Home » Returned Missioners » Still at it after all these years
Mary Gill and Pat Denevan

Mary Gill and Pat Denevan in their adopted hometown of San Andrés Huayapam in Oaxaca, Mexico (in 2016).

After leaving the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Sisters, respectively, Mary and I moved to Portland, Oregon, with our two little babies. I worked in the area of human resources, and Mary worked in mental health. We kept up contacts with friends in Maryknoll from time to time at Maryknoll gatherings or on trips back to the Knoll or the Motherhouse.

Sometime later, Mary decided to start a Maryknoll Affiliates Chapter in Portland. That new connection with Maryknoll was to last for many years. We were in the Portland chapter until I retired from my job in human resources and we decided to join the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

San Andrés Huayapam

The town of San Andrés Huayapam

We were assigned to Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2002. Mary began work with an NGO in women’s issues, and I volunteered with an environmental organization. Then we attended a course in permaculture that changed our lives’ orientation completely.

We organized our Oaxaca Ecology Project to demonstrate the ecological techniques of permaculture to the pueblos in our area. We had big plans for a learning center, complete with dormitories, a kitchen and a dining room. While the center didn’t come to fruition, we did our best we could to show techniques like adobe construction, solar panels, ecological toilets and organic agriculture. Our motto was “Let’s live in harmony with nature: Take care of the land and take care of the people.”

When Maryknoll Lay Missioners closed the Mexico region, Mary and I decided to remain in Oaxaca and continue our work on a much smaller scale with our own resources. We continued for some years longer until we physically could not continue the work at ages 88 and 85. We closed the Ecology Project and deeded the land over to our Mexican associates, so they can continue the work here in their own manner.

In the meantime, Mary still continues helping women with family and health issues and I continue promoting environmental concepts as best I can. We participate in all the activities of our pueblo, San Andrés Huayapam: Mary as the treasurer of our Comité de la Colonia, and I (here I am breaking my anonymity) with the local group of Alcoholicos Anonimos. Also we became Mexican citizens and recently bought our plots in the local cemetery, so we plan to stay here permanently.

As I reflect on my years in Maryknoll, many good memories come to mind. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the Days of the Dead in Oaxaca. Basically All Saints and All Souls days when the spirits of our departed loved ones return to be with us for a brief time. Mary put the photos of our deceased ancestors, family, and friends along with fruits, a special Oaxacan sauce, mezcal, and bread on the altar. I got the notion to recall all the Maryknoll priests and brothers I had known from my first year as a Special Latin student at Maryknoll Junior Seminary in Mt. View, California, through Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the Bedford Novitiate, the Knoll, promotion in Chicago and Seattle, then short times in Cochabamba and Venezuela.

Pat Denevan and Mary Gill

Pat and Mary

It was quite a long list, and I once again felt the common bond I once had with each of them. Sometimes when I think back on my years both in and after Maryknoll I feel like I have not accomplished very much in my time. I had so many grandiose plans that never came to pass.

Richard Rohr’s concept of the two halves of life now gives me a new context. Then I think of a phrase I often hear from people — “poner su granito de arena” (to put in your little grain of sand) — and I feel a little better.

Another meaningful quote for me is from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. 

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

Do not lose heart. We were made for these times. We are the leaders we have been waiting for.

Nowadays we maintain a connection “from the sidelines” (via Zoom or other digital means) with the Affiliate Chapter in Portland, which is involved in many Maryknoll activities. With our connection with the Affiliates, we have come “full circle” (to borrow a phrase from the Maryknoll Sisters).

Mary and I have experienced all four expressions of Maryknoll: Society, Congregation, Lay Missioners, and Affiliates. The one that we are still active with “here and now” is the Affiliates.

This article first appeared in Vol. 43, No. 2 (2023) of Interchange, a newsletter for alumni of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (Maryknoll). For more information, email here

Pat Denevan and Mary Gill
Pat Denevan and Mary Gill (Class of 2001) served with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Oaxaca, Mexico, from 2002 until 2011.