Mission Societies celebrate bicentennial, honor local supporters

BRAINTREE -- When the Archdiocese of Boston was in its infancy, it was one of the first beneficiaries of the newly formed Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Now, Boston is a center of missionary activity, providing spiritual and financial support for missions around the world.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley recalled this history as he addressed those gathered for a Mass and luncheon at the Pastoral Center on March 19 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

"It was a very good investment on the part of the Propagation of the Faith because Boston has become such a center of missionary animation," he said.

This was apparent as the Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston honored several people for their outstanding support of the missions.

The four Pontifical Mission Societies are so called because they are under the jurisdiction of the pope. The oldest, and perhaps best known, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, was founded by Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot in 1822 as a way for laypeople to support missionaries through regular prayer and donations. The others are Missionary Childhood Association, which enables children to support ministries for children around the world; the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, which funds the training of priests and religious in mission territories; and the Missionary Union, which promotes awareness of the Church's missionary call.

During the Mass, for which Cardinal O'Malley was the principal celebrant, recognition was given to Aubrey Anderson, a fifth-grade student from St. Christine Parish in Marshfield. Inspired by a missionary's visit to her religious education class, she collected $250 for the missions by doing chores and asking neighbors for donations during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

"I felt like that was something that I had to do," Aubrey said, speaking to The Pilot after the Mass in Bethany Chapel.

She said coming there for the Mass "made me happy with what I did."

During the lunch and speaking program, the Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot Award was presented to St. J's Collaborative of Quincy, which includes St. Joseph Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish. There to represent the collaborative were pastor Father Matt Williams, Director of Outreach and Evangelization Andrea Alberti, Parish Secretary Donna Niosi, and Finance Operations Manager Stephen Marx.

St. J's became a tithing parish during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. They summed up their order of priorities with the acronym JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself.

"We said that the fruit of that sacrificial effort would be joy in your personal life, and you would also bring joy to the world," Father Williams said in an email to The Pilot.

In order to practice what they were preaching, they committed to tithing 10 percent of the parish's monthly income to charities, including the mission societies.

Father Williams said it was "totally amazing" to write out checks "to help out brothers and sisters in need," when they did not have enough to balance their own budget. But overall, he reported, revenues far exceeded expenses that fiscal year.

"The recognition we received on Sunday is a beautiful reminder to me, and to all, that if we get Jesus right, we will get everything right," he said.

The Msgr. Andrew Connell Memorial Award, named for the former archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, was presented to Mary Margaret Bolles, who has a long history on the Boston team.

Maureen Heil, the director of programs and development for the Boston Pontifical Mission Societies, recounted Bolles' career, which was bookended by her involvement in the missions. When she was "fresh out of college," Bolles approached Msgr. Connell about becoming a missionary. He sent her to the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity to serve as a teacher for the Native American population in New Mexico. She later went into banking and became a successful businesswoman, but when she retired in 2007, she returned to the mission societies.

Heil said that while several people that day had said they did not know what the mission societies would have done without her, "Maureen wouldn't be Maureen without Mary (Bolles)."

Bolles, who was unaware before the celebration that she was to be honored, briefly shared some stories about her travels in her work for the mission societies. On some trips, she stayed at orphanages built by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

"You could see how desperately they needed all the help and the prayers. They would always say, 'We would not be here if it wasn't for Msgr. Andy (Connell) and the good people of Boston,'" Bolles remembered.

Father Patrick Byrne, former international secretary general for Missionary Childhood Association, served as emcee for the speaking program and shared some of his own experiences.

He recalled visiting the African country of Angola and meeting children orphaned by the civil war. The young boys were able to get meals at an institution run by his order, the Society of the Divine Word; but they had to sleep outside because there was not enough room for all of them to stay.

Father Byrne said this is "where the Church is at its best," "reaching out to these places to be present to the poor and those who are suffering."

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S., was also in attendance and shared some remarks.

He spoke about the importance of educating priests, not only as liturgical leaders but also as community leaders. He described them as "the glue for the broader society."

"Typically, when civil government collapses, it's the Church that fills the void, because we have a sense of common good," Msgr. Harrington said.

The priests are the ones, he explained, who organize schools and hospitals at such times.

"The education of the clergy in mission territories is critically important from the point of view of the transmission of the Gospel, but also for the stability of many of these societies," he said.

Msgr. Harrington made a distinction between being a disciple, which means following Christ, and being a missionary, which means "that I go someplace else, I go outside of my comfort zone to follow Christ."

He spoke about Pope Francis' encyclical "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel,") which makes the case that all Christians are called to be missionary disciples.

"Maybe you can't all go to Angola like Father Pat (Byrne), but you all have a responsibility to support the Christians who are in Angola," Msgr. Harrington said.

He said this means both praying and giving sacrificially to the missions.

Donation envelopes and cards with QR codes were available at each table so that those attending the celebration could make donations if they wished.

Father Byrne asked all monthly donors present to stand and be recognized, calling them "the backbone of our support."

Heil, who is in her 24th year doing this work, said it "has become much more than a job. It is a vocation that we all need to embrace."

"The people of God need every person in this room to show their missionary discipleship to the world," she said.

Information about the Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston is available at www.propfaithboston.org.