Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

My Pilgrimage in Mission

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

My Pilgrimage in Mission

Article excerpt

I was born in New York City on December 28,1939, as the son of an Irish Catholic immigrant family and became an altar boy server in the sixth grade at Ascension Parish School in Manhattan in 1950. In 1952, while in the eighth grade, I went through a three-step process that became my "vocation story" and led me to become a member of Maryknoll. First, with the total innocence of a twelve-year-old, I rejected the path of the Catholic diocesan priesthood because of a personal quirk I once noticed in the priest coordinator of the altar boys. (It represented no ill will or bad behavior on his part.) Second, soon afterward, presuming to already know all about doing Masses, funerals, weddings, and baptisms, I decided to await "another challenge." (Years later I recovered the memory of these exact words.) And, third, an unlikely classmate introduced me to two priests doing vocation promotion for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in New York City, and I discovered the challenge of my life. I got hooked on becoming a missionary and discovered that I had to enter the seminary, which I did in 1955 in order to become one. This did not seem at all out of place, as I had been contemplating the priesthood as normal within my tradition.

Thus was set up a lifelong dichotomy and tension between my inner fundamental calling to be a missionary, that is, to establish the church overseas, which was my dream, and the ministerial role that I was expected to fulfill as a priest. Because of the overwhelming significance that the Roman Catholic Church gave to the priesthood for any male believer with a "vocation," during my eleven years of formation there seemed to be little or no room for further development of my initial inspiration to become a missionary.

In the summer of 19641 studied linguistics with the Wycliffe Bible Translators, mostly Southern Baptists, at their Summer Institute of Linguistics. The linguistic skills that I learned were invaluable tools for my missionary adaptation, helping me first of all to learn quickly to speak Spanish well.


I was assigned to Mexico in the spring of 1966, and soon a dream came to the surface: as a true missionary, I would be dropped into an area to live with a people who did not know anything about Jesus Christ, so I would begin by just giving testimony to my Christian faith and living with them to assimilate their culture, and then we would together work out some kind of reciprocal sharing. It seemed that this vision was another, but secret, gift from the Wycliffe Bible Translators, for that is what their missionaries did.

I landed in Mexico City in July of 1966 and learned how naive I was to think that there were areas there untouched by the Catholic Church. (We had been hermetically sealed off in those seminary days from the secular world and even from our Maryknoll missionaries overseas.) Soon thereafter while in language school, I spent an occasional weekend "helping out," barely, in the huge housing development of San Juan de Aragon, where a Maryknoll priest was serving. This was a hands-on introduction to the culture and language of my adopted country of mission.

Time for another revelation: it seemed to me that the style of pastoral ministry in Mexico City differed only in language from pastoral ministry at home in the United States, as the work seemed the same. I asked myself, Why aren't these Maryknoll priests doing things that are more explicitly missionary? My missionary dream was raising its head in my consciousness again.

These tensions and naive impressions and subtle influences all were duly buried in my unconscious in the predominant culture of missionary priests committed to the pastoral ministry of baptized Catholics, as I found no support for any of my deep personal inspirations to be expressed or developed--even if I had been able to express them then, which I was not. But now I am. "There has to be more to being a Maryknoll missionary priest than doing this work, as valuable as it is," seemed to be the deeper urging of my heart. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.