Making a Difference for the Missions, One Priest at a Time

It is with gratitude to God and the fast-acting people of The Saint J's Collaborative of Groton, Pepperell, and Townsend that I write about how a normal Sunday was turned upside down!

The faithful had gathered for the 7:30 a.m. Mass at Saint James Church in Groton; it was Mission Appeal Sunday. Father Gabriel Muteru, of Nyeri, Kenya, was there to speak about one of our four Pontifical Mission Societies -- The Society of St. Peter Apostle. He was to tell the faithful that with their support, the Society gives a $700 yearly scholarship to every seminarian in the missions -- no priest in any mission territory is ordained without the help of The Society of St. Peter Apostle. Father wanted to spread the word about the need for our support of this vocation enabling Society.

Instead, as he stood to preach, his heart stopped.

Providentially, people well-trained in CPR happened to be at the Mass; they're usually at a different one. They attended to Father, performing the life-saving procedure until the EMTs arrived and used the necessary equipment to restart his heart.

While all this was going on, people in the pews prayed the rosary, others waited outside to show the ambulance crew where the ramp was, and Father was anointed by the parish Vicar, Father Kwang Lee. Father Gabriel is expected to make a full recovery.

Father Gabriel's survival emphasizes the importance of many things. First, is the importance of learning CPR! Most of us have seen it done in movies or shows; if you've ever seen it in real life, it looks very different. The strength and perseverance, the calm and poise that it takes to perform it properly cannot be overemphasized. Secondly, while knowing the many strains on a parish budget these days, my own included, the cost of an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) can be less than $3,000. There are grants and guides for fundraisers available -- just Google it. The Red Cross has training and certification sessions for both CPR and AED use.

Lastly, seen through the lens of the missions, this situation would have had a very different ending in most mission locations. Parishioners trained in CPR would be highly unlikely; even if there were any, the one person who probably would have had transportation to get to a hospital or clinic (and know how to use it) would have been Father, himself. His next Mass would have been a funeral.

Please say a prayer of thanksgiving, right now, for the well-trained, prayerful people who made all the difference for a priest from the missions.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.