Missioners, Saints and Bishops

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation directorNovember 2012

"Go forth and set the world on fire."—St. Ignatius of Loyola

As Christians we are all called to be saints—that is, to continue to grow in sanctification and strive to follow our vocations. For some of us, our vocation is to be missioners. Missioners are not saints to begin with, but they strive for saintliness for themselves and the people they serve.

I have been reflecting on the tremendous responsibility of missioners to lead the people they serve in responding to God's call for them. Missioners spread the Gospel message of love and compassion, and by doing so, they invite people to live out the full experience of Christianity. The missioners who met and shared this message with Kateri Tekakwitha and Bishop-elect Joseph Strickland definitely carried out their mission.

Recently the Church named Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American Mohawk from present-day New York, a saint. She certainly was not Christian before the early missioners arrived in what is now the United States. Her sainthood is undoubtedly due to her own heroic virtues and her life of fidelity to God's grace. But can it also be traced to those early missioners who shared their faith—and encouraged her to live out that faith and become the best person she could be?

In a place where there was no Catholic presence prior to their arrival and where Kateri was shunned by her own people after becoming Catholic, I believe that she must have received needed support from the missioners. They did not make her a saint. But her faith and sainthood are a testament to the dedication of the early missioners who traveled to this continent in order to share their faith with a group of people who did not know the Church.

Similarly, Msgr. Joseph E. Strickland, Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, was probably influenced by early Glenmary missioners. During his youth, Joseph Strickland and his family were members of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Atlanta, Texas, a Glenmary mission established in 1963.

Glenmary priests served in Atlanta, Texas, for over 30 years before returning the parish to the care of the diocese. Glenmary missioners did not make Joseph Strickland a bishop, but hopefully their early influence helped guide him in finding his vocation.

Missioners serving in the United States have had a profound impact on the Church and continue to do so today. Glenmary's current missions in this country are alive and active. And Glenmary priests, brothers and coworkers are sharing their faith and evangelizing in places where there was previously no Catholic presence.

Our task is to reach out and evangelize to the unchurched as well as to nurture and support rural Catholics. In doing so, we are encouraging those we meet to become the best people they can be—and supporting Catholics as they attempt to live out their Catholic faith. Is God calling you to join with us and serve as a missioner, reaching out to the future saints and bishops of our Church?

"We pray that the glorious Christ awakens in each baptized person the missionary who lives within, so that the hesitation or mediocrity that often assails us is overcome."—Pope Benedict XVI