Monday, July 31st of this year marked the 23rd anniversary of the first day of our Founding Assembly as an independent mission group, strategically set on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the most influential and mission-oriented figures in the history of the church. Certainly, his legacy lives on in the spirit of the Jesuit Community, and in their many gifts to mission through the likes of Francis Xavier. The Jesuits have, in turn, brought Ignatian ideas to the world by means of the spiritual exercises, Ignatian Spirituality, and the Jesuit influence on and through education. Finally, Ignatius’ influence extends through time, inspiring people like Francis I, who has opened the windows of the church once again, letting the Spirit blow her breath of renewal across the globe. We have much to thank Ignatius for!
Echoing the events of 23 years ago, we will hold a Mission Assembly on the final day of the upcoming Global Council, which will meet from September 26 to October 11. During the assembly, we will begin a process of reflecting on our statutes, which articulate our charism, our relationship with the church, and our understanding of what it means to engage in mission that is deeply rooted in a communal context, as well as scripture and Catholic Social Teaching.
Our original statutes were developed during a two-year process as we worked to form an Association of Christ’s Faithful. Responding to a new requirement coming from the Vatican Office of the Propagation of the Faith, lay missioners joined Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters in seeking a new way to incorporate laity in mission. Our initial investigations brought us to the conclusion that an Association, under the auspices of what was then the Pontifical Council for the Laity, was the best route to take. And so the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful was born.
The process that led to the establishment of the Association culminated in a Founding Assembly with three purposes: 1) To choose a name 2) To elect leadership and 3) To approve statutes. The assembly, representative of all 17 regions that existed at that time, as well as observers from the Congregation, Society, and other mission groups, was initiated with a Eucharistic “Day” on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1994. The liturgy of the word was held in the Bethany Chapel with creative dance, rituals, symbols, and artifacts from the cultures where lay missioners then lived and worked. The liturgy was followed by a procession to the Society Center where the homily was offered by Bill McCarthy, MM and Camila Kennedy, MM on the history of Maryknoll. We then progressed to the Sister’s Center for the liturgy of Eucharist. The presider was Mike Dugan, MM who was at that time a member of the orientation team. Finally, on the Vigil of the Assumption, the assembly joined in a celebratory liturgy at the Maryknoll Society Center and a luncheon and party on the grounds of Bethany.
One of the tasks of the assembly was to install the eight-person Association Leadership Team, which was composed of a US-based, three-person Central Coordinating Team (CCT), plus five Area Coordinators (two from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and the US). This body, the precursor of the Global Council, met twice a year. Each area (Africa, Asia, Latin America and the US) had its own Area Council as well, made up of the Regional Coordinators. At the time of the founding, we were 158 Lay Missioners and 9 Associate Priests. As an Association of Christ’s Faithful, we decided to be constituted open to all vocational charisms.
Once the leadership was installed, and the tasks of the assembly were complete, the participants joined in a final day of celebration, marked with a more intimate and simple liturgy in the Bethany Chapel. That day fell on August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption, which is our official foundation day as an Association. A Maryknoll lay missioner once observed, “We started the assembly with the intelligence and apostolic zeal of Ignatius and brought it to a close under the protection, loving care and guidance of Mary.”
I will not be at the Knoll on the feast of the Assumption this year and regret not being present to share Eucharist with our staff and others who will gather to reflect, pray and celebrate this feast and our history. Be assured however that I will be with you in thought and prayer. I join all who are a part of our extended Maryknoll Lay Mission community, the greater Maryknoll Family, and the many other partners who have accompanied us on this sacred journey and give us “animo” and energy for the new paths we must forge. Wherever you are, I hope you will also be able to join us in thought and prayer on this special day.
When I stop and think about how much each of us, our mission organization, US society, the world, and our church has changed in these 23 years, it is mind boggling and even overwhelming at times. Yet some things remain the same. The flame that glowed in the hearts of James Anthony, Molly and Fredrick over a century ago has remained constant, passing down through the years to each generation. It inspired Jack Sullivan, Mary Anne O’Donnell and Chuck Lathrop in the mid 70’s at the dawn of the lay missioner program. And it guides all of us now as we face the challenges and opportunities of the future together. At the center of our collective inspiration is the simple message of love, justice and equality that the gospel of Jesus offers to the world.
As we move forward to the anniversary of our Founding and the upcoming Global Council, let us hold each other in thought and prayer and give thanks for all the blessings we have received. I close these thoughts with the invigorating words of Mother Mary Joseph:
“There is nothing more astonishing than life, just as it is, nothing more miraculous than growth and change and development, just as revealed to us.” “This vocation of ours is a precious, priceless gift, freely given us by God to help make God’s Kingdom come . . . .”
Happy Foundation Day,
Sam Stanton, Executive Director
Maryknoll Lay Missioners