Tag Archives: missionary

St. Anthony Mary Claret

October 23, 2020


(1807-1870), Bishop, Missionary, Founder

Anthony was born in Sallent in the Diocese of Vich in Catalonia, Spain in 1807. His father was a weaver, and he learned his father’s trade as a young man. He made a major shift in 1829 when he entered the seminary in Vich, and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1835.

Statue of St. Anthony Mary Claret

Statue of St. Anthony Mary Claret located in the Courtyard at the Church of Our Lady of Montserrat. Mount Montserrat. Catalonia. Spain. Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Anthony had a great desire to become a missionary, and after serving briefly at his home parish, he went to Rome to seek missionary work at the Propagation of the Faith. He also explored a possible calling to the Jesuits, entered the novitiate, became ill, withdrew, and returned to his native Spain.

Father Anthony was assigned to a parish, but his main ministry over the next ten years was as a missionary traveling from one parish to another throughout the rural areas of Catalonia. He preached retreats and conducted parish missions and clergy conferences. He spoke with incredible zeal, attracted large crowds, and it is estimated that he preached twenty-five thousand sermons over his life. He also was a prolific author and wrote over two hundred books and pamphlets. His most famous book was The Right Way which promoted fidelity to the gospel.

His popularity aroused the jealousy and animosity of the local clergy, and in 1848 he was forced to flee to the Canary Islands where he spent the next year. He returned to Catalonia in 1849, resumed his preaching, gathered a group of five priests, and founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Claretians, who have a special charism for missionary work.

In 1850 he was appointed the archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, which proved to be an incredibly difficult assignment. The diocese had been without a bishop for fourteen years, laxity had crept into the clergy, and he conducted a vigorous reform which was not well received. He was a Spaniard, and there was a strong movement within the country against Spain as it strove for independence. He preached against the slavery of the Negroes which was opposed by slave owners. He had a warm pastoral heart, made regular visits to the parishes, had a sincere compassion for the poor, and worked to establish credit unions to help the poor build savings. He was unsuccessful in establishing a school of agriculture but was able to found the Apostolic Institute of Mary. There was a strong anti-Christian sentiment within the country, and resistance to his initiates was so intense that he received numerous death threats and there was one assassination attempt. He resigned in 1857 and returned to Spain.

Archbishop Claret became the personal confessor to Queen Isabella II. While at the royal palace most of the time, he was able to preach on a limited basis. He was a strong proponent of education, served as rector of the seminary at the Escorial in Madrid, founded the Academy of St. Michael for artists and writers, established a science laboratory, a museum of natural history, and an association of artists and writers. The Spanish Revolution took place in 1868. Queen Isabella II fled to France. Archbishop Claret was in Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council, he departed and followed his queen to France, took up residence at the Cistercian Monastery in Fontfroide, was placed under house arrest, and died there on October 24, 1870, at the age of 63. He was beatified in 1934 and canonized a saint in 1950. He is the patron saint of weavers, savings banks, and the Claretians.

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Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015


An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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One remarkable missionary

June 11, 2012


Unforgettable Monsignor Greg Schaffer

After presiding at the early-evening Mass, the big, white-haired American priest walked toward the big doorway at the side of the 400-year-old Church of San Lucas Church, greeting his people along the way.

It was a lot like watching John Paul II in action.

He’d shake hands.

When he’d stop to talk with someone he’d put a hand on their shoulder.

He’d wave with an open-handed gesture to make a point.

That was the Monsignor Gregory T. Schaffer I saw pastoring some 15 years ago in San Lucas Toliman in the Central Highlands of Guatemala.

“I really love the liturgies here,” he told me as we spoke outside the ancient church in the town 5,000 feet above sea level. “It’s informal, but simple and beautiful.”

Back in 1997, the man his parishioners called “Padre Gregorio” had been their pastor for 34 years already. He’d go on to minister to the people of San Lucas for another 14 years before coming back to Minnesota. A terrible skin cancer finally took him May 24 at the age of 78.

If he’s not a candidate for sainthood, none of us are.

 One busy missionary

Although he’d been born in St. Paul and trained at the St. Paul Seminary, in 1960 young Gregory Schaffer was ordained a priest of the new Diocese of New Ulm, the nation’s most rural diocese, one that was carved out of the southwestern portion of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He had only been a priest for three years when he took the assignment to go to Guatemala as a missionary.

A number of dioceses in the United States had taken to heart Pope Paul VI’s suggestion that relatively vocation-rich countries share their priests with countries where vocations were few. (It’s why our own archdiocese continues to have a presence in Ciudad Guyana in Venezuela, where the pastor is also named Gregory Schaffer. It’s not a coincidence.)

The year was 1963 when Father Schaffer began to minister in Guatemala.

By the time I got there in 1997 the Church of San Lucas had accomplished much and had more projects underway than the busiest suburban parish you can name.

  • Next to the church was a library/dining hall.
  • Attached was the parish center, where coffee beans raised by 170 families were bagged before being sent for sale in the United States.
  • Across the courtyard was the parish medical clinic.
  • A few blocks away was the dental clinic and eye clinic, which was being expanded to be a full-service clinic with 60 beds.
  • Up one hillside a parish crew was putting in a water tank, the first step in building a new “colonia” or neighborhood for 56 families. The construction crew built 16 new homes a year and always had three under construction.
  • There were parish apprentice programs for the needed trades, for carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians and mechanics.
  • At the south end of town the parish had an experimental farm.
  • Drawing international attention was a parish tree reforestation project.
  • Of course there was a parish pre-school and grade-school.
  • And all the sacramental prep programs.

Weekday mornings I watched Monsignor Schaffer lean against a wall in the dining hall and simply observe as the male Guatemalan leaders of the parish – the project managers for all those programs – planned the day’s work, updated one another to learn when the skills of their crews would be needed, and told Padre Gregorio where they could use some help from the volunteers he was always hosting.

Each afternoon he’d listen in again as the women of the parish met to discuss the programs they were working on.

After 34 years of organizing and building up indigenous leaders from among the Mayans, the pastor didn’t need to say much at these meetings.

When he did the talking was when he was in front of groups – lots from Minnesota – who came down to volunteer at San Lucas. Marker in hand he’d explain the socio-political situation of the place they’d come to, writing on a white board to explain what he taught as “the process of poverty” that his parishioners were living.

 A teacher at heart

Two volcanoes dominate the geography of this town of 25,000 on the shore of Lake Atitlan, and a volcano was the priest’s favorite image to use to explain Guatemala to outsiders.

He’d draw the familiar triangular form, then add a line across it fairly near the top.

“The top of the volcano is small, held up by a great big body,” he’d start out.

“The country is run by 18 to 22 extended families, people who live the good life, and 94 percent of the land in Guatemala is in the hands of 7 percent of the population.”

Monsignor Schaffer would draw another line somewhere around the center of his volcano, explaining that was the military and the middle class.

“The bottom of the volcano, the base holding it up, is the 84 percent of the population that are people living in the process of poverty.”

The lectures to his guests explained that industrialized economies needed raw material, cheap labor and markets to sell their goods and services, and that was how the poorest Guatemalans were being used.

At the base of the volcano, he explained:

  • 54% are unemployed.
  • 84% who do work make less than the daily requirement to provide for their families.
  • 70% are illiterate.
  • 46% lack access to health care.
  • 51% of all children die before the age of five.

“A volcano is an explosive situation,” Monsignor Schaffer explained. “It may not be erupting now, but it certainly has the potential to erupt.”

 Literacy and land

The priest tapped fund-raising sources in New Ulm, in the Twin Cities and elsewhere to address the issues parishioners brought to him. When he’d have groups of Norte Americanos come down, it wasn’t just to be lectured to but to work side-by-side on projects with Guatemalans. His idea was to put volunteers into situations where they can appreciate the gifts of the people of this developing country.

He took pride in the fact that the people of the parish did all the decision-making, did the hiring and firing, set the salaries, planned and managed the projects.

He was justifiably proud, too, that the literacy rate in his parish was 85%.

“I can tell we’re making progress,” he said, “because the newspapers sell out every day.”

He humbly acknowledged, “We’ve met a lot of felt needs,” but claimed that the parish had made its greatest contribution in helping the people get the one thing they want most: land.

“The greatest request is one I hear on a daily basis: Help us get land,” Monsignor Schaffer said. “The people want to be farmers. They want to work the land with a hoe and a machete, and they are very good at it.

“We’ve been able to help 3,000 families get about three acres of land apiece. They plant corn and beans on two acres and then coffee on the other as a cash crop.”

 Reaping what he sowed

Monsignor Schaffer, however, planted a few things himself.

One was a missionary spirit in his namesake nephew, Father Gregory J. Schaffer, a priest of the archdiocese who is pastor of Jesucristo Resuscitado parish, the mission of the archdiocese in San Felix, Venezuela. Visits to his uncle’s mission in Guatemala played no small part in the younger priests’ own vocation. Between college and the seminary younger Greg spent two years volunteering at San Lucas and visited the mission about a dozen times.

He’s been a missionary himself in Venezuela now for 15 years.

Monsignor Schaffer also planted concern for the people of another culture and country in the hearts not just of Catholics in the New Ulm Diocese but with the thousands – many college students – who visited and worked at San Lucas Toliman at his invitation.

Finally, what Monsignor Schaffer planted were some invaluable gifts in the people he served for those 48 years: Confidence. A sense of self-worth, so every person in town knew they were created in the image and likeness of God. And hope. Hope that there is a way out of living in the process of poverty.

Sainthood credentials?

*     *     *

After a funeral Mass in New Ulm’s Cathedral and another here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Monsignor Schaffer’s body was flown to Guatemala for a final funeral Mass and burial in the cemetery at San Lucas Toliman.

 Learn more about the Diocese of New Ulm’s mission in Guatemala at http://www.dnu.org/service/sanlucas.html.

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Reading about murder of Minnesota Catholic priest 10 years ago makes my blood boil all over again

August 31, 2010


collar and gun cover

“The Collar and the Gun,”

by Dean Urdahl

It took three weeks, but I finally finished Dean Urdahl’s historical fiction about the life and death of Father John Kaiser, a Minnesota priest who was murdered in Kenya in August of 2000. “The Collar and the Gun” is only a 232-page paperback, but for the sake of my rising blood pressure I found I had to put the book down after just about every chapter.

Each successive section of the story adds to the damning portrayal of corruption in government and to a horrific ending. And the reading of this North Star Press work brings an element of shame to Americans for what our own government did and did not do before and after Father Kaiser was shot in the back of the head.

Urdahl, a teacher and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who lives near Grove City, MN, gathered the data and the stories about the missionary who spent 36 years ministering to the people of Kenya. Urdahl interview people there as well as those in this country who kept in contact with the priest who always kept his connection to his home Diocese of St. Cloud.

“The Rhino of the Poor”

We meet John Kaiser as a boy growing up on a Minnesota farm, but his story quickly jumps to Africa and the work he did as a member of the Mill Hill missionary order. He built churches and schools by hand, setting the beams and bricks himself, and he used the hunting skills he learned as a boy to help feed his parishioners in the Rift Valley area of Kenya.

He served several parishes and thousands of people, and became involved in seeking justice after watching his parishioners chased off the land they held deeds to, sometimes being murdered for resisting forces backed by ruthless, land-grabbing elected officials, including the leaders of area in which his missions lay and the president of Kenya himself, Daniel arap Moi.

When he challenged the country’s so-called “big men” they denied wrong doing yet warned him to end his involvement or suffer the consequences. No threats could stop Father Kaiser’s determination to help the Kenyan people be treated justly by their own leaders. Those he served came to call him “the rhino of the poor” for his refusal to back down in the face of danger to his life. When he collected statements from displaced farmers and publicly accused government leaders of stealing the land to line their own pockets, he became a marked man.

When two teenage girls came to him to tell of being raped by another civic leader, Father Kaiser challenged him personally and for all intents and purposes sealed his fate.

Moi and other Kenya politicians got rid of any opposition by simply having those people killed, and the newspapers that were controlled by Moi’s KANU party dutifully reported that the murdered either committed suicide or died in an auto accident. Father Kaiser avoided attempts to run him off Kenya’s rutted roads, but eventually he couldn’t escape his murderers.

Our FBI falls in line with dictator

As was the way in Moi’s Kenya, the first police on the scene declared Father Kaiser’s death a homicide, but soon after they were overruled and a suicide theory proposed.

Urdahl wrote that to verify the finding, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked to come in from the United States. They agreed with the Kenyan pathologist that it was likely a suicide.” Urdahl implies that the U.S. made a deal with Moi to cover up Father Kaiser’s murder, because Moi offered access to the harbor at Mombasa in any Middle East conflict.

Suicide, however, appears to be frankly impossible. The Catholic Church asked a Norwegian doctor to do a post-mortem on his body, and he found that the gun that killed Father Kaiser was fired at a distance of approximately three feet from the head. To shoot himself in the back of the head, Father Kaiser would have had to have arms that were six feet long.

Of course we want to think the best of our country, but reading Father Kaiser’s story will make you wonder what it might take for the U.S. government to come clean on the cause of death of one of its own citizens, and on what it may have received in trade for our FBI lying about the murder of a priest at the hands of a corrupt and greedy dictator like Kenya’s Moi.

Besides crying out for justice for Father Kaiser, “The Collar and the Gun” should serve as a catalyst for Americans to do more reading about Kenya and other nations that receive U.S. foreign aid.

“The Collar and the Gun” is available for $14.95 at http://www.northstarpress.com.

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Tragedy that is Brazil plays out in nun’s martyrdom

March 30, 2008

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“The Greatest Gift,”
by Binka Le Breton

Read this story about the life of Sister Dorothy Stang and you’ll get angry about the evil and the injustice in our world.

Sister Dorothy would look you in the eye and very kindly tell you not to get angry — do something about it.

This sister with a passion to help the poorest of the poor and a mind all her own about how to that help would tell you that working for justice is difficult but wonderfully rewarding. Unfortunately, Sister Dorothy isn’t alive to tell us anything. A pistol was emptied into her in the Amazon jungle in Brazil just three years ago.

Fortunately, because the murder of this petite Sister of Notre Dame de Namur happened not long ago, many who knew and worked with Sister Dorothy are around to tell her story: the poor who strive to eke a living out of Amazonia; other nuns and lay people who shared her work; a bishop who opened his house to her whenever she needed shelter and sanctuary; and even an eyewitness to her murder.

“The Greatest Gift” shares a little of what many will find typical in the early life of Dorothy Mae Stang, daughter of a Dayton, Ohio family. Those early-life chapters may be the only ones in the book that don’t deliver eye-opening insight into the violence that is life for so many in the developing world. This is a book that lets us in on what is happening in parts of the planet where “development” equals greed and where law and civic authorities fail in their duty to protect people’s rights — even their right to life. It’s a book, too, that explores just what it is that makes a person live and die for a cause, for others.

Initially a teaching nun and then a principal in the United States, Sister Dorothy’s work with the migrant community in Arizona earned flattering copy in the Arizona Republic. It was that work with the poor in the Southwest that whet her appetite to work with those who have little or nothing. She asked to be assigned as a missionary, and spent 30 years in Brazil, most of it helping that country’s poor stay alive, feed their families, and take steps toward fulfillment — both temporal and spiritual.

When Sister Dorothy arrived in 1966, the part of Brazil to which she was sent was best described as a feudal state controlled by a few families of landowners and politicians. When the missionaries put religious texts to Brazilian music, the authorities confiscated the song sheets and threw some priests in jail. Their crime? The lyrics said that God created all people equal. Obviously the ruling class couldn’t have that.

During Sister Dorothy’s three decades in Brazil, the government was encouraging large-scale settlement of the western Amazon. The mantra was “Land for Men for Men Without Land,” and the poor and the landless poured into the forest, felling trees and planting crops by the thousands of acres. Sister Dorothy was one of the missionaries who went west with them. She taught people about their rights, helped to establish farm workers’ unions, gave literacy classes, built a center to train teachers, started some little stores, a warehouse, a fruit processing plant, a community trading post, a women’s association that focused on health care.

It was when she fought for land reform that she ended up on a death list. She stood up for stewardship of the land, conservation and interdependence with nature. She developed a program — adopted by the government — that taught people an agriculture method that utilized the forest instead of cutting it down. She travelled to civic offices to secure the paperwork that would verify her people’s ownership of the tracts they had settled on and planted only to have corrupt politicians, police and the Brazilian military sit by and watch greedy ranchers send armed men to chase the poor off that same land.

Her best friend, Joan, talks about Sister Dorothy Stang with these words:

“She was a strong woman,” Joan said, “but sometimes very obstinate. She had a soft voice that echoed through the halls of government offices and bounced off the giant trees of the forests, the same soft voice that could soothe an aching heart and assure someone that God loved them.”

She added, “Dot had a mind that could understand the laws of land reform, the intricacies of sustainable farming, the impact of the destruction of the forest on the world now and in the future, and the hope and conviction that one voice could make a difference.”

In June of 2004 the Brazilian Bar Association gave Sister Dorothy the Humanitarian of the Year Award. Nine months later, a paid gunman shot her down on a dirt road in the jungle. More people need to know about this heroine, so that her work continues. — bz

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