The Whole Church is Missionary - Ad gentes 35
Maryknoll Lay Missioners is a Catholic organization inspired by the mission of Jesus to live and work with poor communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas, responding to basic needs and helping to create a more just and compassionate world.
By the early 20th Century, the Catholic population of the United States had settled and stabilized to the point where the country could be removed from mission territory status. When two young American priests from distinctly different backgrounds met in Montreal in1910 they discovered they had one thing in common. Father James Anthony Walsh, a priest from the heart of Boston and Father Thomas Frederick Price, the first native North Carolinian to be ordained into the priesthood recognized that through their differences, they were touched by the triumph of the human spirit and enriched by the faith experience of others. This was their foundation of their mutual desire to build a seminary for the training of young American men for the priesthood who would be sent to carry the Gospel to foreign lands. They have been carrying the Good News to foreign lands for over 100 years.
Soon the two priests were joined by a group of young women interested in mission and led by Mary Josephine “Molly” Rogers. The following year they founded the Maryknoll Sisters (Congregation) and Molly became Mother Mary Joseph.
During the first sixty years of Maryknoll there were instances of laity serving with Maryknoll around the world. In 1930, Maryknoll’s first lay missioner, Dr. Harry Blaber, a native of Brooklyn, New York, went to China and served for 7 years. Little did he or anyone else at that time know that he would lay the groundwork for what would become the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful. In 1972 the Society authorized an experimental lay missioner program which resulted in sending lay missioners to work alongside Maryknoll Sisters and Fathers in Hong Kong and Peru. The mission was a success!
The lay missioners began to function independently in 1975 – as a collaborative effort of the Society and Congregation – and the lay missioners began to serve in Korea, Bolivia, Tanzania, Kenya and Japan. It was also in 1975 that the first joint sending ceremony took place. By 1978 there were 90 lay missioners and the Philippines became part of our mission territory. Not long after that, Maryknoll Lay Missioners arrived in Thailand and Ecuador. In 1985 we arrived in Honduras and by 1992 there were lay missioners serving in 17 countries.
As the lay missioners grew and became a more integral part of Maryknoll, some asked to renew their contracts while others chose to remain working with Maryknoll in the United States. Because of the growth and vitality of the lay missioners, the 1990 Chapter of the Society petitioned the Vatican to include lay missioners in the Society Constitutions. The Vatican declined. However, they applauded the Society for its work and for its commitment to laity in mission but asked that separate structures be set up for the lay missioners. Accordingly, in 1992 a committee of lay missioners and Society and Congregation leadership was formed to carry out a planning process. After a period of investigation and reflection, a separate structure both civil and canonical was founded on August 15, 1994 – the feast of The Assumption of Our Lady -- with the approval of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. At the founding assembly statutes were ratified by delegates, leadership was elected and the name, Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful was chosen. The organization would be popularly known as Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Although Maryknoll Lay Missioners is primarily comprised of lay people, it was “constituted open” and can have (and does have) as full members, clergy and religious who have the permission of their superior or bishop.
Total financial independence from the Maryknoll Society was gradually achieved over the next decade. Today we are totally independent in our fundraising efforts and our future is our responsibility. The 2008 international economic crisis required a full review and evaluation of our organization. After determining how many regions (countries where we work) we could sustain, we went through a process of consolidation. We currently work in six countries: El Salvador, Bolivia and Brazil in Latin America, Cambodia in Asia and Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa as well as the United States.Since Dr. Blaber went to China in 1930, we have sent over 700 Maryknoll Lay Missioners to work in 36 countries alongside our Maryknoll partners, local diocesan personnel and other religious and ordained missioners serving the poor. We are grateful to the communities who have sent and support us and to the people who receive us.