The Shoes of a Missioner
by Father Dan Dorsey
Formation Director/Novice Director
"If the shoes fit, wear them."
Have you ever examined people's shoes? I've had a longstanding theory that shoes reveal a lot about a person—young or old, rich or poor, stylish or practical, a worker who sits at a desk or one who stands all day, a construction worker or a banker. The eyes might be the window to the soul, but an individual's shoes reveal his or her persona.
My theory has its roots in the 1980s, when I lived in the heart of Rome for two years near the Trevi Fountain. Every afternoon a friend and I used to take a break from our studies, walk to the fountain, drink cappuccino, gaze at all the tourists, and attempt to guess each person's country of origin based on shoes.
I would estimate that 80 percent of the time we were correct. Each country seemed to have its own unique style of shoe. As the months passed we became even more adept at this afternoon diversion.
I'd predict that if you met a Glenmary missioner today and looked at his shoes, you would find that they are well worn and a little scuffed, with mud or dirt on the sides and heels. They are the shoes of a missioner—revealing first and foremost that this person is out among the people.
A mission experience for someone who is discerning a call to Glenmary ministry—whether it's a weekend "Come & See" mission trip or a subsequent, longer mission stay—is a lot like trying on the "shoes" of a missioner. Although the answer may not be definitive at first, you will be able to get a sense from the experience about whether the shoes fit. Are they too big or too small? Too tight or too loose? Too flashy or too drab? These are important questions when trying on the shoes of a Glenmary missioner.
Glenmarians' shoes come in many styles, shapes and colors, but there are common themes: being out among the people, being of service, seeing what the needs are and responding to them, and reaching out to the people on the margins.
Some might point out that a person can order shoes through a catalog or even buy them online. But I believe you get a much better sense of the fit if you try them on in person. That way you can walk around and see how they feel!
What are some of the experiences you might expect during an extended mission stay? They might include accompanying a Glenmary missioner to a migrant camp; helping out with a Bible School; visiting shut-ins or dropping by the local nursing home and visiting patients; attending a Wednesday evening service at one of the local churches; helping out at a local food bank; driving someone to the doctor; teaching a religious education class; visiting parishioners in their homes; and more. The list is varied and unique to each mission setting, but be assured at the end of the day that the shoes a Glenmarian wears will be well worn and a bit dirty!
Glenmary's missionary ministry is very unique, and the best way to understand it is to not only read about it but to experience it firsthand. Our mission areas are situated in small towns (approximately 3,000 population) and rural areas of the South and Appalachia—in counties where there are few Catholics, small Catholic communities (50-75 people) and high rates of poverty.
So why not schedule mission experiences as part of your discernment process—it's the best way to see if the shoes fit!
Read more about Father Dan Dorsey and his ministry as Glenmary's formation director and novice director.