Glenmary Serves U.S. Missions; Columbus Native Has Key Role
By Dale Hanson
Assistant Communications Director
Glenmary Home Missioners
This article first appeared in the November 11, 2012, issue of Catholic Times, official newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus (Ohio). It is being reprinted with permission.
When Americans think of missions and missionaries, they usually think of distant lands, not regions of their own country. But for the last 73 years, the Glenmary Home Missioners, based in Cincinnati, have been committed to establishing a Catholic presence in counties of Appalachia and the South where there was none.
Three of Glenmary’s early missions were established in the Appalachian region of the Diocese of Columbus, and two current missioners are sons of the diocese—Father David Glockner, who is retired, and Brother David Henley. Brother David is Glenmary’s vocation director, playing a central role in efforts that enhance Glenmary’s ability to carry out its future ministry.
“Our mission is to minister where fewer than 3 percent of the population are Catholic, a significant number don’t have any church affiliation, and the poverty rate is almost twice the national average,” said Brother David, a Columbus native.
This ministry is what led Glenmary to areas of the Columbus diocese in the early 1940s—to start missions in West Portsmouth and Pond Creek and to take on leadership of the existing Otway mission. After guiding these missions to maturation, Glenmary returned them to the pastoral care of the diocese in 1956. These communities are still active diocesan parishes. (Glenmary has established and returned 112 missions since 1939.)
Brother David, 41, attended Columbus St. Timothy Church and School and graduated from Columbus Bishop Watterson High School in 1989. In grade school, a deacon suggested he might have a religious vocation.
“Then, as a high school senior, I went on a mission service trip to the Glenmary Farm in eastern Kentucky (home of Glenmary’s group volunteer program). That’s what first opened my eyes to the tremendous mission need in our country and to Glenmary’s work,” he said.
He returned to the Farm as a manager in the 1990s, then spent several years working in homeless shelters in Chicago and Santa Fe, N.M. The call to missionary brotherhood brought him back to Glenmary in 2001. “It has been such a good fit for me,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is who I am.”
After professing his final oath in 2006, Brother David spent three years doing outreach ministry in Yell County, Ark. In 2010, he became Glenmary’s vocation director. Although he misses his daily mission work, he also knows how important his current ministry is.
“Two new Glenmary priests have been ordained (in May 2012) and two new brothers have made their final oaths since 2006,” he said. “Also, 11 men are in our formation program.” What’s just as promising is the increase in the number of men contacting Glenmary and discerning a call to be home missioners.
Several factors have contributed to this success, including the efforts of the Glenmary vocation team. Spreading Glenmary’s message takes time, money, legwork, advertising, and prayer, Brother David said. “We also maintain a successful electronic presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and my blog, and many young people have found Glenmary through these outlets,” he said.
Another key aspect of the vocation process is discernment. “I handle most of our vocation department’s discernment conversations with interested men,” said Brother David. “But other Glenmarians and coworkers play a critical role. In addition to making some vocation contacts themselves, our missioners assist in counseling discerners. And they open the doors of their missions and homes to help these individuals better understand our work.”
Come & See discernment retreats for young adults, and a recent one for high school students, also are a proven way to connect with vocation prospects, allowing them to experience Glenmary mission life and learn from each other.
Brother David said he’s optimistic about the future. “More men are learning there’s a real U.S. mission need and are responding to the call. We’re a joyous group of missioners, too, which is part of our appeal,” he said.
“Judging from our inquirers, an increasing number will probably join us. They’re from the United States, Kenya, Mexico and other places. We just need to keep sharing our Glenmary story and trusting in the Spirit.”
Fathers Aaron Wessman and Crispine Adongo—the newly ordained priests who just began their first assignments as associate pastors—are two of the best witnesses for Glenmary, Brother David said. Father Wessman serves the new Maynardville and Rutledge, Tenn., missions. Father Adongo serves the Lafayette, Tenn., and Scottsville, Ky., missions and the new Celina, Tenn., mission
Brother David loves working in the U.S. missions, but he looks at things differently as vocation director: “By working today with future Glenmarians,” he said, “I’m serving the home mission areas of tomorrow.”
For more information about Glenmary’s home mission ministry, visit the Glenmary Web site.