Joanne Blaney, the mission services director at Maryknoll, could use a few more lay missioners like, well, herself. She served just shy of two decades during two stints as a lay missioner in Brazil, primarily in the megacity of Sao Paulo.
Her second tenure, lasting 15 years, ended about a year ago. The new director said she “really believes in this mission journey and wants to make it happen for others as well.”
The Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM) seek Catholics who are 21 or older to make a three-and-a-half-year initial commitment. They welcome applications from singles, married couples and families.
There are 52 Maryknoll lay missioners currently serving in Kenya and Tanzania in Africa, Cambodia in Asia, Brazil and Bolivia in South America, and El Salvador in Central America.
Those missioners join more than 700 returned missionaries from MKLM’s 41-year history. Thirty-five came back for a jubilee gathering at Maryknoll in Ossining the first weekend in August. Those present represented classes of 15, 25, 35 and 40 years ago.
Ms. Blaney marked the 25th anniversary of her own mission class. “I definitely stay in touch with people in mission in Brazil, other missioners and people with whom I lived,” she said.
“It’s a great support that helps to continue to live out our faith.”
Back in 1991, she wasn’t looking to run away from her life. At the time, she was a Catholic school principal in Washington, D.C., having served for 23 years as an educator in inner-city schools there and in her native Philadelphia. On the contrary, she said that she “loved” her work.
She said that Maryknoll’s charism of working and living with marginalized people was attractive to her. “For me, it was a continuation of what I was doing, in another country.”
When a Maryknoll priest came to speak at her school, she asked him if there was an opportunity for lay people to be involved in mission work. When he suggested MKLM, she was intrigued.
A quarter of a century later, the 66-year-old single woman speaks with the conviction of someone who personally has lived the experience she promotes to others.
When I suggested that the orientation process for Maryknoll lay missioners must be significant, especially considering that they would be making a substantial commitment to travel overseas and live in a foreign land for a lengthy period, Ms. Blaney affirmed my thought.
The 10-week orientation is designed to prepare new missioners with a foundation in Scripture and in mission theology, so that they will be ready to walk with people of another culture and accompany them on their journeys.
The orientation doesn’t end with the class. Indeed, the learning continues when the missioners arrive, as they encounter others and learn the local customs and language.
“Once you are there, you are nurtured by the people, by the local community and by the other missioners,” Ms. Blaney said.
Not all the lessons are easy, nor is life without challenges, she said. “It’s an absolutely marvelous experience…Difficulties are part of the mission anywhere we are.”
An attempt is made to match missioners with their skills. Teachers may be asked to teach, and those with business skills may help people learn how to run a small business.
Ms. Blaney spent the last decade of her time in Brazil working on “restorative justice” projects in which she helped victims and offenders heal from violence and crime. The courses she led emphasized forgiveness and reconciliation in helping all parties stem the cycle of violence by resolving their conflicts peacefully in accord with Gospel values.
The scope of her work seemed immense to me. She trained 5,000 prison pastoral workers, essentially volunteers from local communities.
“Personally, I learned so much from the Brazilian people about real compassion, real justice, real community,” Ms. Blaney said.
Having lived such a transformative experience, perhaps it’s only natural that she wants to pass on what she learned to the next generation of Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Those who’d like to learn more can email email@example.com.