My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thanks, "Mission America"

I was Managing Editor of EXTENSION Magazine until my first child was born and I began freelancing. Overall, I have written about America's Catholic home missions for 20-some years.

The memories form such a rich jumble! It was funny to be met at a Tennessee airport by one missionary in overalls who joked that I was just "half-growed." (I'm only 5'0" tall and was just 22 or 23 at at time.) Despite the hillbilly greeting, he was actually an eloquent pastor, who happened to be digging holes for his little church's landscaping that day.

I remember:
*  The little 90-something man who two-stepped with me in that Cajun dance hall and the missionary priest who regaled visitors with Cajun love songs
*  Homemade peach pie served by a little elderly lady in a tiny Appalachian trailer
* The teen with a disability strapped into a chair on her Kentucky porch because her family couldn't afford a wheelchair
* Straw-haired little Native American kids suffering from malnutrition on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota (the lack of proper vitamins bleached their hair)...and the sharp, single-minded college-bound teen girl from the same reservation
My daughter sketched out my ideas for mission cartoons about five years ago when she was 11-years-old. My kids liked to hear stories from "Mission America."

* The young miner in that Kentucky church, who was covered in coal dust stains no shower would wash away
* The feisty nun on a remote Arizona Indian Reservation who grabbed my hand during a powerful prayer meeting  
* The mountain musicians who, after a long day's work, took time to strum dulcimers and guitars, and pluck fiddles for me, the city girl
* One suburban mother who drove miles with her teen son to volunteer at a homeless shelter in a Massachusetts mill town. She helped a man emerging from a hermit existence in the woods cut his filthy garments off his body, so he could clean up and get a fresh change of clothes. After a few experiences like that, she downsized her desire to buy a fancy, new refrigerator.
* The young priest from the Deep South who cried describing to me how a priest friend had been murdered the next town over.
Another aspect of mission life my daughter helped me capture.
*  The newly-ordained priest who pulled aside his curtains every night so he could see his little church from bed. He told me he "waved to Jesus in the tabernacle" before going to sleep.

For 100-some years, Catholic Extension Society has raised funds so isolated American Catholics could afford to build churches, give stipends to religious priests, sisters and lay workers, and do vital outreach to the poor. No matter who leads Extension, and what impact that person has on this historic mission society, the fact remains. Those of us in more populated areas must not forget "Mission America."

Our outreach might be as simple as stopping off at some remote mission while on vacation...and introducing ourselves. After discovering one Deep South church's needs for children's books, my children and I picked up that special cause for years, bundling up a little care package and shipping it off annually. One such contact and discovering a particular church's need can go a long way in helping isolated faithful feel loved and uplifted.

Thank you and God bless you, people of Mission America, for how you have impacted my life and faith through the years. 


  1. So when's the book coming? You must have a million great stories.

  2. I've been mulling over ideas for a book about home missionaries. Definitely offer me suggestions! Right now, I'm working on a young adult novel set partially near a remote mission in coal mining territory near the Appalachian Trail.