In its 126 years of existence, the Diocese of Wichita has witnessed more than one individual who can rightly be called a Renaissance Man or Woman. Yet there is no doubt in the minds of local historians and archivists Joyce Suellentrop and Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC that Monsignor Leon McNeill is on the short list – and might hold the top spot.
McNeill, the first president of what is today Newman University, has been the subject of a series of “Mission Talks” held this year at Newman in honor of the 80th anniversary of the university’s founding by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) in collaboration with the Wichita Diocese. Rohrbach, director of Mission Effectiveness and Archives at Newman, noted that because of his work as superintendent of schools and in other capacities, the Talks have actually been more about McNeill and the Diocese of Wichita than about the university.
The final Mission Talk of this year’s series will take place at noon, April 1, 2014, in the Tarcisia Roths, ASC Alumni Center, in the Dugan Library and Campus Center on the Newman campus. The event is free and open to the public. A complimentary buffet lunch will be served and RSVPs are required. Please RSVP to Sister Charlotte Rohrbach at [email protected] or 316-942-4291, ext. 2167 no later than March 28.
Suellentrop, who will present the April 1 Mission Talk, will remind the audience of McNeill’s resolve “to lead a complete and balanced life,” and promises to relate McNeill to the Catholic intellectual revival that occurred between the world wars of the first half of the 20th century. This was the time of the liturgical movement, social action, and lay involvement within the existing structure including the diocese, its Bishop and religious orders.
In 1935, McNeill served in a dozen positions and organizations for the diocese and the regional and national Church. He was actively involved with the Sodality, Catholic Press, and Catholic Action, and more specifically within these the Catholic Theater Association and the Catholic Library Association, which garnered his attention at Sacred Heart College (now Newman University).
McNeill’s personal involvement with St. Peter Claver Parish and the Mexican mission spoke volumes about his belief and passion for social action. Under the auspices of the Catholic Action, he founded a bookstore, started a radio hour, set up a speaker series, and hosted conferences.
One of the most famous Catholic publishers in the 1920s was Sheed & Ward, operated by husband and wife Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, who were prominent figures in the Catholic Action. McNeill’s relationship with them will be highlighted by Suellentrop. She will also point out Maisie Ward’s connection to the Oxford Movement of the Anglican Church and Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the namesake of today’s Newman University.