Maryknoll Lay Mission program celebrates 35 years

Few elements of institutional Catholicism so powerfully suggest the future of things as does the Maryknoll Lay Missioners program, which celebrates the 35th anniversary of its founding Saturday, including a mass celebrated by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, followed by a celebratory dinner at the order’s campus in Maryknoll, N.Y.

Guest speaker Sr. Janice McLaughlin of the Maryknoll Sisters will present “MKLM in Mission: Looking Back, Looking Forward”. Honorary awards will be presented to Maryknoll Sister Mary Anne O’Donnell and Maryknoll Father John Sullivan, two of the founding members of the lay mission program.

I wrote recently about lay missioner Dr. Susan Nagele (see story here), who recently celebrated 25 years as a Maryknoll lay missioner. She has spent her years in different parts of Africa, sometimes in war zones, setting up clinics and hospitals and rescuing medical facilities that were failing.

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters and Maryknoll Lay Missioners, as a group, have long been on the cutting edge, reacting more swiftly and coherently than most groups to the changing demands of mission, church structure and the role of lay people.

“We’re honored to have Archbishop Dolan join us to celebrate our anniversary,” said Sam Stanton, Executive Director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, “and to also join us in celebrating laity’s strong commitment to the mission of the Church. People often think of missionaries only as priests and sisters. This anniversary marks the momentous occasion in Catholic history in which we remember that sharing the meaning of the Gospel is no longer just the responsibility of clergy and religious. All Catholics, through our baptism, are called to be missionary. The mission of our organization is to facilitate that call.”

In its 35 years of existence, MKLM has prepared and sent more than 600 lay singles, couples and families to serve as missioners in more than 29 countries. It was founded in 1975 as an experimental program of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and Maryknoll Sisters. In 1995, the program officially and legally separated from its parent organization, gaining incorporation in New York State as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization under its legal name, Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful.

To learn more about MKLM, visit

Here’s some history from the above mentioned article about Dr. Nagele:

Maryknoll, a foreign mission endeavor that includes a society of priests and brothers and a separate religious order of sisters, was undergoing significant changes during the latter part of the 20th century. As a result of Vatican II, the society’s members engaged in a deep reassessment of how they approached their work in foreign missions. They looked at how they were present in different cultures, at who they served, at their commitment to the poor, and at what kind of institutions they maintained.

The initial impulse to form a lay group received a boost when leadership became aware that a continuing drop in the number of ordained and vowed vocations was forcing a decision: consider radical changes in the way the organization perceived both its purpose and the role of laity within that purpose or watch its overseas mission efforts slowly but inevitably expire.

The future of the church is often found being worked out today at the intersection of demographics and theology, in those areas where the numbers are already dictating a new reality on the ground. The new reality, like liquid finding its level, seeks its match with the theological work that often anticipates the questions of the future.

“The whole idea of Maryknoll starting a lay mission program really started right after the Second Vatican Council at the 1966 chapter [meeting of all the members] of the Maryknoll Society,” said Sam Stanton, a former lay missioner and now executive director of the program at Maryknoll.

Six years later, the society decided it would start a formal program as soon as two Maryknoll regions overseas were open to receiving lay ministers for three-year commitments. “In 1975, the first missioners were sent to Hong King and Venezuela” after training at the society’s seminary at Maryknoll, N.Y., said Stanton.

By the mid to late 1980s, the leadership of the society was declaring publicly that the future of its mission activity rested with laypeople.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here