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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Orbis Books Spotlight: Morning Homilies III

Each morning Pope Francis says Mass and offers a short homily for fellow residents and guests in the chapel of St. Martha’s Guesthouse, where he has chosen to live. Those in attendance vary, including other residents, curial officials, dignitaries, or others who manage daily life in the Vatican, including the gardening and waste collection staff. As with previous volumes in this ongoing series, this volume is based on the accounts published each day in L’Osservatore Romano. Through these accounts it is possible for those not present to experience and enjoy the pope’s lively manner of speaking and his capacity to engage his listeners and their daily lives with the joy of the Gospel.

Here is a sample:
Don’t Be Afraid of Joy

Reflecting on how the disciples reacted with fear to the appearance of the risen Jesus, afraid that they were seeing a ghost:

There’s a word in this Gospel passage which explains very well what had happened at that moment. We read in the Gospel text: “They disbelieved for joy...” That’s the point: the disciples couldn’t believe because they were afraid of joy. ...

Fear of joy is a Christian disease. We too are afraid of joy and we tell ourselves that it’s better to think, yes, God exists, but he’s out there. Jesus is risen; he’s out there! As if to say: let’s keep our distance. That thus we’re afraid of Jesus coming too close, because that gives us joy.

That attitude also explains why there are so many lugubrious Christians, whose lives are like a continual funeral. Christians who prefer gloom to joy: they’d rather go about in the dark than in the light of joy. Just like those creatures who only risk going out at night but do nothing in daylight. Like bats! Jokingly, we can call them “bat-Christians,” who prefer the dark to the light of the Lord’s presence.

We’re afraid of joy, and by his resurrection Jesus gives us joy, the joy of being a Christian, the joy of following him closely, the joy of walking the way of the beatitudes, the joy of being with him. . . . It matters little if Jesus is absent. But rather, we should ask ourselves: Do you talk to Jesus? Do you say to him, “Jesus, I believe you are alive, that you have risen, that you are close to me, that you won’t abandon me”? That conversation with Jesus is the real Christian life, realizing that Jesus is always with us, always with our problems, our difficulties, our good works.

May the Lord open our minds and make us understand that he’s a living reality, that he has a body, that he’s with us and keeps us company, that he has won. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to be afraid of joy.

Robert Ellsberg is publisher of Maryknoll’s Orbis Books.

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Mercy Moments - July/August 2016

My husband Erik and I had recently arrived as Maryknoll lay missioners in the dusty rural hamlet of Ndoleleji in the Shinyanga region of Tanzania. Through our neighborhood small Christian community and working at the local dispensary, I had made friends with blood sisters Susana and Sandra.

Susana was a nurse at the dispensary and Sandra a teacher at the local grammar school. Over time, we had visited their ill mother. When she passed away, they contacted me to participate with the women in the traditional cleaning and preparation of the body for the simple home-centered wake and burial. As we prayed, washed, anointed and wrapped the body, I felt the Gospel come alive. In these sacred gestures, we shared God’s love and mercy together.
--Margo Cambier, MKLM

Last year, I received a call from a parochial school teacher who was planning a career day. Knowing I was a freelance writer, she thought her students would like to meet me. I agreed to come and asked where the school was located. “In South Los Angeles,” she said.

An inner city school in the heart of a troublesome area! But I had already said I would go, so I couldn’t decline now.

A week later, my husband drove me to the school. I didn’t know what to expect. Would the kids be rowdy, rude, bored?

“Why don’t you ask if they have any questions?” my husband suggested. “Then it will be their agenda, not yours.”

We got to the school and to my surprise I was met with a round of applause. After I told the students something about myself, I asked if they had any questions. Hands shot up. “Do you ever get discouraged?” “How do you feel when you’re rejected?” “Do people tell you that you’re wasting your time?” “How do you write in the middle of chaos?” These questions said a lot about their life situations. I told them not to be discouraged—and not to discourage each other.

When the bell rang, the teacher told them to go to the cafeteria so they could have breakfast. This school fed their bodies as well as their minds.

Returning home, I couldn’t stop talking about the experience. These were the brightest, most respectful children we had ever met. Although I couldn’t hold back my tears, I could see more clearly with the insight I had gained.
--Kay Murdy, Whittier, California

I was in need of some medical tests, which were not available in Tanzania, where I serve as a Maryknoll lay missioner. This meant a trip to Kenya. As the plane landed in Nairobi, I prayed, “God, only you know what lies ahead. Provide me with the accompaniment I need.” I got a room at a hostel near the hospital. At mealtime I found myself at a table where the conversation was a mix of French, English, Swahili and Arabic, reflecting the diversity of the guests who passed through.

By the second day I was scheduled for surgery. What a wonderful surprise it was to be visited in the hospital by my new friends from the dinner table the night before. They had come to pray for me.

Mama Beth, wife of a Pentecostal preacher, started, and everyone’s hands stretched out over me. Sister Susana from South Sudan followed, and we bowed our heads and folded our hands. The last was Mohammed from Morocco, who ended with a “dua,” our palms turned up to give our concerns to God and to receive God’s blessing. The prayers were as varied as the languages but all were spoken to the same God, whose presence was tangible in that room.

I had asked God to provide accompaniment, but this was above and beyond all expectations. I shouldn’t have been surprised. God always finds a way.
--Joanne Miya, MKLM

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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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