Go out and dream — that was the message given by Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, to three new lay missioners and a returning lay missioner during the Dec. 2 Covenant and Sending Mass for the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Class of 2023.
During his homily at Cristo Rey parish in El Paso, Bishop Seitz said, “It became clear to me as I read up about Maryknoll and your history, y’all are a bunch of dreamers. And as I thought about it, I realized that’s a really good thing.”
In our dreams, he said, we recognize “a world that Jesus dreamed of.”
Maryknoll’s founders and the missioners who followed “took up the challenge to go out … and show that that dream was not just a dream but the possibility for a new world, a new life,” Bishop Seitz said.
Elvira Ramirez, Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ executive director, noted the significance of the date of the Mass, the anniversary of the 1980 martyrdom of four churchwomen in El Salvador. “On this 43rd anniversary,” Ramirez said, “we honor their memory and their witness. Their lives have inspired many to stand on the side of marginalized and oppressed communities.”
The event also marked the fruition of a dream for Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Last year, the organization moved its mission services department from the Maryknoll campus in Ossining, New York, to El Paso. For the first time in the organization’s 48-year history, the new missioners’ orientation program took place near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Maryknoll lay missioners serve currently on both sides of the border in ministries including immigration law, hospitality for migrants, a border immersion program, pastoral outreach and children’s programs.
This year’s orientation program connected with such local ministries. Each Monday, the candidates volunteered at migrant shelters at the parishes of Holy Family and Sacred Heart.
“Preparing for mission service was a tangible sign of change for the persons in the eight-week orientation program,” Ramirez noted. “And moving the orientation to El Paso marks a sign of change for Maryknoll Lay Missioners as well.”
During the Mass, the new candidates signed “covenants” pledging to serve for three and a half years in mission in Kenya, El Salvador and Cambodia. They were joined by a returning missioner who committed to serving for two years in Kenya.
Sarah Bueter, of South Bend, Indiana, said she sees mission work as “an extension of God’s solidarity with creation.” She continued, “That God chose to become enfleshed in a particular way in the margins is a sign of great hope and tenderness.”
The young missioner has worked in a wide range of settings, including Catholic Worker communities in Denver and South Bend, a Jesuit social action center in Honduras and the Kino Border Initiative. She also spent a summer in Bethlehem, Palestine, in a conflict transformation program.
“Faith isn’t about living perfectly,” Bdueter said. “It’s about living differently, which at times looks a bit upside down.”
Her decision to become a Maryknoll lay missioner was influenced by the examples of people working at the Kino Border Initiative. “I would watch them meet a migrant mother with grace and attentiveness, like they had just met Christ the King himself. And of course, they had!”
Like Bueter, Theresa Glaser is no stranger to international service.
In 2008, she volunteered for a year in West Africa as member of a Catholic Relief Services HIV/AIDS care team. The team supported people in remote villages with food and medical care, attended to vulnerable children orphaned by AIDS and offered educational prevention programs.
During decades as a teacher in Ohio and South Carolina, Glaser chose to work in inner-city high schools. Glaser, who retired from teaching in 2021, holds a doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to teaching, she worked as a research scientist, including for six years in Australia and Switzerland.
“Going into mission,” Glaser said, “means living in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable of the world; working together to improve the circumstances of the lives of others.”
Glaser, who says she looks forward to returning to Africa, will serve in Kenya.
Volunteering with refugee children in the Philippines while she was in her 20s led Julienne (T.T.) Hoang to a career of advocating for refugees, asylum seekers and victims of abuse and human trafficking. The desire to return to hands-on international mission service, however, remained in her heart.
In the meantime, Hoang served as an active parishioner at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Austin, Texas. She sang in the choir, was a lector and eucharistic minister, taught catechism and helped organize fundraising events. She is also an active member of Dong Hanh Christian Life Community, a Vietnamese-American Catholic association grounded in Ignatian spirituality.
Hoang retired from her most recent job as a regional analyst with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to join the orientation program.
In Cambodia, she plans to help victims of human trafficking. “Trafficking is the most heinous crime because it takes away a person’s human dignity and self-worth,” she said.
“Each of us is called to mission when we are born, whether we choose to listen to this call or not,” Hoang said. “God has a mission for each of us.”
Joining the three new missioners, Kathy Flatoff, a nurse from Wisconsin, is returning to Kenya. From 2018 until 2021, she had worked as a Maryknoll lay missioner in a medical dispensary in the Mombasa area.
Since returning to the States, Flatoff said, “I have been enjoying the comforts of home, but the thought of returning to Kenya has never been far from my mind and heart.”
She added, “The heart of a missioner is forever changed by service to the poor, the oppressed and other marginalized populations. After much reflection and prayer, I feel that God and my missioner heart are calling me back to Kenya. … That is where God wants me to be.”
She will work in health care for the Diocese of Kitale, which runs three small rural hospitals.
Maryknoll Father Lance Nadeau, superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, gave the keynote address.
Speaking to the lay missioners during a reception following the Mass, Father Nadeau joked, “Some people have wondered about your adventurousness, your audacity, your risk-taking, your blatant craziness. They should wonder, and so should you! You are choosing to be an outsider who entrusts herself to another culture’s insiders.”
However, he added, in embracing the call to intercultural mission, many blessings will come. The most important thing, he concluded, is “seeing our shared humanity in others … being other-centered and reverentially attentive.”
Deirdre Cornell contributed reporting to this article.
This article will appear in the Spring 2024 issue of Maryknoll magazine.