Larry Steadman was just ten years old when he met a charismatic Episcopal priest on the banks of the Smoky River near Salina. Steadman and his family were members of Grace Episcopal Church in Hutchinson, and one of the highlights of that membership, at least for a boy of ten, was attending summer camp with the rector, Fr. Charles Wilcox, and other parish youths.
“That is where I met this priest, Fr. Bob,” he said. “I was immediately drawn to him, as most of the kids were. There was genuineness and wholesomeness in him. I also identified with his kids and saw them having fun.
Fr. Bob, as it turns out, was The Reverend Robert Mize, founder of Saint Francis Boys Home, and “his kids” were the young men he served.
Fr. Steadman eventually found a career as a food safety inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working primarily in the beef plants in and about Garden City. A bad back forced an early retirement but gave him the time to pursue his heart’s desire, which was the priesthood. He was ordained in December of 2002.
While serving as vicar of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Garden City, Fr. Steadman knew Fr. Ed Fellhauer, President of Saint Francis Community Services, mostly in passing. In 2007, about a year after Fr. Steadman retired from the church, he ran into Fr. Fellhauer and casually mentioned that he’d be interested in helping out if there was anything for him to do.
A few months later, he received a phone call.
Fr. Ed said, “I’ve got a little challenge for you. There is something I’d like you to consider, which is becoming a chaplain for Saint Francis.”
“And,” said Fr. Steadman “I thought, how wonderful!”
For about five years now, Fr. Steadman has served as Chaplain of the Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility near Salina. He celebrates two Eucharists a day, three days a week, in St. Onesimus Chapel, which is located on site. Pre-adolescent boys and girls attend the first Eucharist of the day; older boys attend the second. The young people participate fully in the service, assisting Fr. Steadman at the altar, reading the lessons, and helping with music.
St. Onesimus Chapel will continue to be integral when the construction of the new psychiatric residential treatment facility, which will be located on adjacent grounds, is completed, and Fr. Steadman is looking forward to having access to the small chapel for prayer and reflection that will be located within the new facility.
“It will provide a nice area for individual reflection, as well as a space for holding religious study,” he explained. “We’ve used the main Chapel for purposes like that in the past, but typically haven’t filled it. A smaller, more intimate space would be perfect.”
As far as Fr. Steadman is concerned, any improvement that enhances the quality of life for the youths of Saint Francis Community Services is worthy and welcome.
“Children at Saint Francis need solid professional care with their therapists, their counselors, the staff, and their priest. They need someone they can trust, and they can trust me. I love them, and they know it,” he said.
As Fr. Steadman sees it, he has now returned to Saint Francis, decades after that first encounter with Fr. Bob on the banks of the Smoky River, as a vital part of the mission begun by the man he still calls “a beautiful human being” and “an amazing person.”
“I feel called by God to do this ministry,” said Fr. Steadman. “And, as long as I can stand and follow the service book and do what I am asked to do, I’ll be here because my heart is here.”
This story first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Hi-Lites. You can view past HiLites here.