25 November 2013

wait, you live with priests and nuns?

Just to recap, Ashley and I are living on the Maryknoll campus in Ossining, NY for ten weeks of orientation in preparation for becoming Maryknoll Lay Missioners and moving to Tanzania. 

seminary building on the campus of the maryknoll fathers and brothers

The Maryknoll campus consists of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (Society), Maryknoll Sisters (Congregation), and the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM). This means Ashley and I are living among and eating three meals per day with Catholic religious folks…priests and nuns…for ten weeks.

Say what??

While this may sound boring, painful, terrifying, or straight up whack to some, it's actually been surprisingly awesome. 

yoda on being awesome

How many places in the U.S. can you find a collection of a few hundred eighty year olds who spent most of their life living overseas in developing countries? Where else in the U.S. can you walk into the dining hall of a retirement community and hear a dozen languages spoken? It's quite a unique place. 

Anyone feeling uninspired by their local parish or Catholic Church in general need only spend a few days at Maryknoll to feel refreshed and uplifted about the caliber of people and potential in the Church.

To recognize and celebrate the cool elderly peeps we've been spending so much time with, I thought it'd be nice to share a little snippet about a few of them.

Father Ken
Ashley and I first met Father Ken at a luncheon hosted by the Society. From the moment we met Father Ken, we loved him. Little did we know that this spry gentleman was already 86 years old!

father ken…in africa?

Father Ken, a Maryknoll priest, was first sent to Tanzania in 1957. This means he was in the country before independence - when it was called Tanganyika and under British rule. How many people can say they lived through the independence of a nation? Pretty cool.

We got to know Father Ken better as our weeks here in Ossining progressed, always joining him after Mass on Sundays for coffee, tea and donuts. He wanted to join the Navy but he also wanted to be a priest. Father Ken had a great sense of humor and laughed often about the funny combination of military service man and a Catholic priest. 

Ashley and I asked Father Ken to be our witness - to sign our Maryknoll Lay Missioner Covenant alongside us in preparation for our departure to Tanzania - and he accepted. Turns out his birthday is December 13, one day after our Covenant Ceremony on December 12, so we can make it a joint celebration!

ace ventura knows how to celebrate good times

Father Ken has been an inspiration to us because of his happy-go-lucky nature and ability to just keep going. Despite being nearly 60 years older than us, Father Ken is actually flying back to Tanzania the same day we are - January 3, 2014 - the man will be 87 years old! We hope to be at least half as active as Father Ken if and when we live to be his age.

Our time with Father Ken has been very special. He is incredibly kind, sweet and affectionate, and continuously encouraging about our move to Tanzania. Father Ken has nothing but amazing things to say about Tanzanian people and culture, and we look forward to experiencing it ourselves. 

Father Ernie
Father Ernie was instantly warm and welcoming to us when Ashley and I first met him at the same luncheon attended by Father Ken. We'll never forget how he remarked at the end of the lunch that we didn’t have enough time together and that he wanted to spend more time with us. Unfortunately, our Orientation Program has been so busy that we’ve only been able to see him in passing. Just the other night, however, we called him after dinner to chat and he came down from his room to meet with us.

Two days after our Covenant Ceremony on December 12, we have a Sending Ceremony which is the final culmination of our orientation program. As part of the Sending Ceremony, each group of candidates (that's us) going to the same country has to select a "caller" - someone who spent time in the country to which you are being sent and who can send you into mission in both English and the local language - so in our case, Swahili.

During our chat with Father Ernie the other night, we asked him to be our caller. It was clear from his response that he was not only excited, but also honored that we asked. We felt the same way. Just before we asked him, Father Ernie gave us a blank greeting card with a photograph of the statue of Mary in the “backyard” of the Society’s building, where the bell used to be rung when new missioners were sent out.

the sending bell and statue of mary at the maryknoll seminary building

Like Father Ken, Father Ernie joined Maryknoll as a young man and left for Tanzania when he was 27 years old - just like us! He left by a steamship from the Brooklyn Navy Yard down to Capetown, South Africa - not like us! At that time, apartheid was going on in South Africa so Father Ernie had a note in his passport that as soon as he arrived in South Africa, he would find a way out as quickly as possible. He was able to take a flight from there to Nairobi in Kenya, and eventually down to Shinyanga in Tanzania where he did most of his work.

As we wrapped up our conversation with Father Ernie, he asked to give us a blessing. The three of us stood in a circle and held hands while he prayed a beautiful prayer. Afterwards, he put his hand on our heads to bless us. Ashley and I both got a little teary eyed! After we thanked him, he seemed a bit surprised and remarked, “Well, we do these kinds of things, you know?”

Like Father Ken, Father Ernie is an inspiration because he is constantly giving of himself, even though he’s getting older. He revealed to us that he has had three heart bypass surgeries. Father Ernie regularly says Mass for the nursing home residents here at Maryknoll, both for the Society and for the Congregation.

Ashley and I are always curious to learn more about these amazing "Maryknollers," so we typed their names in a Google web search. One of the first things that popped for Father Ernie was this amazing picture of him from a death penalty protest in 1986. 

father ernie in 1989 protesting the death penalty in florida

It’s these kinds of discoveries that leave us in awe of the people we are meeting here at Maryknoll. From the outside, they look like grandparents. But their pasts are full of a rich history of traveling around the world, learning new languages, and standing up for incredible causes. Ashley and I feel so blessed to be a part of it and to learn from these two men.

Tonight, we were fortunate to attend Mass and share an early Thanksgiving meal with all of the Maryknoll priests at the Society, including Father Ken an Father Ernie. It was truly sumptuous.

P.S. Rachel, you're awesome.

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