One of my greatest joys as the director of the U.S. region is spending time with members of the Columban community, a community that includes ordained Columban priests and Sisters, lay missionaries, lay employees, volunteers and others. The Columban family is an extraordinarily diverse group, filled with people bringing many gifts and different perspectives. While different, all of them responded with a resounding “yes” to the invitation to mission.
Fr. Michael Dodd is currently working in our planned giving office in St. Columbans, Nebraska, but his journey with the Columbans began in high school.
In 1954, a Columban missionary by name of Fr. Jack Byrne visited our school to talk about vocations to the Columban missions. All I had known previously about the Columbans was that my mother received a monthly copy of the Columban magazine which I rarely looked at mainly because it did not have a sports section. Fr. Byrne talked a lot about China, but as he was leaving the chapel something happened to one of his shoes. The sole had become separated from the rest of the shoe. He seemed quite embarrassed and many of the students were laughing and guffawing at his mishap. He bent down, tried to do something with the shoe, finally picked it up and hobbled out of the chapel. I offered to help, but he said no thanks and left. One year later another Columban, Fr. Jerome Halliden, also visited and talked to the students and I recalled the previous year’s incident. I had the opportunity to talk with him on a one to one – even more time out of the study hall. I recalled the Fr. Byrne shoe incident and he said that he had heard him tell the story. Several weeks later I got a letter from Fr. Jerome thanking me for coming to see him accompanied by a short note from Fr. Jack Byrne. Thus began my missionary journey with the Columban Fathers.
Originally from Australia, Columban Fr. Kevin Mullins was raised in a home where the family prayed for vocations around the dinner table. Fr. Kevin’s family also received the Columban magazine, The Far East, which Fr. Kevin read as a boy. However, as much as he prayed for vocations for other young men, he had other plans. He was going to be a Quantas pilot. All of that changed in high school when he joined a youth group where he and the other boys, along with their fathers, would go fishing and hiking with local priests. It was on one of those outings that he met Columban Fr. Warren Kinne and learned more about the missionary priesthood. Wanting to spend his life living and working with the poor, Fr. Kevin joined the Columbans, and Quantas lost a potential pilot! Now, Fr. Kevin lives and works among some of the most economically poor people in the world in the very violent and often dangerous area of Anapra, Mexico.
Like Fr. Mike and Fr. Kevin, Columban Sister Virgie Mozo also read the Columban magazine in her home in the Philippines. Her vocation was nurtured and encouraged by her maternal grandmother and her experience of donating food to the children of Vietnam during the war years. Later she met two Columban Sisters who were authentically entering into the lives of the people, Sr. Virgie’s people, sharing their joys, their trials, their lives. It was then that Sr. Virgie decided to become a Columban Sister. She has worked in Chile and Pakistan and currently serves as the regional superior for the Sisters in the U.S.
Fr. Mike, Fr. Kevin and Sr. Virgie are just three examples of the many people who responded to the Columban invitation to mission. All three were moved by the articles they read about missionaries crossing boundaries of culture and language to spread the Good News. Now, they too continue the story, sharing their gifts and talents, and I suspect, inspiring others as well.