|Missionaries of the Holy Spirit convene at Mount Angel in 2008. |
Ed LangloisBANKS — A dynamic Catholic religious congregation has moved its U.S. headquarters to an unobtrusive former convent surrounded by Oregon farm fields.
Of the Catholic Sentinel
The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit prefer simple abodes, saying such surroundings make it more likely they'll remember what's really important — sharing and living out the Gospel. Founded in 1914 in Mexico, the order came to the U.S. only 30 years later, primarily to serve migrant workers who had come north. The Missionaries arrived in Oregon in 1996, to serve a flourishing Spanish-speaking Catholic population. Their leader here then was Father Gustavo García-Siller, who is now Archbishop of San Antonio.
In addition to busy parish work, the Missionaries offer spiritual direction and faith formation to thousands of Catholics, including Hispanic youths.
The rural surroundings next to St. Francis of Assisi Church and School here are just right for the missionaries, says Father Domenico Di Raimondo, superior of the order's U.S. province. "We love the community here," Father Di Raimondo explains in fluent English. "People here are in touch with the earth."
Servant of God Felix de Jesus Rougier, a French Marist priest, quietly founded the congregation in 1914 during the Mexican revolution and its bloody anti-clerical movement. Many priests were fleeing Mexico for their lives.
"The revolution influenced the way we understood our mission," says Father Juan José González, the province formation director and bookkeeper. "Such painful circumstances. It led to the question, 'What is the meaning of suffering in our lives?'" Still, journals from the period show that the first missionaries were joyful and committed to their work of spiritual direction and helping the poor, despite dangers. The men understood their mission as rebuilding God's people.
Father Rougier worked with the mystic Maria Concepción Cabrera de Armida, a widowed Mexican mother of nine known as "Conchita." Her spirituality of the cross and the Holy Spirit shaped the religious congregation, plus an order of contemplative nuns, two lay associations and a fraternity of priests and bishops. Her body of writings is massive, approaching that of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The idea of a universal call to holiness emerged strong in Conchita's writings and so is an article of faith among the Missionaries. They were ahead of their time, sounding a theme the Second Vatican Council would express strongly — God calls everyone, not just priests and nuns, to intimacy with the divine and to share in the mission of affirming the Kingdom. Among today's Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, the thinking translates into a passion for collaboration with laity and a drive for social justice.
"Work for holiness can't be up in the clouds," says Father Di Raimondo. "It has to be manifest in action."
"The spirituality of the cross is not a pessimistic view," Father González says. "We all need to experience God's compassion and mercy. I would like to be that for God's people."
Missionaries never live alone. Communal life and prayer are seen as essential.
After morning prayer and weekday Mass at St. Francis Church, where the Missionaries sometimes preside, the men share breakfast. Then it's off to work. At mid-day, they gather in their chapel for adoration followed by lunch. An afternoon of work is followed by men picking up informal dinners and often gathering in the family room to watch a little television, read and converse.
The men clean house, do their own laundry and cook for themselves. Father González even makes jam. Of course, St. Francis parishioners regularly drop off snacks.
Living in the mid-century building with the two priests is Brother Santos Mendoza. The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon left the convent in 1998.
The Missionaries, who wear black cassocks as a habit, were overwhelmed by hospitality at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, where Father Michael Vuky and parishioners have offered an abiding welcome.
The U.S. province is named "Christ the Priest." In addition to the parish in Hillsboro, it tends two churches in Los Angeles and another in Bothel, Wash. Two other provinces are headquartered in Mexico.
Like most religious orders, the Missionaries would like more vocations. Two men are about to make first vows in the province. There are four postulants. Houses of studies are established in Mount Angel and South Bend, Ind. The Missionaries don't skimp on formation. Their men get intense education and spiritual training that lasts more than a decade.
The Missionaries profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. The more than 350 members serve in Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Chile, Spain, Italy and Colombia.
Archbishop John Vlazny wrote about the missionaries in a Catholic Sentinel column last year. “The good Lord is obviously blessing our church with capable coworkers and marvelous evangelizers, particularly for our growing Hispanic community,” the archbishop wrote.
Father Di Raimondo, a native of Jalisco state in central Mexico, served as superior general of the missionaries for six years.
As a boy in the cultural city of Lagos de Moreno, young Domenico Di Raimondo met seminarians who came to eat with families. When he told his priest of his intention to give his own life to God, the old cleric steered him toward "the most beautiful congregation that is." The aging man recalled how Father Rougier and the missionaries had given him safe shelter during the revolution. Domenico entered seminary in 1960 at age 12. After studies in Mexico, California and Rome, he was ordained for the congregation in 1978. That began a life of parish work, teaching, seminarian formation and leadership in the congregation. In 2000, he met Pope John Paul while serving in Rome. Now 63, Father Di Raimondo says he would do it all over again.
Father González, born in Guadalajara, lost his father at age 9. He was an altar boy who was sent to a high school run by the missionaries. He became friends with young seminarian candidates who hoped to become Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. The men's communal life made sense to him on a deep level.
"They had a way of celebrating the Eucharist," Father González says, still marveling at the experience. "It was very personal. They made the liturgy accessible to us kids." He joined and was ordained in 2000. Fluent in English, he was a natural for the congregation's new mission in the U.S. He was sent to Oregon where he served at St. Matthew Church in Hillsboro and the congregation's Mount Angel house for seminarians.
"I love it," he says. "Today, I can see God's hand in my coming to serve here. There is great need, but it's also a blessing. I have met so many good, holy people."