By Fr. Tom Brennan, SDB, and Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB
(New Rochelle, NY – August 17) – Having discerned a missionary vocation, and carefully considering their possible mission ministries, 11 passionate missionary disciples began their final preparation before departing to their new mission fields as Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs). The diverse group includes recent college graduates, nurses, teachers, and administrators. All share a common call to serve the “least of their brothers and sisters” as overseas missionaries for the coming year.
The three weeks of proximate preparation for mission ministry began on July 25 and concluded on August 17. Each week was designed to assist the SLMs to prepare spiritually for the ministry in which they are going to serve. Self-reflection, prayer, and the experience of forming and living in a community were the essential, primary elements of the formation program. Questions, doubts, fears, and hopes were reflected upon individually and in the newly formed intentional community of lay missioners.
During the first week, the lay missioners were guided in creating a statement of purpose for their year of service. Clarifying the intentions of their commitment and expressing them in writing become points of reference for the missioners as they are actively engaged in ministry. The missioners share this statement during the commissioning ceremony at the conclusion of the formation weeks.
Kelly Nelson of Mission to Mission led a workshop on the cross-cultural dimensions of missionary ministry, challenging the new missionaries to be open to the wonders and beauties of the cultures they will encounter in the mission. She also emphasized the need to engage in an ongoing process of self-care as they served. While the missionary experience will have times of great joy and satisfaction, it can also be challenging and frustrating. Self-care helps the missioner maintain perspective.
Service to those in need was the focus of the second week of formation. The lay missioners assisted at activities in the Don Bosco Community Center in Port Chester, N.Y., helping with the food pantry and clothes distribution as well as sharing meals with the guests who attend the soup kitchen there. Additionally, they assisted in the preparation for the arrival of new students at Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School and in other activities of St. John Bosco Parish.
The final week of preparation for mission ministry was a retreat. Joining in the prayer and communal life of the Salesians on retreat at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., the lay missioners took time to reflect more deeply on their own call from God to live out their missionary vocation. They prepared themselves to commit themselves publicly to the missions to which they have been called, and now they count on the support and prayers of the Salesian community as they go out to their service.
The eight new missionaries will serve in Bolivia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The Lay Missioners office is still working on sites for three others.
Adam Rudin, director of the Salesian Lay Missioner Program, oversaw the weeks of formation. He was assisted by two former SLMs, Megan Schneider and Clare Pressimone. Fr. Tom Brennan served as chaplain to the group.
Fr. Steve Ryan, vice provincial, presided over the commissioning service of the SLMs in the retreat house chapel on Thursday afternoon, August 15, with the assistance of Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle. In his homily, Fr. Ryan reminded them that they will be going on mission not merely to do some good apostolic work but mainly to grow in holiness. They will accomplish both—apostolic good and holiness—by living the Salesian charism of joy, care for the young, and community life. He also promised them that all the priests and brothers “will have your back” in prayer, and so will the Virgin Mary.
The commissioning service concluded with thanks from the Salesian province and the SLMs to Fr. Hyde, who will be leaving Salesian Missions after 11 years to take a new pastoral assignment. Fr. Hyde, in turn, thanked the SLM orientation staff and the confreres for their support of the program, and the parents of the lay missioners—some of whom were present—for training their offspring to be so generous.