Follow a Star

“The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of three wise kings who leave their own land to follow a star. They set out to find and honor the newborn King of the Jews. Their wisdom is tested when the star brings them to a poor child lying beside his mother in a stable. Logic would have told these men that their calculations were off, that they followed the wrong star and that their entire journey was folly. But their openness told them to accept this truth turned upside down. Although their image of king and messiah was challenged by what they saw, they trusted their hope and knew that they were exactly in the right place and they paid homage to the child they found.

These wise men tug at my heart because they were not afraid to leave their comfortable homes to follow their dreams. They were receptive to truths that went beyond logic. Their star-gazing took them to a different culture where their perception of the Holy was stretched to unbelievable limits as they bowed down to adore the king and messiah found in the face of a poor child.”

Kathleen McNeely, from Why Not Be a Missioner?
edited by Michael Leach and Susan Perry

Something about this passage really struck me when I read it. I believe most particularly Kathleen’s entire second paragraph describing the wise kings. I realized that so many of those attributes are exactly what Maryknollers have as they embark upon their missions. They are leaving their homes, families, and all the comfort that those things afford. They are going to explore other cultures with open minds and receptive to what their experiences have to teach them. They much like the wise men have an open heart and are ready for what twists and turns the road may provide.

With this in mind, I searched through our collections to find the words of a few Maryknollers as they began their mission journeys.

“Diary of the Tenth Maryknoll Mission Group

Our title: Tenth Group: immediately suggests that there have been nine missions bands preceding us. Which means that our chronicle must cover ground familiar to all Maryknollers.[..]

No doubt you have already remarked the coincidence that all three of us, favored with the surname Joseph, are commencing our travels in the Saint’s own month and are aware that it is a mixed band, two for Korea and one for China.

Never does the Holy Spirit seem more tangibly present at Maryknoll than on Departure Day and to none is He closer than to the departants, at least that was our experience. If the natural man felt keenly the severing of old and dear ties, the supernatural man was aglow with happiness. And when all was over and we turned in the chariot of Liberty for a last glimpse of the ‘serene, solid structure’ atop Sunset Hill the catch in our throats was dissolved by a silent fervent prayer that we might prove worthy sons of Her whose name the Knoll bears, and loyal zealous followers of Her Divine Son, our Lord and Brother.”

Maryknoll Fathers & Brother Mission Diaries, Departure Diary, March 1925

“Bolivian Missioners’ Diary – October 1942 (Written by Fr. John J. Lawler)

The Departure Day was a novel experience as far as our personal selves were concerned. Outwardly it differed little from the ceremonies at which we had been present in previous years – but this time it was our Departure. Our reactions were the same as those undoubtedly experienced by

Departure, 1942 - Fr. John J. Lawler is in the center, carrying a suitcase

Departure, 1942 – Fr. John J. Lawler is in the center, carrying a suitcase

every Maryknoller as he left the Home Knoll for the first time enroute to his assigned mission.

The other Bolivian-bound Padres were still at the festive-board over at the Convent, when I started down Sunset Hill to take the train. The Adam’s apple swelled up a bit as I rode by and the Knoll seemed more impressive than usual as it stood there in the first shades of evening. And as I strained my neck for a last look at the Seminary, there was a noticeable tug at the old heartstrings.”

Maryknoll Fathers & Brother Mission Diaries, Bolivia, Cala Cala, 1942

“One of the first phrases Chad and I learned in Portuguese was ‘no mato sem cachorro’ which translates literally to ‘in the woods without a dog.’ Brazilians use this phrase when they are caught in a tough situation with no easy way out. We, North Americans, would say we’re ‘up a creek without a paddle.’

Many times in the past two months, I’ve felt that cross-cultural mission is like being ‘no mato sem cachorro,’ especially for us newly arrived missioners. Without a real grasp of the language or the culture, we’re in a tough situation with no easy way out. We can’t do much without the help of other Maryknollers, even simple things like riding the bus, using the phone, ordering food at a restaurant, buying stamps at the post office. In all of these situations, we’ve had to depend on another Maryknoller.

More and more it’s becoming apparent to me that the road out of the ‘mato’ will not be an easy one. To be truly independent and comfortable in this new language and culture, I’m going to have to work very hard and expend a lot of energy. I have to commit myself to studying not only Portuguese, but the people, the environment, the life in Brazil. I must be ready to take risks, even if it means getting lost, being embarrassed or making mistakes. I need to be patient with myself, especially in those moments when I’m ready to give up. Most importantly, I must maintain a sense of humor. I predict I’ll make several social/cultural blunders in my time here and I’m in trouble if I can’t laugh at those mistakes.

Reflecting on the difficulty of cross-cultural mission. I’ve frequently asked myself over these two months ‘why am I here? Why have I chosen to subject myself to this lack of independence, frustration, fear, awkwardness?’ Each time I have a different answer and I can’t quite settle on one. Maybe it’s in the stars; maybe I was momentarily insane when I signed a three year contract; maybe I’m called to live out the gospel message in this way; maybe I have a lot to learn about myself and what it means to be human. The mystery of the ‘mato’ is sometimes tough and I often wish I had a ‘cachorro’ to help me out.”

Lay Missioner Newsletters, Angel & Chad Mortel, A Vida E Assim!, March 1998

“1st entry: February 7, 1987

Finally, we are moved into our house. Before 10 a.m., with the help of the

Sister Candidates in Newburgh, 1988

Sister Candidates in Newburgh, 1988

brothers and many sisters, we had packed trucks and van and left the center.[..]

Since we first arrived at Maryknoll in September, 1986 (Agnes, Gloria, Anastasia, Val), we have been hearing about Newburgh and also about the early days at Hawthorne 75 years ago. The parallel has seemed all too clear and as we reflect on both events, can the emotions experienced now be much different from those felt by the first Maryknoll women – that mysterious, marvelous mixture of excitement, anxiety, awe?”

Maryknoll Sisters Mission Diaries, New York, Newburgh – Novitiate, 1987

“Jan. 1, 1912

We met at the Cenacle in New York – Mary Louise Wholean, Mary Augustine Dwyer, and Sara Teresa Sullivan (arranged in order of application) – and

First seven secretaries

First seven secretaries

began a short retreat before taking up our work at Hawthorne. We were strangers to each other and differed in age, training and disposition, but we had been brought together and were henceforth to be united by the common desire of serving the cause for the foreign missions.[..]

Jan. 6

It was on the Feast of the Epiphany that we left New York for Hawthorne. Once on the train, we felt that now indeed our hopes were to be realized, that we should not wake up and find that we had only dreamed of this opportunity to devote ourselves to the work that we had for so many years longed to do. But at the same time the thought of the greatness of the undertaking and our own littleness. One moment we were filled with eagerness, the next, we were almost overcome with awe, and then – ‘Hawthorne, Hawthorne,’ shouted the conductor, and looking out the window we saw Father [Walsh] waiting for us.”

Maryknoll Sisters Mission Diaries, New York, Ossining – Motherhouse, 1912

No one was sure about what they were doing when they left. The future was uncertain and the path ahead unclear, but their spirit was willing to take a chance. As the new year approaches and new adventures appear, may you follow your star with an open heart and mind to the new experiences your journey has in store.