SASKATOON — The diocesan church gathered on Mission Sunday, Oct. 19 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon to celebrate 50 years of the Brazil Mission and to welcome home the last four missionaries, who returned to Saskatchewan this summer. Thirty-one missionaries served in the Brazil Mission between 1964 and 2014.
The anniversary celebration began with Bishop Donald Bolen presiding at celebration of the eucharist, along with Abbot Peter Novecosy, OSB, of St. Peter’s Abbey, Bishop Emeritus Gerald Wiesner, and a number of priests from across the diocese, including four who served in the Brazil Mission: Revs. Emile April, Bernard de Margerie, Lawrence DeMong, OSB, and Les Paquin.
Recently returned from decades of service in Brazil were Sisters Claire Novecosky, OSU, and Louise Hinz, OSU, who began as missionaries from St. Peter’s Abbacy before joining the diocesan mission after the abbacy and diocese amalgamated in 1998.
Sisters Jeannine Rondot, SMS, and Marie-Nöelle, SMS, have also returned to Canada this summer, after 21 and 18 years, respectively, of living and working among the people of Brazil.
Other former missionaries in attendance at the celebration were Ursuline Sisters Bernadine Fetter, OSU, and Marie Gorsalitz, OSU; Sister of Sion Dianna Lieffers, NDS, of Montreal; Anne (Elizabeth) Murphy of Antigonish, N.S.; and Cecile Poilievre, one of two lay nurses who were part of the original 1964 mission team from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Family members of the late Rev. Donald Macgillivray — another of the original diocesan missionaries, who served in Brazil from 1964 to 2002 — also travelled to Saskatoon for the celebration, as did family members of Rev. Sylvester Vredegoor, OSB, one of the original missionaries sent to Brazil by St. Peter’s Abbey in 1967, who served there until his death in a traffic accident in 1992.
Also on hand were family members of Al Gerwing, a longtime friend of the Brazil Mission, who established a number of projects to help the people of Brazil, which have been carried on after his death through a charitable foundation and Rainbow of Hope for Children.
Other special guests at the anniversary celebration were two members of parish communities in northeastern Brazil who travelled to Canada for the 50th anniversary celebrations: Alcilene Lima and Ivoneide (Neide) Marie de Souza.
In his homily, April reflected on what has been learned through the Brazil Mission over five decades.
April, who served in Brazil from 1973 to 2001, spoke about the injustice and poverty encountered in Brazil, and shared memories and stories about the wisdom of the poor.
The experience has enriched the missionaries and all those who supported them, April related. “We learned to walk in solidarity with the poor of the world,” he said. “We learned that without justice, charity is an empty word.”
At the conclusion of mass, Bolen called forth all the former missionaries present to pray over them with the community in thanksgiving and blessing.
During the program that followed, MC Steve Buttinger called for a moment of silence in remembrance of the missionaries who have died. He also introduced special guests and those involved in the Brazil Mission, including past and present members of the Brazil Mission Awareness Committee. A documentary film about the history and the impact of the Brazil Mission was also part of the program.
At the conclusion of the event, recently returned missionaries Sisters Louise Hinz, Claire Novecosky, Jeannine Rondot and Marie-Nöelle Rondot came forward to express thanks.
“If we were to summarize this whole experience in one word, it would be the word faithfulness,” said Sister Marie-Nöelle, thanking those involved in the celebration and all those who have supported the mission over the years. “We have felt so much the presence of God on this journey, a God who sustained us, who guided us, and who was certainly there to protect us.”
“The poor helped us to see joy in the midst of suffering and daily struggle, who inspired us by their faith, simple, deep faith, who taught us what it means to share,” she said. “Those people helped us to know God better, to get a better glimpse of who God is.”
Bolen delivered closing remarks on behalf of Rev. Les Paquin, introducing an image of Christ helping the poor off the cross, which was distributed in the form of a prayer card.
Gifts of the Brazil Mission to the diocese include an awareness of the missionary identity of every Christian, Bolen said, quoting Paquin. “The mission has taught us what it is to live the option for the poor.”
The heart of the mission has been to walk with the people of Maceió and enter into their suffering, “and in little ways, try to be their support, and join Jesus in his great mission of taking the poor off of the cross,” Bolen said.
“The mission teaches us that we are all church,” he added, describing Paquin’s experience of ministering in a parish with 60,000 people served by one priest, which made it clear that base Christian communities and the laity had to carry the Gospel forward. Another lesson has been that relationships are more important than possessions.
“And lastly: the mission continues,” said the bishop, still quoting Paquin. “There will be ways that we continue the Brazil Mission, and as a church that we continue to be involved in missionary outreach, and to live Christ’s mission.”
The Brazil Mission had its beginnings in the days of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), grounded in St. Pope John XXIII’s call for a church that lives the Gospel in the world and Blessed Pope Paul VI’s appeal to Catholic leaders to address the disparity between rich and poor nations. Gathered in Rome for the Vatican Council meetings, the archbishop of Maceió asked for help from Saskatoon Bishop Francis Klein and Abbot Jerome Weber of St. Peter’s Abbacy, Muenster.
Klein established the diocesan mission in northeastern Brazil in 1964, beginning by sending three diocesan priests — Revs. Don Macgillivray, Bernard Dunn and Bob Ogle — as well as two lay nurses, Ida Raiche and Cecile Poilièvre. A short time later, in 1967, Weber sent the first abbacy missionaries to Brazil: Revs. Alvin Hergott, OSB, and Sylvester Vredegoor, OSB.
Over the next half century, missionaries serving in the Brazil Mission have included members of the Sisters of Sion from Saskatoon, Ursulines of both Bruno and Prelate, Elizabethan Sisters of St. Francis from Humboldt, Sisters of Notre Dame D’Auvergne and Sisters of Mission Service.