Updated Dec. 14, 2020
Maryknoll Lay Missioners is proud to announce the recipients of the 2020 Bishop McCarthy Spirit of Mission Award. This award is conferred annually for continued service after missioners have returned to the United States. This year it was presented on Nov. 22, 2020 during a live-streamed virtual event (the recording is available on our YouTube page).
Served as missioners in Mexico, Bolivia and at the border
The 2020 recipients are Linda and Joe Michon, who from 1990 until 2003 served as Maryknoll lay missioners in Oaxaca, Mexico; the altiplano of Bolivia; and at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
In all their placements, Joe, an ophthalmologist, and Linda, a teacher, worked as a team to establish medical and surgical eye clinics and train networks of community eye-health workers. In Oaxaca, they also worked with Child to Child, an international program that empowers older children to care for their younger siblings and educate the community regarding public health issues such as hygiene, clean water, nutrition and alcoholism.
At the border, they additionally served as advocates for migrants and refugees in adult and child detention centers.
Mission continues with eye clinics, fair trade and migrant service
After completing their time as Maryknoll lay missioners in 2003, the couple continued to run two eye clinics in Ciudad Juárez, traveling frequently to train rural eye-health promoters throughout Mexico and Central America. In addition, they taught basic eye care at a program for Central American students set up by Georgetown University and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Throughout this time, they worked closely with Maryknoll lay missioners, sisters and priests and brothers.
Leading a delegation from the Cathedral Parish in El Paso to a fair trade cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, they helped El Paso become the first fair trade diocese in the country. After moving to Claremont, California, in 2010, they helped their parish and four other faith communities become fair trade congregations.
Since 2014, when an influx of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border created a crisis, Linda and Joe have traveled to El Paso frequently to assist at Annunciation House, which provides hospitality to migrants.
Today Joe and Linda live in Nashua, New Hampshire, are members of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Merrimack, and teach English to refugees, who come mostly from the Congo.
They came to know Maryknoll while attending liturgies at the Maryknoll novitiate in Massachusetts. In 1979 Maryknoll Sister Dorothy Erickson, a physician, invited them to visit Guatemala with their four young children. Little did they realize that mission trip would lead to full-time mission 11 years later and would blossom into the life-long service for which they are now being honored.
Both Linda and Joe said they have received many blessings from living and working with the people in Mexico, Central America and Bolivia. “I have been inspired by the people,” said Linda. “They gave us life and showed us that the world could be better if we all work together.”
Joe added, “We want to stay engaged with life.”
‘Doing what really matters’
The two show no signs of slowing down, and even as they are now entering their 80s, they continue to look for more ways to walk in solidarity with marginalized populations.
“We want to do what really matters,” said Linda, “to wake up each morning and say ‘This is an important day.’”
Inaugurated last year, the award is named after the late Bishop John E. McCarthy, the third bishop of the Diocese of Austin, Texas. Known for his social justice and advocacy work, he was fond of quoting St. James, “By our works you will know us.”
Bishop McCarthy was dedicated to promoting the role of laity in the church and Catholic Social Teaching. To help fund the many charitable and social-justice ministries in his diocese, he initiated a Catholic Services Appeal.
An indefatigable promoter of mission and an ardent supporter of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Bishop McCarthy also was a strong advocate for the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees. In particular, he hugely supported Austin’s Casa Marianella, which houses and provides food and social services to refugees and asylum seekers.
The award was presented by Heidi Cerneka, one of two Maryknoll lay missioners (the other is Coralis Salvador) who today are walking in Joe and Linda’s footsteps in border ministries in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
The Nov. 22 virtual event also honored veteran Maryknoll lay missioner physician Susan Nagele, who is retiring after 36 years of service, primarily as a physician and health advocate in Tanzania, southern Sudan and Kenya.
Photos courtesy of Joe and Linda Michon and Maryknoll Lay Missioners