one foot in the streets. Similarly, many Catholics believe that our job is to keep one foot in our church community and the other in our civic community.
There are incredibly wonderful efforts taking place in KC’s urban core, especially along the Troost corridor. I want to help activate Catholics and others lend their talents and skills to support inner city residents and make a healthier and holier city from its heart through every artery to each limb and extremity. Among the myriad of programs are a neighborhood justice center where volunteer lawyers and paralegals assist urban residents through juridical situations, a prosperity center that offers financial management skills, a center for social concerns that helps students learn about systemic issues and provide outreach to needy citizens, KC Common Good that addresses issues of crime, violence, and policing; our work will collaborate with social justice groups that assist immigrants find pathways to citizenship, parish groups that work to alleviate racism and racial disparity, groups that encourage formerly incarcerated persons gain a new lease on life, mentors that work with young people to gain work and life skills, those that provide housing aid, that support urban entrepreneurs, mental health initiatives, bus stop ministries, literacy assistance, and a host of others. My accordion file is not big enough to hold all the options and opportunities before us.
Unlike George who only lasted a week at his job after discovering that he wasn’t Penske material, I hope to stay around for quite a while, to remain in the heart of the city as Rockhurst has pledged to do. Here, I plan to engage Catholics and other people of goodwill throughout the metropolitan area to offer their time, talents, and gifts to make Kansas City a better place to live, learn, work, and worship. I will share more as the file gets filled.