July/August 2016
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Being a Brother

What is a Maryknoll Brother? Ask those who live the vocation. Brother John Blazo will tell you, "It's being a bridge between ordained and lay ministry." Brother Thomas Hickey says, "It's a lifestyle, not a title." Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick answers, "It's one called to serve his brothers and sisters through community, prayer and hospitality." No matter their wording, all agree Brothers strive to follow Jesus, who lived as a brother to all.

Brothers have been an integral part of Maryknoll from the earliest days. In the spring of 1912, four months before the arrival of the first seminarians, Thomas McCann of Brooklyn, N.Y., came to offer his services to the fledgling mission enterprise. He did not feel called to priesthood, he said, but wanted to be a missioner. Co-founder Father James A. Walsh had already roughed out a plan for such men. They would assist in raising mission awareness and help the cause "by prayer and care of temporalities."

Thomas McCann became the first Maryknoll Brother. He was indefatigable in helping co-founder Father Thomas F. Price drum up interest among U.S. Catholics in the new mission society and in doing whatever needed to be done in day-to-day operations. His spirit of generous service set the bar for future Maryknoll Brothers.

In the mission society's first 25 years some 200 men applied to join the Auxiliary Brothers of St. Michael, as they were called. They brought their professional skills and talents to aid the spread of the Gospel. Eventually, like the Maryknoll priests, the Brothers would take an oath of obedience to the Society that included a lifetime commitment to celibacy.

The Brothers' formation focused on prayer and manual labor, initially at Maryknoll's new headquarters in Ossining, N.Y. The first Maryknoll Brother to go overseas was Albert Staubli, a master builder, who was assigned to China in 1921. As more and more Brothers went to overseas missions, says Brother John Beeching, they were able to draw on the training they had received in uniting prayer and work. Beeching quotes an excerpt from Glen Kittler's book The Maryknoll Fathers that offers a glimpse of the life of those early Brothers:

"Once the mission buildings were up, the Brothers put in the lights and heating systems, kept the mission cars and boats running, ran the dispensaries and kitchens and office, grew the vegetables and tended the animals, printed the textbooks and catechisms, then taught from them, and in the process of doing all these things, they trained local people in the skills, thereby providing a means of livelihood to men who had had none. Yet in the end it wasn't so much what they did that mattered but why they did it and how they did it. That's what made them active contemplatives."

The end of World War II brought an influx of ex-servicemen to the Maryknoll Brothers, among them Peter Agnone and Conrad Fleisch. "At the Navy chapel I found a brochure titled ‘You Too Could Become a Maryknoll Brother,' " says Agnone, who accepted the invitation in 1947. "Brother Xavier Lamb (one of the pioneer Brothers) welcomed me with a bottle of holy water and a candy bar!"  Agnone, now retired at Mission St. Teresa's, served in Tanzania, Kenya, Western Samoa and Rome.
His classmate Conrad Fleisch, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, spent his entire missionary career in the United States, in charge of building maintenance. That, Fleisch says, was serving in mission just as much as working overseas. "I was contributing to the organization by doing what I do best," he says, adding that it's not so much the job as its basis in prayer that constitutes the missionary Brother's vocation.

Emphasis on a strong spiritual formation for Maryknoll Brothers remained as the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) effected other changes in their lives. The term "Auxiliary" was dropped from their title and Brothers were recognized as missioners in their own right. The Brothers' formation program was expanded to include a foundation in theology and Scripture, and the Brothers were given more opportunities to earn advanced degrees and training in new ministries.

Brother Thomas Hickey, for instance, who had a background in accounting, went back to school for gerontology and psychology. He now ministers to the retired Maryknoll priests and Brothers in assisted living.

"Sometimes they just need a reassuring touch," he says. "The role of a Brother is touching people's lives and journeying with them."

Loren Beaudry has journeyed with youth and the elderly in Kenya, Namibia and now Tanzania, always ministering as a Brother with one goal: "I try to bring out the good in people," he says. "We are all in need of God's grace and forgiveness."

That kind of acceptance has come back to Brother John Nitsch in Chile, where, he says, "The people have taken me as I am, with my weaknesses and gifts." He has gotten closer to the people, he says, "by not being an authority figure but sitting with them in the pews."

For John Blazo, being a Brother has been an asset in doing mission education in Nicaragua and Guatemala and now in the eastern United States. Recalling local church leaders overseas, he says, "They had tremendous respect for priests and me, as a Brother, but while they knew what priests did, they weren't sure what I did. I helped them see that whatever I could do, they could do. I wasn't ordained but was a layperson just like them. This, I think, helped them carry out their ministries with more confidence."

In Guatemala, it was the people who helped Brother Robert Butsch carry out his ministry with confidence when he supervised construction of buildings there in 1963. "I learned to speak Spanish on the scaffolding from the workmen," says Butsch, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. And from a veteran Maryknoll Brother, Felix Fournier, he learned that being a Brother means responding to the need of the day. In Guatemala and later Nicaragua, Butsch responded to needs ranging from bringing water to remote villages to training catechists. Assigned to Egypt, he discovered another need for his skills: making special shoes for Hansen's disease (leprosy) patients to cushion their wounds. He trained others to continue the work. "But," he says, "I mainly tried to teach the patients that their skin is good and with proper treatment, it can heal."

Today young men like Ryan Thibert continue to join the Maryknoll Brothers. The 29-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, is in his first year of orientation at Maryknoll's formation house in Chicago, where he is deepening his spiritual life and earning a degree in art, which he hopes to use in ministry. "What attracted me to be a Maryknoll Brother," he says, "is the call of the Spirit to give my life to God in service to others and to go wherever the need may be." That seems to say it all.

For a multimedia presentation related to this article, visit www.maryknollmagazine.org


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Three Generations of Love

Richard McGee, a member of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ Gift Planning Department, introduces a Partner in Mission from Florida with deep Maryknoll roots.

As National Bequest Representative for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, I have been in contact with Carol Cella for many years. Finally last January I had the privilege of meeting Carol and her husband Mario face-to-face in their lovely Delray Beach, Fla., home.

Carol, a lifelong Partner in Mission, is the third generation of family members who have loved and supported the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. She told me that her maternal grandmother, Mildred Neves, started the tradition.

Mildred was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1889, the daughter of immigrant parents from Naples, Italy. Mildred felt so blessed being in the United States, “the land of opportunity,” her granddaughter told me. “Since hearing about Maryknoll’s beginnings in 1911, she wanted to share from what little she had with others around the world,” said Carol, recalling her grandmother’s mission spirit. “She started to support Maryknoll on a monthly basis by mailing coins taped to a piece of paper.” As the years passed, Carol explained, the postman would not allow any more coins in the envelopes, so Carol would go with her nana to the bank to pick up one or two crisp, new dollar bills destined for the Maryknoll Society.

Carol says her grandmother was an important part of her life for as long as she can remember. When Carol’s parents married in 1938, her grandmother moved into their two-bedroom flat in Cambridge, Mass. Carol says Mildred was always there for her, teaching her to pray daily for Maryknoll missioners and asking God’s blessings on all the good work they did to share God’s love and help the poorest people throughout the world.

Carol said, “I remember Nana telling me that during World War II it was a difficult time for everyone, but, she said, ‘Even with our Food Ration Book, we still had a little extra to mail to Maryknoll.’ ”

Carol and her sister Sandra shared a wonderful childhood memory of Nana reading them bedtime stories from The Field Afar, forerunner of Maryknoll magazine. “We didn’t hear about Snow White or The Three Little Pigs,” recalled Carol. “We learned about charity and giving to others as these stories of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers working with the poor throughout the world were read to us. The lesson we were taught and which has been carried down with us all of our lives is to love others, to share what we have with other people and to give of ourselves no matter how small.”

That lesson was reinforced by Carol’s mother, Mary Abbadessa, Mildred’s only child with whom she also shared her love of Maryknoll. “Nana lived to be 89 years old and my mother lived to be 87, and they supported the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers until they passed on,” says Carol.

Carol is now 75 and says she too will support the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers for the rest of her life. However, rather than having her support end with her death, she will continue to assist Maryknoll’s ministries through her bequest to the mission society in her will.

“Everyone should think about what they have in life, be thankful and share with the less fortunate,” says Carol. “Just a little can go such a long way.”

Reflecting on her own family history, she marvels, “To think that this love of Maryknoll started from small coins and has lasted through three generations.”

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Little Things Mean a Lot

Before coming to Bangladesh in 1975 to begin a ministry of Christian witness, I never realized how important the concept of mercy is to the people of this predominantly Muslim South Asian nation. During these 40 years of living among Muslims in one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world, I have observed so many signs of mercy, beginning with the very names people bear.

Here, where every native male Muslim is named Muhammad in honor of their religion’s founder, I have discovered that most of them also have a second name taken from one of the 99 beautiful names of Allah—the word of God in Islam. The names describe the attributes of the Most High, including Wadud (the loving one), Karim (the generous one), Gaffar (the forgiver), Rahman (the beneficent one) and Rahim (the merciful one).

The people have a saying, “Your smiling in your brother’s face is charity,” which highlights for me the similarity of Islamic and Christian thoughts on mercy. The acts that the Merciful One inspires in the Muslim faithful are kindness, sympathy, cooperation and help, much like the acts that result from Christian love.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy I have reflected often on the many examples of mercy I have both witnessed and received.

As part of my ministry, I ride my bicycle to poor villages to seek people, particularly children, who are disabled and may be burdened for a lifetime by their physical conditions. With a small camera I take photos of their afflictions: cerebral palsy, burns, muscular dystrophy, cleft lips, hernias, tumors and broken bones caused by accidents. Then, I go to Dhaka, the capital, to show the photos to doctors, who make provisional diagnoses. With this information I help arrange for free treatment for these people at one of the government hospitals in the city.

One of these children was Suriana. Her mother was so grateful for her daughter’s successful operation that she urged her son, a student of Islamic law, to pray to the most Glorious One for me, their Christian helper.

One of my neighbors, Jasna, seeing that I was exhausted after a long morning in the bicycle saddle, urged me not to cook for myself that day, and offered me her own meal.

Kamrula, another neighbor, chided me for fearing that clothes I had left outdoors to dry would be soaked in a rainstorm while I was miles away. She took down the clothes before the rain, and later said: “You serve the poor, so don’t you think we want to serve you?”

In another town, Jahangir loaned me his cell phone to call a doctor for a sick person. Jahangir was very pleased to cooperate in an act of mercy and said: “The Merciful One has mercy on the merciful.”

I have been especially moved by the people’s kindness to one another.

When Shofiqul, a Rotary Club member, learned of a disabled and homebound boy, Iusub, in a faraway village, he sent a wheelchair that enables the boy to sit daily in the local market surrounded by people and action.

Rohima, a widow, lost her 8-year-old daughter, Shamee, from complications after surgery. Learning about Shamee’s death, one of Rohima’s distant cousins traveled 100 miles to comfort her and to accompany her back home with the girl’s corpse.

One day, I visited Nitu, a 7-year-old girl with progeria, a genetic disorder that causes premature aging and early death. Her mother often buys her new dresses and shoes, with money she needs for the seven other family members. “After Nitu is gone, our whole family would regret having refused the clothing she longed for,” the mother said.

Being a Christian living among Muslims, I am energized as I recognize mercy in their appreciation for people who live merciful lives. Their little acts of mercy and kindness make life worth living. As a song made popular in the United States half a century ago says, “Little things mean a lot.”

Father McCahill, from Goshen, Ind., was ordained in 1964.

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Missioner Tales July/August 2016
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