Our History - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » Our History

Our History

Early Lay Missioners

Harry Blaber (right) and Artemio Bagalawis, at the
Gate of Heaven Leprosarium for people with
Hansen’s disease in Xinhui, China, 1934


Maryknoll’s first lay missioner, Dr. Harry Blaber of Brooklyn, New York, begins his service in China where he eventually opens a hospital.


Dr. Artemio Bagalawis joins Dr. Blaber in China; he later serves in Korea. He remains a lay missioner for 31 years.

In the ensuing decades, laity in mission remain the exception; missionary sisters,
brothers, and priests are the norm. Individual lay persons serve overseas with
Maryknoll, but not as part of any organized program. Some are serving with
Maryknoll through other lay mission organizations, e.g.:


Through the Lay Mission Helpers, Jerry Toohey works at a Maryknoll radio station and his
wife, Mary Ann, teaches with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Beginning in the 1950s

Lay missioners work with Maryknoll priests, teaching English through the
Good Shepherd Movement in Japan.

Maryknoll Acts on the Vision of Vatican ll

In the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Maryknoll took seriously the
Council’s teaching that “the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization
is a basic duty of the People of God” (Ad Gentes §35).


Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers
undertake studies for the
establishment of a Lay
Missioner Program.


Maryknoll Sisters vote to
facilitate the presence of lay
persons in mission.


Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers
authorize an experimental
program for lay missioners.

The Lay Mission Program Is Launched


Four lay people undergo preparation for overseas mission at Maryknoll Sisters’ Mission Institute. They sign formal agreements and are assigned to Hong Kong, Venezuela and Peru.



June 1: Official founding of Maryknoll Lay Missioners as a collaborative effort of Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers and Maryknoll Sisters. The first formal orientation program for lay missioners takes place. The first lay mission family heads overseas. 



Nov. 20: Maryknoll lay missioner John Gauker dies with Maryknoll Father Bill Woods in a plane crash orchestrated by the Guatemalan Army. 


The Bethany Building


The Bethany Building is designated for the Lay Missioner Program. The first Orientation Program at Bethany is offered that fall. The lay missioners become a program of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.


Jean Donovan


The first formal return/renewal program for lay missioners is held.

Dec. 2: Cleveland lay missioner Jean Donovan, who had prepared for mission together with MKLM’s Class of 1979, is martyred in El Salvador with Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel.



The largest-ever class in the history of the Maryknoll lay missioner program was sent in December 1985 and included 31 missioners (and 11 children).

In the 1980s, Maryknoll begins conversations with the Vatican regarding the canonical
status of the Lay Missioner Program. Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers start to include a
lay missioner option in some of their vocations outreach.

Maryknoll Mission Association

of the Faithful


A core committee consisting of Maryknoll lay missioners, priests, and sisters is formed to investigate founding a new mission association. The Lay Mission Director and Superior General of Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers visit various offices in Rome to explore the process for the founding of an Association of Christ’s Faithful under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. 



The Lay Missioner Program sponsors its first mission immersion trip (to Oaxaca, Mexico).

St. Peter’s, Rome

Founding Assembly, 1994


The Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful (MMAF) officially comes into being on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, following the Founding Assembly held August 1-14 with lay missioner delegates from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States. MMAF is now no longer a program of other Maryknoll entities, but an independent organization. 



MMAF is incorporated under New York State law as a non-profit, tax exempt organization. The first handbook is developed for Lay Missioners. 



MMAF initiates its first fundraising efforts. The inaugural meeting of an Advisory Board, consisting of nine members, takes place.


  • MMAF’s first General Assembly (of lay missioner delegates) is held in May.
  • In collaboration with Maryknoll Sisters and Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, a website (Maryknoll.org) is established.
  • Leadership teams from these three Maryknoll entities begin to meet regularly.



MMAF adopts its first strategic plan.



First celebrations of 25-year lay missioner jubilees take place. Three missioners: Liz Mach, Bernie Butkiewicz and Ronald Bosse are honored for each having spent a quarter of a century in mission.


Maryknoll Lay Missioners


The popular name “Maryknoll Lay Missioners” and a new logo are adopted.  



The acronym for Maryknoll Lay Missioners, “MKLM,” comes into use.


  • An Extraordinary General Assembly approves a new mission statement, a new vision statement, and the formation of a Governing Board (replacing the Advisory Board).
  • Voices of Compassion, MKLM’s newsletter/magazine is launched. It is published from 2006 until 2021.


First Board of Directors is installed.

MKLM’s mission priorities are named: health, education, sustainable development, justice & peace and pastoral care.


MKLM celebrates its 35th anniversary with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan presiding at a festive Mass.

New Home, New Horizons


MKLM offices are moved from the Bethany Building to the Walsh Building.



MKLM prioritizes a new strategic 7-year plan focused on growth.


MKLM celebrates its 40th anniversary with special events held at Maryknoll, NY on August 8. Dr. Susan Nagele keynotes with a presentation called Leading by Example: Shaping the Future of Mission.



After 33 years of service in many different capacities with MKLM, long-time executive director Sam Stanton retires.

Susan Nagele

Juan Gomez


  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of Maryknoll lay missioners remain in mission overseas, helping their communities respond to the unique challenges posed by the pandemic in each of the nine countries where we serve.
  • Because of the pandemic, MKLM, for the first year in its history, does not send any new missioners in 2020.
  • Liz Mach, the so far longest-serving Maryknoll lay missioner, retires after 44 years with MKLM.


MKLM’s ‘Expanded Mission Assembly’ updates the organization’s mission, vision and core values statements and agrees on nonviolence as a cross-cutting focus for Maryknoll Lay Missioners work. The assembly also expands membership eligibility and adjusts several internal structures and decision-making procedures.



As of today, since 1974, Maryknoll Lay Missioners has sent 964 women, men and children into mission in 35 countries. 

Margarita Durán