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Father Muench Says...

Remembering my mission experiences

Oct. 16, 2019

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

This year, the month of October has been declared Extraordinary Mission Month – Baptized and Sent. Today, I would like to join in this celebration by sharing with you some of my experiences in the missions.

I was always impressed with the various priests of our diocese who volunteered to serve at our diocesan mission parish – St. Martin de Porras in Mollendo, Peru. Each one made it clear to me that they received more from their time in the mission than they ever gave. I began to realize that this missionary business was a very special calling.

My deep respect for our own missionary priests encouraged me to spend some time in Peru. So, today, I want to share with you what I learned and stories of some of the missionaries I met.

My adventure began with time at the Maryknoll Language School in Bolivia. While there, I met many priests and religious sisters, as well as lay men and women, preparing to serve as a missionaries in South America. They were from many different countries but were all committed to serving in South America.

I remember a young priest from England studying for a mission assignment in a parish in Bolivia. He tried hard to teach me cricket. I remember a Sister of St. Joseph from Australia who was old enough to retire but volunteered for the Peruvian Missions when she learned one of the younger Sisters of her congregation, a missionary in Peru, was killed by terrorists. I remember a family – a wife and husband and their three young children – who had decided to volunteer for some years – I think five – to be missionaries. They were going to live and work in a parish, becoming part of a community as they lived out their faith with the people of Bolivia.

I must also mention four recent Notre Dame University graduates who volunteered two years to serve and teach in a Catholic High School in Bolivia with the Holy Cross Brothers. They were such a lively crew, often dragging us older folks out for a meal or dancing. They were becoming missionaries.

I then moved on for a couple of years to our parish in Mollendo. In the parish, I recognized all the great things our priests – my brother priests from the Diocese of Ogdensburg – had accomplished over the years we ministered in San Martin. During my time in Mollendo, I realized how our priests had touched the lives of the people of this parish in such a powerful way. The people remembered well each of priests that had served there.

Those priests had brought so many in this parish closer to God and truly formed a close Christian community.
At various times while in Peru, I also met several of what I like to call professional missionaries. I am thinking about the American priests I met who had dedicated 30, 40, even 50 years to the missions, living and ministering in this foreign land, in this different culture.

One more to mention: a Maryknoll Sister, Madre Antonia from Brooklyn, although she had long ago lost her passport. When I met her, she had spent most of her religious life in the Altiplano of Peru. She was a very special person. Of all the missionaries I met, she taught me best the kind of dedication needed to be a missionary. She loved the people of her community – a village called Yankee (easy name for a New Yorker to remember). She had a close relationship with many of our priests beginning with Father Paul Hagan. Her faith was so powerful! She made it clear that she was there to live and die for her people. And she did die there recently. I will never forget her challenging voice, her loving eyes.

I continue to pray often for all my missionary friends.

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