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Maryknoll Lay Missioners Class of 1981 during their 40-year reunion on Zoom

“Joining Maryknoll changed the whole trajectory of my life.” “Maryknoll set me on the path.” “My time with Maryknoll set the tone for everything I’ve done since then.” “Maryknoll made a real mark on my life.” “I will be forever grateful for my Maryknoll experience.”

These were just a few of the comments from members of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners class of 1981, as we celebrated our 40th anniversary of having joined Maryknoll. Our celebration spanned three separate online Zoom meetings over the past two months.

Sending Ceremony of the Class of 1981

Prior to these meetings, we had been together on three other occasions: during our four-month initial formation at Bethany in 1981; at a one-month debriefing at Maryknoll after finishing our first mission contract; and at a brief 25th anniversary weekend in 2006. Still, we were able to connect together as old friends do: taking up where we had left off, just as though we had seen each other only a short while ago.

Each of us took a 10-minute turn in telling our stories, so that everyone in the group could be brought up-to-date with what had been going on in our lives. Part of that storytelling time was devoted to relating the impact that Maryknoll had had on our lives. As you can tell from the quotations in the opening paragraph, the effect on us was life-changing.

Ahead of our Zoom meetings, we were also able to share pictures online via Jamboard. The photos and captions reflected not only our time together during formation, but also our lives in mission, plus continuing on with what we had done after our return to the United States. The photos helped us to better visualize what each of us had done — and were continuing to do.

After every few stories, we opened the floor for general discussion and reminiscences. The discussions included remembering the four deceased members of our class, whose lives of service were an inspiration to us all. During one of these remembrances, we learned that one of our group has kept alive a plant that was given to her by Alison Farley, a classmate of ours who passed away in the 1980s.

One of the things that we realized during the course of our discussions was that, though we had answered the call to serve the poor overseas 40 years ago, most if not all of us had continued to answer that same call here in the States upon our return. Many of us were able to use our acquired language skills to serve non-English speaking people here at home. Read: Our life in mission lived on in the U.S.

In addition, those of us who have children noted that they too were often living out the call to serve the poor — at times overseas, at times here in the U.S. As one member of our group stated: “Jesus was the beginning of the Christ event, and we and our children are a part of what continues on.”

It took all of 30 seconds for us to decide as a group to have a follow-up virtual reunion in another year. We hope to take this experience of our 40th as an opportunity to reconnect with each other even more.

We closed our last meeting watching a 90-second film clip of our 1981 departure ceremony, which was included in the movie Roses in December (clip starts at 52:14). Of course we all looked much younger then, and were certainly unaware at that time of the incredible changes that our experience with Maryknoll would bring to our lives. Looking on from that perspective, with joy and gratitude we recited as a closing prayer a verse from one of the songs from that ceremony. It summed up the nature of our call to Maryknoll, and also of our response.

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord — if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Don Woznica Don Woznica
Don Woznica and his wife, Celine, served as Maryknoll lay missioners in Nicaragua and Mexico from 1981 until 1992. Until his recent retirement, Don was a practicing physician at Alivio Medical Center in Chicago, which primarily serves Mexican American immigrants.