'A Task Yet Undone'

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

October 2014

The prophetic words of Father William Howard Bishop more than seven decades ago are still true today: "There was never a time when missionary activity was more needed in our beloved land than it is today."

Glenmary's ministry of serving the "unattended" and "neglected" mission areas of America has not been completed. "It is the challenge yet unmet, a task yet undone," according to Father Bob Dalton, past president of Glenmary.

Despite 75 years of Glenmary effort, a recent study indicates that there are 176 counties in the United States that still lack a Catholic presence—no Catholic faith community, no Catholic church building, no weekly Catholic worship, no Catholic minister.

In almost 1,000 counties, mainly located in Appalachia and the South, the Catholic population remains less than 3 percent of the total, while the percentage of people living below the poverty line remains consistently higher than the national average.

In Glenmary mission areas, missioners have been told, "You are the first Catholic I've met around here." County officials have even said, "There are no Catholics here; your services are not needed." Occasionally missioners and coworkers have been unable to rent storefronts once the owners realize their properties will be used for Catholic worship.

Isolated Catholics comprising a small minority might hesitate to share their faith with neighbors or tell their employers they are Catholic for fear of losing their jobs. In some areas, pastors of other Christian denominations still preach anti-Catholic sermons in their churches and on the radio.

In 1989, Father Frank Ruff, another past president of Glenmary, stated that to address the future needs in these Catholic mission counties, we "need a vision of the Catholic Church in the South and of the South—one that comes to birth from Southern culture."

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, himself from the South, reiterated this belief by saying at Glenmary's 50th-anniversary celebration in 1989: "Simply trying to implant a Northern vision of the Church in Southern soil will not work. It won't take root here, except among the Northern transplants who have migrated here. A vision of the Church in the South must face the reality of Southern life and culture."

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis stated: "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zones in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel."

Glenmary continues to seek men who are willing to respond to this vocational call and is preparing them to address our current and future home mission need—to reach the "peripheries" of Mission Land, USA.

The vision and passion of Father Bishop to serve Mission Land, USA, have inspired men for 75 years. They have been impelled by the love of Christ to be Catholic missioners to the neglected regions of America. And this challenge still remains our future.

Contact us if you would like to discuss how you can respond to the mission call.

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2014 Glenmary Challenge.