With Mission Appeal season upon us, it is my privilege to visit parishes in the Archdiocese to tell stories of the missions. I love going to, what is for me, a new church. The variety of architecture is amazing but the thing that catches my eye most is the stained glass. The stories told in the windows intrigue me.
I must admit, my favorites are the ones that portray saints. The saints are my friends in heaven, and I count on them for their help, prayers, and intercession. My children will tell you that I can find a patron saint for just about anything. (I call on Saint Anthony so much to find things that we are on a first name basis -- to me, he's Tony!)
Recently, I spoke at the Visitation Collaborative in Milton. At Saint Elizabeth Church, my eye went immediately to the windows and I found my friends. Saint John Vianney, who was Spiritual Director to Blessed Pauline Jaricot, Founder of the Propagation of the Faith was there next to Saint Julie Billiart, founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Saint Julie's window was installed when she was still a Blessed and it brought back beautiful memories of praying for her canonization as a child. As fifth graders, we felt we helped raise her to sainthood!
The Sisters were my teachers for twelve years and were the first ones to put a Mite Box in my hand for the Missionary Childhood Association. They started in me on a lifelong love for, and support of, the missions.
The Sisters of Notre Dame have given us another, more modern woman to look up to as well -- Sister Dorothy Stang. Sister Dorothy was sent on mission to Brazil where she worked with the poor, landless people of the Amazon region. She was very vocal in defense of the rights of the indigenous poor as their rainforests were being destroyed.
Seen as a threat to the loggers and corporations who profited from the destruction, Sister was put on a death list. As her killers approached, she took out her Bible and began to read from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice..." Six shots rang out and Sister fell where she prayed.
Just as every window tells a story, so, too, does every missionary. May we embrace them on their journeys as they speak on behalf of the poor.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.