Sister Mary Bordelon Reaches Out in Metter

Posted: 7/11/2008

Metter, Ga., missionLast August Sister of Divine Providence Mary Bordelon became the first pastoral coordinator to lead Glenmary's Holy Family mission in Metter, Ga. It's been a time of learning both for Sister Mary and for the members of the mission.

Occasionally parishioners still come to her office door and ask "Where is the priest?" After she offers her help some still ask to speak to a priest so Sister Mary suggests they talk to Glenmary Father John Brown, who serves as the sacramental minister to the mission. Usually Father John sends the parishioners back to Sister Mary because she has the information they want about baptism or First Communion classes or a myriad of other things.

"Part of the confusion [about roles]," Sister Mary says, "is that some people don't really see how my position is different from Sister Paul Marie Westlake [who served the mission as a pastoral associate] or Sister Pat Himmer, who was the multicultural worker."

Pastoral associates work with a priest-pastor or pastoral coordinator who is responsible for two—or more—mission parishes. The pastor (or pastoral coordinator) lives in the "base mission," while the pastoral associate usually lives in-and serves-the second mission community. The pastoral associate collaborates with the pastor or pastoral coordinator in the overall pastoral care of that parish.

A multicultural worker serves a particular cultural or subcultural group in the mission or region and works to build bridges between the cultures.

Glenmary lay pastoral coordinators, like Sister Mary, have responsibilities similar to those of pastors and are solely responsible for the day-to-day pastoral care of the community, while a non-resident priest provides sacramental ministry.

Sister Mary is well-qualified for her role as pastoral coordinator. With a master's degree in religious education from Loyola University in New Orleans, she has worked previously as a pastoral associate and as a pastoral coordinator in Louisiana parishes.

Prior to being hired by Glenmary, Sister Mary was the director of Catholic Charities in Alexandria, La., mainly doing disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina. When she was ready for a change, Sister Mary, who has spent all of her life in Louisiana or Texas, applied for jobs all over the country. "I was praying I would get one in the South," she says. The pastoral coordinator position at Holy Family seemed "like it was meant to be."

Holy Family is a mission out of Glenmary's mission in Swainsboro, 30 miles away. Father John Brown pastors Holy Trinity in Swainsboro and also provides for the sacramental needs of the Holy Family community which is made up of both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking members. Each weekend a Spanish Mass is celebrated on Saturday and an English Mass on Sunday with 30 to 40 attending each Mass.

The language and cultural barriers make it difficult to get all the parishioners together, Sister Mary says. "It's almost like having two completely different parishes." One of her goals is to work on "acculturating people and building bridges between the communities" in the parish.

The Holy Family mission community also provides outreach in the migrant camps that house the workers who work in the nearby onion fields, many who arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The mission provides the workers with personal hygiene items like shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste and enough food to hold them over until they get their first paycheck.

"The Catholic Church is, quite literally, a lifeline in this area," says Glenmary Father Vic Subb, who was pastor of the Glenmary missions in Swainsboro and Metter from 2000 to 2005.

"They don't have rides to church and they have many social needs," says Sister Mary. This year a migrant worker arrived in October with a lump on his neck later diagnosed as cancer. He also had hepatitis and had been exposed to tuberculosis. Sister Mary has driven him regularly to doctor appointments since October and for the past month has driven him to Savannah almost every day, over an hour's drive one way.

Sister Mary says that her biggest challenge is she feels as if she has three parishes-one Spanish, one English and one made up of migrant workers.

As she completes her first year at Holy Family, Sister Mary feels she's been successful in reaching out to people who are sick and has been present to people in general. At Mass she usually announces the prayer requests she has received.

"Before Mass I'm just kind of mobbed with people," she says, as parishioners ask her to pray for a son, a grandson, a wife. "I think it's a really good sign of the unity of the community coming together around those who are sick and in need."

Your support helps Sister Mary and other Glenmary coworkers, priests and brothers who staff over 40 Catholic Church missions and ministries in impoverished U.S. communities.

Financially, Holy Family is "doing all right," she says, because Glenmary and the Savannah diocese subsidize the mission. "Without those two things we would not be able to make it."

When asked what she would do if someone gave her $1,000 unexpectedly, Sister Mary answers: buy new songbooks. "The music situation is really outdated," she explains. Those attending the Spanish Mass use old song books but are led by guitar players who "really do a good job." Those attending the English Mass sing a cappella from the Glory and Praise hymnal and are "good at congregational singing," Sister Mary says, but adds "I think if we had some more books, we could learn some new songs."

"We're small," Sister Mary says of Holy Family mission community, "but we're committed and we're trying to grow."

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.