By Fr. Mike Mendl
They came from 17 states, a Canadian province, and Puerto Rico; from 24 dioceses and archdioceses; from 11 Catholic colleges, 8 public or private colleges, 2 community colleges, and retirement—to be part of a worldwide missionary enterprise on behalf of poor young people.
Eight are male and 20 are female.
They range in age from 20 to 68, with an average age of 25. All but eight are either 22 or 23.
On Saturday morning, August 17, these 28 mostly young women and men were commissioned as Salesian Lay Missioners for service in 15 mission sites on four continents, including 3 sites in the U.S. The commissioning took place at the end of a week of retreat at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., together with 44 Salesian priests and brothers from all over the Eastern U.S.
The 28 new volunteers were the most sent forth by the Eastern U.S. province of the Salesians since 2010, when 22 were commissioned for overseas missions and 6 for service in the States.
Eight of the new volunteers will serve in three locations in Bolivia: Natalie Baker of Springfield, Pa.; Charlene Becicka of Charles City, Iowa; Mariela Cadena of San Antonio, Texas; Julie McCormick of Traverse City, Mich.; Emmanuel Mendez of Aguada, P.R.; Antoinette Moncrieff of Ypsilanti, Mich.; Ruthann Monsees of Hauppauge, N.Y.; and Adam Pizzaia of Jackson, N.J.
Five will serve at four locations in India: Caitlin Carey of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Veronica Coe of Benicia, Calif.; Holy Farrell of Westfield, Ind.; Matthew Pirrall of Schwenksville, Pa.; and Octavio Rodriguez of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
Five will serve at two locations in South Sudan: Michael Gotta of Steubenville, Ohio; Theresa Kiblinger of Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Patrick Sabol of Wayne, Pa.; Patricia Salgado of West Nyack, N.Y.; and Ariel Zarate of Oak Lawn, Ill.
Four will serve at two locations in Ethiopia: Erin Arnold of Upper Marlboro, Md.; Matthew Beben of Washington, N.J.; Semhar Dory of Anaheim Hills, Calif.; and Robert Sene of Surrey, B.C.
Trina Botelho of Terrace, B.C., will serve in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Two will serve at a site where the religious situation is delicate.
Three will serve in the “home missions”: Isabel Guia of Coral Gables, Fla., at Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y.; Shannon Tipton of Woodbridge, Va., at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Westwego, La.; and Monica Wheeler at a site still to be determined.
Most will leave for their missions in late August and early September. One is scheduled to go in January. Most will have a very short period of transition at their sites with Salesian Lay Missioners completing their year of service, or in a few instances, two years of service.
Fr. Thomas Dunne, Salesian provincial, presided over the commissioning Mass on August 17. He likened this sending forth of missionaries to what the early Church did, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and expressed the hope that these missionaries, like the apostles, would build up the local churches to which they are being sent.
He observed that Salesian missioners go out not to provide some “professional service” in a foreign country but to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus. What we bring to young people is “our simple selves,” which will be an effective presence if it is rooted in Christ.
Besides the Eastern Province’s 28 volunteers, the Salesians of the Western U.S. also are commissioning lay missioners in August: two for service in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one for a Salesian parish in San Francisco, and one for a Salesian parish in Laredo, Texas. The four, ages 18-20, come from Montreal and from Bellflower, Calif.
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of Salesian Lay Missioners have served the young and the poor in schools, orphanages, clinics, and other Salesian and non-Salesian works in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as well as in various U.S. sites such as Birmingham, Ala., Paterson, N.J., Chicago, and New York City.
The Salesians of Don Bosco, the second largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, are present in more than 130 countries around the globe, staffing schools, parishes, youth centers, and missions.