The Maryknoll Sisters, Fathers and Brothers, and Lay Missioner communities have faced challenges and loss during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The following article was published in the May-June 2020 issue of NewsNotes.
The Maryknoll Sisters announced via social media on April 16 that the pandemic had “hit home and reached our Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, NY.” They shared that three sisters had passed away from COVID-19 and 24 more had tested positive for the virus and relocated to a separate building where they would receive more intensive medical care. Eight staff members at the Center also tested positive. [As of April 24, a total of 30 sisters and 10 staffers have tested positive.]
In their statement the Maryknoll Sisters said, “We remember the beautiful spirits of our Sisters who have been called home to God and pray our other Sisters and Staff will fully recover and return home soon. It remains our top priority to contain this virus as much as we can, to keep our employees and staff at the center safe, and the rest of our Sisters safe.”
Since sharing their message, the Sisters have received an outpouring of support. Fr. James Martin, the popular Jesuit author, shared their message on his own social media account, calling the Maryknoll Sisters “some of the bravest women I know.”
The Sisters have also received care packages of masks, gloves and other protective equipment from some of the sisters and priests in China who had studied at colleges across the United States through the Maryknoll Society's formation program. "This was Maryknoll reaching out 15-20 years ago to help the church in China and now the church in China is reaching out to help us here," Sister Antoinette Gutzler, president of the Maryknoll Sisters, said in an article in Patch.
More donations have come from Hong Kong and the Philippines and other Asian locations where the sisters have served on mission for many years and where people have been impacted by the coronavirus since January. “It's a return in ways we never expected,” Sr. Gutzler said.
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have also been hit hard by the virus. Father Raymond Finch, Superior General, told Catholic News Service on April 21 that nine priests living at the order’s residential facilities in Ossining, New York, had died since April 2. The first priest who died tested positive for the virus. The eight others showed symptoms of the disease but without confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19. Other members of the community who have shown symptoms are isolated in the residence.
To honor front-line workers, the Fathers and Brothers announced that, every evening, the seminary building in Ossining will be lit in blue and the bells will peal for 5 minutes, to pay honor and tribute to Maryknoll's essential service employees in health care, custodial and housekeeping, as well as all essential services workers throughout the world. “Words cannot express our gratitude to the men and women working in health care, day and night here at Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Ossining, NY, as well as in all of the Society Houses and Residences.”
The Fathers and Brothers invite everyone to join a livestream celebration of the Mass at the Seminary every Sunday at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Facebook.
Maryknoll Magazine has featured several stories about missioners during the pandemic. Fr. Mike Bassano in South Sudan broadcasts Sunday Mass on public radio at a UN camp for internally displaced persons. Fr. Joe Fedora in Peru serves as the “unofficial virtual chaplain” for the residents of his apartment building after a neighbor died of COVID-19 and the entire building was ordered to lockdown. Fr. Joe Thaler in Nepal celebrates his graduates of a sewing training program for people with disabilities who are making face masks from their home villages while in quarantine. Two Maryknoll seminarians in Bolivia have jumped in to do the work left undone after international volunteers were evacuated.
The Maryknoll Lay Missioners are maintaining a “coronavirus resources” webpage where they have compiled health, spiritual, family, and advocacy resources related to the pandemic. “These times of global crisis, uncertainty and worry around the coronavirus invite us to a wider communal response of solidarity – beyond our homes and hometowns — so that no one is isolated even amidst the self-containing or quarantines,” said Ted Miles, executive director of the Lay Missioners.
In addition, Lay Missioners are sharing updates about their communities and their work during the pandemic. There are updates from missioners in El Paso, Texas, El Salvador, Cambodia, Brazil, and more. Find them at https://mklm.org/coronavirus-resources/
“This Easter we have reflected with gratitude on the hope of new life for our broken and suffering world,” writes Kathy Bond, a Lay Missioner in Brazil. “Waiting at the Tomb has taken on a new meaning for most of the world, including us, during the COVID-19 crisis... May we all be transformed into more genuine followers of the serving Jesus.” §
Watch a local news segment on Maryknoll and the toll off the coronavirus: https://bit.ly/MaryknollABC
Photo of Maryknoll Society building in Ossining by Ɱ - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58527257