What Makes a Mission a 'Glenmary Mission'?

Posted: 1/16/2014

St. Luke Mission, Bruce, Miss.What exactly makes a Glenmary mission different from parishes designated as missions in dioceses with large Catholic populations—or from any diocesan parish?
Missioners agree that it's the missionary leadership that makes the difference. Glenmary's small U.S. missions are staffed by Glenmary priests, brothers and coworkers who are trained to be missionaries. While they are also trained in the pastoral skills all professional Catholic ministers must have, their focus is always outward.

"Glenmary's pastoral team and mission community not only serve the Catholics living in the mission county, but they find ways to reach out to all the people in the county who are in spiritual and material need," says Father Dan Dorsey, former president, current formation director and veteran missioner.

Location and demographics are key factors in determining where Glenmary missioners serve. In a typical mission county in the rural South or Appalachia, there is no effective Catholic Church presence until Glenmary arrives. And typically, fewer than 3 percent of the population are Catholic, a high percentage have no church affiliation, and the poverty rate is almost twice the national average.

From its base—often in a rented storefront or secondhand building—the Glenmary team begins to gather Catholics and build up a strong mission community.

"Our founder, Father Bishop, always said we are there to serve, that the people in the county should be better off because of our presence, and that the best compliment we can receive is that we are friends of the poor and neglected," says Father Dan. In the process, missioners witness to what the Kingdom of God is about.

Mission members themselves play a critical role in the missionary effort. Father Tom Charters, pastor of an East Tennessee mission, has told his congregation that if they had not answered their baptismal call to be missionary, "there would not be a Catholic mission community in this county."

Father Dennis Holly, a longtime missioner and current senior member, points out that Glenmary's ministries include nurturing Catholics, fostering ecumenism, reaching out to the unchurched, engaging in social outreach, and working with the universal Church. "One of the differences between a Glenmary mission and a diocesan parish is in the emphasis on the ministries," he says. "For instance, ecumenical initiatives are especially important for a Glenmary mission because there are so few Catholics in the county—and because it builds up the Body of Christ."

The goal is to develop a mission parish until it is mature enough—in lay leadership and financial resources—to be returned to its diocese for continued pastoral care. Then it becomes a diocesan parish—and a Glenmary mission no more.

At that point, the missioners move on to start from scratch in a new county with no effective Catholic presence, establishing still another Glenmary mission.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 Home Mission News newsletter.