When you are doing something good,” says Maryknoll Sister Ellen McDonald, “the whole universe conspires to make it happen!” She is describing the miraculous birth and growth of the Maryknoll Affiliates, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary.
“Something good” started with the late Maryknoll Father James Madden in 1991. Early on, he asked Sister McDonald to help him begin a new expression of Maryknoll that would involve as many people as possible in mission work.
The two Maryknollers began connecting with people across the United States, sounding out why one would want to be “affiliated” with Maryknoll. The responses fell into four categories: Community, Spirituality, Global Vision and Action.
With those four “pillars” as the foundation and Father Madden’s and Sister McDonald’s guidance, small chapters of mission-minded people began springing up—the first Maryknoll Affiliates.
Today there are over 600 Maryknoll Affiliates, organized in more than 50 chapters in eight countries on four continents. Following the four pillars, they join together promoting peace and social justice and serving those in need in their communities and around the world.
Chicago Affiliate Renate Schneider, for instance, has been working in Haiti for 17 years. “I always tell everybody that without Maryknoll and the Affiliates, I would not be in Haiti,” says Schneider.
Her Affiliate chapter, she says, first gave her the opportunity to experience Maryknoll’s charism of serving the world’s most vulnerable people and awakened in her the possibility of doing that herself.
“My Chicago Central Chapter always has my back,” she says. “That is what sustains me.” After Hurricane Matthew devastated the Haitian town of Jérémie last year, her fellow Affiliates jumped in to help raise funds to aid recovery efforts through Haitian Connection, the nonprofit organization Schneider founded, which now has ministries in areas such as mental health and tutoring youth.
Affiliates from the San Francisco de Asís Chapter in Lima, Peru, also moved into action when many of their brothers and sisters were left homeless by flooding and landslides in much of their country earlier this year.
The Peruvian Maryknoll Affiliates’ pleas for prayers and assistance received a generous response from Affiliates in the United States and other countries. With this help, the Peruvian Affiliates organized a group to bring essentials such as rice, sugar and milk to more than 400 stricken families.
“The donations, spirit of solidarity and accompaniment at a time when our country was so in need made a great difference,” says Affiliate Carlos Apcho.
Stateside, Maryknoll Affiliates can be found doing mission education. The Northeast Florida Chapter recently participated in a retreat led by Matt Rousso, a mission educator for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers from New Orleans, who focused on Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical.
“The encyclical shows us care for the environment is not an ancillary but an essential part of Christian life,” says Affiliate John Moritz. He and his fellow Florida Affiliates joined Maryknoll Father Edward Shellito in sharing what they learned at the St. Augustine Diocesan Eucharistic Congress last spring.
The members of the Affiliate Chapter in Albany, N.Y., have a special relationship with Guatemalans in Lemoa, through their friendship with Maryknoll Sisters Helen Werner and Connie Pospisil, who serve there.
“We rang their doorbell, Sister Helen welcomed us, and we introduced ourselves as Affiliates,” says Santa Orlando, recalling the first meeting with the sisters in Guatemala in 2009. “The relationship was under way. Emails and photos followed, then Skype conversations. Maryknoll is all about relationships.”
Since then, Albany Affiliates have visited the people in Lemoa and assisted with the many projects the Maryknoll sisters foster. “Our relationship has become a cyclical outpouring of love with reciprocal giving and receiving,” says Orlando. “It allows us to stay connected to the greater Maryknoll family and those they walk with.”
In Oregon, Affiliate Bertha Haas continues empowering the children with disabilities in Mwanza, Tanzania, for whom she helped found Huruma School when she served there as a Maryknoll lay missioner. When she returned to Oregon, she joined the Portland Affiliates.
Now, a board of Tanzanians handles day-to-day concerns, but Haas continues to shepherd the school with her annual visits to Huruma and the prayers and support of the Portland Affiliates.
This November the Maryknoll Affiliates will gather for an international conference, hosted by the Guatemalan Affiliate chapter. While celebrating their 25th anniversary, Affiliates will focus on the theme Buen Vivir.
“The concept of Buen Vivir, Harmonious Living, has many similarities with the missionary charism of Maryknoll,” says Affiliate Lizbeth del Rosario Gramajo Bauer of the organizing committee. “We are invited to move out of ourselves and be open to the diversity around us.”
“Something good” keeps getting better.
Featured Image: Bertha Haas visits disabled children at Huruma School she helped found for them. (M. Ryan-Hotchkiss/Tanzania)