Before the main celebration, family and friends joined the 50th Jubilee Class of ‘67 as they reflected on their lives and their 50-year commitment to priesthood. A bit like campfire sharing—warm, intimate, humorous, reflective, and vulnerable—it started on a sobering note: there are presently 300 MaryknolI priests and brothers in the Society; only 24 are under 60. Yet each missioner’s tales reflected tremendous joy, fulfillment, meaning, and peace. They told how they were sustained by their people; they would go to Peru to work for a year and end up staying 10 years. Or they would build schools and cooperatives in Chile for years only to have them destroyed by the dictator Pinochet. All in all, these missioners tried to live not simply for themselves but stayed faithful to what they perceived was their God-given gift and listened to the call of the spirit as they journeyed through their lives.
Yet the ominous cloud of reality hung over me: 24 missioners in the Society under the age of 60. Those figures are stark, but they don’t tell the whole story.
The story is much more dynamic and responsive, more adaptive and open-ended, more mysterious. What was founded as the Maryknoll Society (Fathers and Brothers) in 1911 has evolved into the Maryknoll Movement, with the Congregation of Maryknoll Sisters being founded 1912, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1975, and the Maryknoll Affiliates in 1992. In that we see the subtle and mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit: what was founded as the all-male, clerical Maryknoll Society slowly and organically adapted to the blowing winds of the spirit. Just as the universal Church in Vatican II was realizing the Church should be seen as the People of God (laity, clerics, religious, and hierarchy together), so Maryknoll was recognizing that mission is not just for clerical and religious professionals but is at the heart of the People of God.
Some contemporary theologians say the Church lS mission. Only 24 men under 60 years old is stark, but surely these jubilarians have been faithful workers in the vineyard, following the spirit. This resulted in the Maryknoll Movement. “Unless a seed fall into the ground and die...” And so it remains to be seen how well the various facets of the Maryknoll Movement will continue to be adaptive and attuned to the spirit.
The Maryknoll Affiliate Board encouraged me to coordinate a three-year experiment to reach out to younger people (under 50!) who are returning from cross-cultural experiences. Millions of young people, including college and even high school students, study abroad or work on Habitat for Humanity and other projects; parishioners in twinning parishes, JustFaith and other groups participate in immersion programs. They may stay for a week or two or a year and have varying depths of contact with locals.
Most sending groups provide preparatory training for the upcoming experience; but very few offer an organized opportunity to debrief the experience and help individuals integrate it into their future life journey. Kathy Morrison, Santa Orlando, Bob Short, and I have designed a four- to six-hour workshop, “Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?” that provides a way for participants to begin processing their cross-cultural experiences and integrating them into their life choices.