Mary Sanchez

Rev. Norman Rotert, who died Wednesday, leaves a legacy of work for social justice

The Rev. Norman Rotert died Wednesday at the age of 83.
The Rev. Norman Rotert died Wednesday at the age of 83. The Kansas City Star

In the last hours of his life, the Rev. Norman Rotert heard from one of the people he charged with carrying on his life’s work of aiding the poor and disenfranchised.

A phone was held to the aging priest’s ear. It was Eva Creydt Schulte, who wasn’t able to reach the hospice room before the longtime area priest died Wednesday at the age of 83.

“I told him how much I respected him and learned from him,” she said. “I told him how much he has given to my life and to this community and that we will continue to live in that legacy.”

Schulte is the president and CEO of Communities Creating Opportunity, an organization that Rotert founded in Kansas City nearly 40 years ago. He recruited Schulte in 2004, drawing her from work in the Bay area.

The group has since expanded, working with neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area and beyond to organize around issues of social justice. Most recently, it has been active in Ferguson, Mo., helping that community organize for improved relations with police.

Schulte said Rotert was adept at teaching that power is the result of relationships. Some people are fortunate to have the power, while others lacked it. It was a lesson Rotert honed as a young priest.

Rotert was greatly moved by watching television coverage of voting rights marchers being beaten back from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965. He joined them, marching alongside and spending time to learn about nonviolent resistance.

Back in Kansas City, Rotert’s focus became low-income neighborhoods. He had been assigned to St. Therese Catholic Church at 5814 Euclid in the 1970s and quickly became concerned about redlining.

Later, Rotert would lead committees under Mayor Kay Barnes to establish better processes for managing federal housing money, among other measures to ensure housing was affordable in urban areas.

Rotert was reflective in retelling many of the struggles of his life as a priest. He served as vicar general under Bishops John J. Sullivan and Raymond Boland. In an interview with The Catholic Key after his retirement, he discussed offering Boland his resignation and going on sabbatical after receiving a credible accusation of abuse involving another priest. This was after Rotert had helped shape new rules that were supposed to prevent the abuse.

Father Gerald Waris remembered his friend as “a priest who never ran away but embraced the challenges of living the mission in all aspects.”

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