Friday, August 14, 2009

23 Lay Missionaries Commissioned

23 Lay Missionaries Commissioned

After four weeks of orientation at three sites, 18 young women and 5 young men were commissioned as Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs) on Saturday, August 8.

Father Thomas Dunne, our provincial, presided over an early morning Mass at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, New York. The Mass also marked the closing of the annual retreat for about 30 Salesians.

During the Mass the missionaries were presented with just-blessed crosses as a sign of their commitment to personal conversion and to the mission of carrying the love of Jesus Christ joyfully to their various sites.

The Salesian retreat coincided with the final week of the SLMs’ preparation, which had a retreat atmosphere and stressed Salesian spirituality, the Preventive System, and such specifics for their upcoming apostolic work. Mingling with Salesian priests and brothers at meals and recreation times, sharing the sacred liturgy with them, and listening to “good night” talks from Fr. Dunne and other Salesians, also helped the young people with their orientation toward Salesian mission.

Earlier weeks of orientation saw the future missionaries gather at Maryknoll in Ossining, New York, for training in culture, missiology, and the practicalities of going overseas, together with volunteers from Maryknoll and other groups. There was also a week of participation in the summer day camp program of the Salesian parishes in Port Chester, New York, in which the Salesian volunteers saw and practiced working with youngsters as Salesians do.

The 2009 class of SLMs come from 16 states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia), and from 19 dioceses (Allentown, Arlington, Boston, Camden, Dallas, Davenport, Denver, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Harrisburg, Jefferson City, Joliet, Los Angeles, Omaha, Philadelphia, Portland-Maine, Portland-Oregon, Sacramento, Santa Fe, and Tulsa).

Most of the SLMs are college graduates; one is just out of high school. Their colleges or universities include Alaska, Albion, Benedictine, Boston University, Catholic University, Coe, Dallas, Dayton, Holy Cross, Indiana, Los Angeles Valley College, Mt. St. Mary, New Hampshire, Northern Colorado, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. Mary of the Woods, Shasta, Villanova, and Whitworth. They range in age from 18—the young woman just out of Bellflower High School in California; to 48—a woman with her own health care consulting business and experience as a college professor and hospital administrator.

Many of them also have some previous volunteer experience, including in foreign countries. One, Steve Widelski of Huntington, Indiana, will be taking part in his fourth voluntary service with the Salesians. He has previously had assignments in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Sierra Leone, as well as two and a half years in the Dominican Republic with the diocese of Orlando and six months in the state of Parana, Brazil, as part of a team from St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Indiana. Not only does he love Don Bosco and the Salesian charism, but in 2008 he and another SLM veteran on their initiative even produced a promotional video about the program.

The SLMs this year will be missioned to five sites in Bolivia; three in India; one each in Brazil; Cambodia; Ethiopia; Mexico; Rwanda; and South Africa. They may be helping in orphanages, teaching catechism or academic courses or agriculture, doing manual work, providing medical assistance, or offering other forms of spiritual and material apostolic work. Some of the American volunteers are looking forward to collaborating with Salesian volunteers from Austria, Italy, and Poland.
The 2009 “class” of Salesian Lay Missionaries, with Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial (back row, center), Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle (far right in alb and stole), and Adam Rudin, director of the lay missionary program (next to Fr. Mark).

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