On November 12, Anna Klonowski, Misty Menis-Kyler, Cindy Mizes, and Maggie Van Roekel were commissioned as Franciscan Mission Service lay missioners. They will serve overseas with FMS at one of four diverse locations for at least the next two years. Misty will be serving at the Valle de los Ángeles School in Guatemala. Cindy is headed to Kingston, Jamaica. Maggie is destined for Unidad Académica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, while Anna will be serving in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Class 32 of the long-term overseas program marked this milestone with friends, family, and FMS staff in the chapel of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land.
The intimate Mass and commissioning ceremony began with a welcome from Meghan Meros, the interim executive director of Franciscan Mission Service. “I have not been at FMS for even one year,” she said—the commissioning was Meghan’s first. Drawing a parallel between her own journey with the organization and the end of the missioners’ training in Washington, DC, she continued, “So much can happen in a year, so much can happen in a three-month formation, and so much is yet to come in two years of service.”
Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM, the chair of the FMS board of directors, presided over the Mass. Office associate Kathleen Strycula, accompanied by Meghan, led the congregation in song. The opening hymn, “All the Ends of the Earth,” contained a very Franciscan reminder that the Lord “has come with justice for the world.”
The liturgy proceeded with themes close to the missioners’ hearts. In the first reading from the first book of Samuel chapter 3, Misty evoked the call to mission by recounting Samuel’s call from God. Through the second reading from the Book of Romans chapter 8, Maggie reminded all those in the pews that, at home or overseas, we can never be separated from the love of Christ. The congregation then joined Anna in the responsorial psalm, Psalm 103.
The Gospel reading was from the Book of Matthew, chapter 5. Father Tom’s homily, inspired by Pope Francis’ new beatitudes for “saints of a new age,” encouraged listeners to “bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness.” The message had a special meaning for the missioners, who were poised to follow in the steps of St. Francis and St. Clare.
Of course, the new class of missioners would not have been prepared for overseas mission without the support of all those who assisted with the formation process. FMS is grateful to have dozens of Franciscan friars, sisters, and seculars, as well as lay men and women, volunteer their time to teach different sessions for the formation program. The missioners had two three-hour sessions per day throughout formation.
Local community partners provided the missioners with the opportunity for direct service every Wednesday morning in Washington, DC, the board led the missioners by example in living out Franciscan values, and the other volunteers at Casa San Salvador mission house accompanied the missioners throughout their training.
Later in the ceremony, missioners affirmed their commitment to God’s call to mission by sharing their personal mission statements with the congregation. These professions were personal reflections from each woman on what had led her to service and her hopes for the next two years.
Chase Medelberg, an FMS DC Service Corps participant and a Casa community member, remarked after Commissioning: “Hearing the missioners’ statements was a powerful part of the Mass. It reminded me of why I’m here; the work and service they’re doing abroad, we’re doing in our service and work here in DC.”
After the mission statements were read, Emily Norton, the programs manager, then bestowed each newly commissioned missioner with a Tau cross, a symbol of Franciscan spirituality. She recited, “Receive this Tau cross as a symbol of God’s call for you to bring justice, peace, and love to the world.” The Tau crosses from Assisi, Italy—where St. Francis lived—were then blessed by Fr. Tom.
Erin McHugh, an FMS missioner who is being recommissioned to Guatemala this year, recalled how she felt before starting her first placement in Jamaica: “[I remember] the specialness of receiving the Tau, the support of the community blessing, and having them walk [with you] and know you throughout your journey. I’m really remembering all the feelings from my last year and my own commissioning.”
The Mass was followed by a reception at Casa San Salvador house to celebrate the women who had answered their call to mission. Whether board or staff, current or former missioner, friend or family, the partygoers were part of a community united in a particularly Franciscan kind of joy as they shared the evening of food and fellowship.
As former office associate Katie Rotterman said: “Listening to the missioners speak to their own call and commitment to overseas mission is humbling, and celebrating their response with the FMS community is wonderful as well. It always reminds me to consider how the Lord is working in my life and how I can better serve.”
The four women will be leaving for mission in January, when each will trade the rhythms of her life in the US to live in solidarity with a new community, where she will serve and accompany those who are marginalized and learn about the different cultures, traditions and languages of the community.
Each missioner will witness first-hand the need for social justice. Through monthly blog posts, they will write about their experiences so that the entire FMS community can grow in faith along with them. Those of us at home, meanwhile, will continue to pray for the missioners and keep them in our thoughts.