Published in The Leaven (May 15), click to enlarge

By Heather Nelson

Screenshot 2015-05-21 14.41.43Text:

Meah Copeland slowly and carefully guided the crochet hook as she finished the last chain. She examined her creation — a small hat. Meah smiled; the six-hour process was worth it.

She had never done this before.

In her 14 years of life, Meah, an eighth-grader at St. Joseph School in Shawnee, has learned to overcome any obstacle.

Mark and Melinda Copeland adopted Meah from China when she was nearly 8 years old. Meah did not speak English and lacked formal schooling. She also has a craniofacial disorder that impacts her hearing and has required several surgeries.

“She’s done amazingly well,” Melinda said. “She’s transformed so much, and it has a lot to do with a Catholic environment.”

After learning to crochet, Meah decided to use her new skill to aid cancer patients for her Girl Scout Silver Award.

“My dad had cancer and passed away three years ago,” Meah said.  “I dedicated this [project] to him.”

The project, “Make Your MARK on Cancer,” benefits adult cancer patients undergoing chemo treatments. Meah built a website to teach others how to crochet a chemotherapy hat, make a CARE package, and contact a hospital to donate to. Meah will donate 50 hats, all her own work, to the University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Meah, a presenter at the state council’s competition, drew more than a little attention for her work.

“When a few people came to my table, they were amazed at what I’d done,” Meah said. “I crocheted 50 hats and made a website — they were just shocked.”

Sue Carter, principal of St. Joseph, said that Meah’s outreach is characteristic of her desire to serve — and her ability to overcome all obstacles to do so.

“Meah is a friend to everybody,” Carter said. “She’s one of the hardest workers — she never gives up.”

If there’s ever a need, said Carter, Meah recognizes it — and her compassion for others is contagious.

Meah said that she just hopes her project inspires others to assist and serve as she has.

Published in The Leaven (May 8), click to enlarge

By Heather Nelson

Screenshot 2015-05-21 14.39.28Text:

Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

Because of the stigma attached to it, mental illness is openly discussed far less than the other three diseases, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Which means people sometimes lack the information or support they need to seek out a diagnosis or undertake treatment for mental illness.

But the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition (GKCMHC) is working to change all that. And it turned first to faith communities for help.

Faith communities can play a significant role in reaching out to individuals and families struggling with mental illness — especially because that’s where many people first turn when facing times of crisis. And so, on April 23, Catholic clergy, women religious, lay leaders, and others joined religious leaders of other faiths to learn more about how they can help.

The group met at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood for “The Gathering for Mental Health: A Faith-Filled Response to Mental Illness.” Its purpose was to inform these leaders of resources to help their congregations and to share with them ways to offer effective support to others.

Several speakers from a range of faith backgrounds — Methodist, Catholic, Jewish —spoke on topics ranging from the importance of wellness to reducing the stigma to taking action. Michael Scherschligt, executive director of The School of Faith in the archdiocese, and Jacque Pfeifer-Moffitt, doctor of psychology and parishioner at St. Paul Parish in Olathe, discussed the importance of a relationship with God in their respective presentations on wellness and happiness.

The Rev. Steven Blair, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, has worked with mental health ministry for four years; he focused his presentation on the science of depression. He used the analogy of the thumb swollen to twice the size of the other, and argued that no one would try to explain away the visible swelling.

“A person with depression has an inflamed brain and they can’t say, ‘It hurts here,’” Blair said. “If you get the science right, you can get the care right.”

In his radio show preceding the meeting of religious leaders, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann suggested the rise in awareness of mental health issues on the church level was sparked by the suicide of a well-known pastor’s son in California a couple of years ago.

Often, said the archbishop, parish staffs don’t feel well equipped to assist in the area of mental health.

“The hope is to make them aware some of the resources available, and who to refer to and how to network better,” Archbishop Naumann said.

Presenter Joy Koesten agreed.

After recounting the origins of both the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition and the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition, she stressed the importance of reaching out.

“Mental illness is real. It’s common. More importantly, it’s treatable and there is hope on the other side,” Koesten said. “It’s OK to talk about it — let’s have that conversation.”

Pfeifer-Moffitt and her husband Mike Moffitt, who is also a psychologist and is in formation for the permanent diaconate, hope to see the conversation continue within the archdiocese.

They hope there might ultimately be some type of archdiocesan program focusing on wellness and balance addressing physical and mental needs.

The morning included several opportunities for prayer, and Father John Riley, archdiocesan chancellor, offered the closing prayer.

“I think what happened today is the clergy that were able to participate were left with a desire to reach out to include the persons who may be on the fringes of their congregations and families and friends, who are affected by mental health concerns,” Pfeifer-Moffitt said.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. maintains a list of Catholic counselors on its website under the Office of Marriage and Family Life. Visit: www.archkck.org/catholic-counselors.

Published in The Leaven (April 17), click to enlarge By Heather Nelson Screenshot 2015-04-23 09.38.37

Text:

Chip. Chip-chip. Chip.

Bob Cunningham is chipping away at a thick tree branch to create a notch. Once finished, he places another branch perpendicular to the first, to form a cross.

Cunningham smiles.

And his smile says it all.

As Cunningham peers through his round glasses at the creation he holds in his rough hands, it doesn’t look like much. But it means a lot to him.

Cunningham, an almost 90-year-old resident at Claridge Court in Prairie Village, creates crucifixes out of fallen tree branches.

His first creation hangs in the entryway of his home.

“It’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit telling me what to do,” Cunningham said with a smile inching across his face.

Ten at a time, Cunningham pieces each cross together, places it on a base, and glues the crucified Christ onto the cross. Two of his most important tools are invisible to the casual observer: time and patience.

Before the Holy Spirit directed him to take up this new project, Cunningham repaired rosaries for parishes around the area. He racks up near one thousand miles each month driving around to pick up and drop off repaired rosaries, he said.

“When I started making [and repairing] rosaries, I felt there was something missing,” Cunningham said.

But on a walk one day, Cunningham spotted a Corpus lying in the grass. He credits the Holy Spirit with the inspiration to take it with him, craft a cross for the misplaced Jesus and launch his crucifix ministry. He’s shared his gift with those in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Christ Renews His Parish retreats. Cunningham also carries crucifixes in his car.

“Just in case I see someone who I think might enjoy one,” Cunningham said.

His joy is contagious.

Rob Salierno, executive director at Claridge Court, has known Cunningham for 10 years.

“Mr. Cunningham is always helping people,” Salierno said. “He has a lot of passion — people follow his lead.”

Cunningham begins his day with scripture and daily mass at Cure of Ars, where he is a member of the parish. Cunningham is in tune with the Holy Spirit, who he trusts to work through him.

“Everyone tries to explain what love is, but if you really believe in God, he loves everybody,” Cunningham said. “Why should I resist that?”

Through service and his smile, Cunningham does just that — he loves.

Salierno said that Cunningham is dedicated to bringing forth religion through the Catholic faith.

“His mission never stops — even over 80,” Salierno said. “He’s leading the way in a Christ-like manner.”

Cunningham crucifixes are carefully packaged in small gift bags that include a number of pamphlets. These pamphlets include information about the Holy Spirit, prayer cards and a rosary booklet. Cunningham puts these together as well.

He reveres the rosary. In his pamphlet he includes four new meditations, which he said are important things for the laity to pray for.

“We really need those ‘Hail Marys,’” Cunningham said. “These are really powerful prayers.”

Salierno said that Cunningham is always looking for ways that he can serve others. His family often joins him for dinners at Claridge Court.

“Their laughter — it’s apparent the love they all share,” observed Salierno.

Catherine Solie, the wellness director at Claridge Court, said she interacts with Cunningham often. She describes him as very giving, but it’s his personality that attracts many.

“He really lives life to the fullest,” Solie said. “It’s his sense of humor — people really enjoy him.”

But Cunningham isn’t searching for recognition or praise. He just patiently waits for the Holy Spirit to guide him.

“I don’t know what my next project will be, but whatever it is the Holy Spirit will tell me what to do,” Cunningham said.