50 years Wandering the World

February 14, 2013

Fr. Charles Duster

If I had stayed in Iowa and worked in the grocery store with my Dad, I would never have become informed and concerned about what is happening around the world. Like every human being I must live my life in the place where I reside, but having lived and worked in various countries, I have a sense of belonging that goes beyond the small patch that I have always called home. Also, being able to communicate with people from other countries in their own language has been such a joy for me. There were always people in foreign lands who spoke some English, but the expression on their face would change totally when I spoke to them in their own language. They clearly recognized my wish and the determination to meet them on their cultural turf.

I have spent most of my working life outside the United States. Following my ordination in 1961, I went to Japan for six years; then returned to the U.S. for five years to promote vocations to the Columban missionary priesthood. I then went to Fiji for twelve years, to Rome to run our post-graduate house of studies for eight years and after that back to Fiji for eleven years. For health reasons, I returned to the U.S. in 2001.

I feel so grateful for those years I spent working overseas and am equally grateful for the opportunity to work for some time in my own country. I do not feel as pressured as I was in other countries. Being in my own country, I am familiar with the environment, even though much has changed in this country since 1961.

Shadow sign street crossOn returning to the U.S., I began working out of our mission center in Chicago, Illinois. The heart of our work was and is gratitude to all those who support our missionary endeavor. I never tire of telling people that they are the gas that keeps the engine going. All my years overseas on mission were supported by the constant generosity of people here.

In Chicago I worked with other Columbans phoning and visiting donors to thank them for their support. We also ran events in major cities to thank donors with a practical gesture. We would run a three hour session consisting of a PowerPoint presentation on how Columbans overseas are engaged in mission today, refreshments, and a Mass of thanksgiving offered for the intentions of all those present.

Also, during my time at our Chicago mission center I worked on mission education and motivation through mission appeals in parishes around the Midwest. On some occasions we were also invited to give mission presentations in Catholic schools.

We also took a booth at some regional and national education-related conventions for teachers who work in Catholic schools and parishes. Most participants work as teachers in schools but many also work in parish based programs. At our booth we offer material on mission education.

Sunset on the beachFinally, we worked to form and support Columban affiliate groups whose aim is to support the groups’ members in their local mission or outreach commitments. We also helped them situate the local mission of the Church in a global context. We have not been as successful as I would have liked in this area, but we persevere with the project as it seems to be a worthwhile way of promoting the missionary dimension of the grassroots church.

In 2011 I moved to our U.S. headquarters house in St. Columbans (Omaha), Nebraska, to continue with similar work. I no longer have the energy of youth but am grateful to be able to continue to enjoy my work as a Columban missionary priest. For now, I am as busy as I want to be and don’t really have time to read all those books that I intended to read! I hope to remain open to whatever might await me.

These days, I like especially the many opportunities that come my way to express our gratitude to our supporters and partners in mission. Also, a bonus of being in the U.S. has been reengaging with family and friends. Now it is relatively easy for me to attend important family functions, such as baptisms and weddings, and, on occasion, to visit family members, who are scattered across the country.

The evening of my life is not exactly hassle free, but I find that I am under less pressure. I have time for myself, and I find that I pray more than before. Thank God, the Columbans, our supporters and all those with whom we share our mission, for a full life.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Columban Mission magazine.