Maryknolls look back, ahead

By Patrick Butler | Contributor
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Anniversaries aren’t so much a time for looking back as looking ahead, Father Edward Dougherty, superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, said during the missionary order’s Centennial Symposium at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago Oct. 8.

One of the most important changes of the past century has been looking at missionary work in a new way, from something done in a far-away country to ministry here in Chicago, Dougherty said.

Father Bill Donnelly, for example, is a Maryknoller who grew up in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on the North Side. He planned to become a graphic artist, and he did. But he decided on the priesthood while serving in the Army as a chaplain’s assistant.

After decades in South America, where he guesses he “must have baptized 20,000 Guatemalans by now,” Donnelly was assigned to travel throughout the Midwest to promote the missions.

Now Donnelly is spending at least part of his time back at the drawing board, using a comic book format to illustrate the lives of several possible future saints, including Pauline Jericot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith; and two Maryknoll Army chaplains, Father Emil Kapuan, who died ministering to American GIs in a Chinese prison camp; and Father Vincent Capodanno, shot while ministering to a wounded medic.

Links to Latin America

Another local Maryknoll priest, Father Tom Henehan, divides his time between Bolivia and Chicago, where he is developing recruitment and training programs for lay Hispanic ministers “who may or may not go to the overseas missions.”

Henehan said he travels throughout the Midwest teaching how to “listen, learn and announce. If you’re not listening, you won’t learn and your message will be pretty weak,” said Henehan.

He added that the Chicago archdiocese is thinking of sending some Hispanic lay ministers-intraining to Latin America for the kind of preparation Henehan hopes will help them lead the U.S. church, where Hispanics are expected to be the majority in about 40 years.

Officially known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, the Maryknoll order was established in 1911 by the U.S. bishops to recruit, train and support American missionaries overseas.

Missionary outreach like that done by the Maryknolls has become an especially high priority since Second Vatican Council, which Cardinal George called “a missionary council.”

After all, Cardinal George said during the Oct. 8 Maryknoll symposium, the church is something to be shared. “If we get lost in internal struggles, the energy is dissipated, which betrays the Lord himself.”

Today 450 Maryknoll priests, along with Maryknoll brothers, nuns and lay missionaries, serve in 28 countries, trying not just to convert people, but to transform their material lives when possible, said Father Leo Shea, the centennial symposium’s co-presider.

Go where needed

“We try, over a period of time, to make people realize they are somebody. First of all, they’re God’s children,” he said.

Shea admits that kind of outlook has gotten Maryknollers in trouble with governments from Communist China to Latin American dictatorships. “But when you don’t have a decent home or safe water, it’s politics that gets things changed,” he said.

Now headquartered in Ossining, N.Y., some 2,000 Maryknoll priests and several hundred brothers have served in more than 40 countries since 1911.

Quoting the late Bishop James Walsh, one of the first two Maryknolls to arrive in China in 1918 and later imprisoned by the Communists in the 1950s, Dougherty said the Maryknolls’ job is to “go where they’re needed, but not wanted, and stay until they’re wanted, but not needed.”