By Fran Lavelle
The catechetical theme for the upcoming academic year,“Living as Missionary Disciples,” is a theme that closely echoes the diocesan pastoral priorities currently being implemented our parishes and schools, especially our priority to facilitate life-long formation of intentional disciples.
We all know that mission statements, masterplans and envisioning processes are only as successful as their implementation. Often, we get caught up in the language of a plan and lose sight of the overall goal. Every plan – be it architectural, business or master, cannot be realized without action. People enact plans. When I think of “Living as Missionary Disciples,” many images come to mind. I think of people like St. Patrick who was relentless in his pursuit of the hearts and minds of the Irish people. I think of modern day missionaries like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who literally loved people to death.
The Diocese of Jackson has been blessed for decades by those who came before us from “somewhere else” to live the gospel and share God’s love with the people of Mississippi. One such soul passed from this world earlier this spring. Brother Terry O’Rourke died on March 10 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served as a Glenmary Missioner for 58 years including service in Mississippi.
I served as a Lay Missioner for the Glenmary Sisters in the late 1990s in Western Kentucky. Coming to Mississippi I was excited to find so many Glenmary priests, brothers and lay missioners living in our diocese. I felt like it was a family reunion of sorts whenever I got to visit with the Glenmary lay missioners, brothers and priests. Fathers Bob Dalton, Tim Murphy and Steve Pawelk; Brothers Joe Steen, and Terry were among my favorites.
Brother Terry spent the majority of his ministry as a champion for social justice. His true love was building and providing safe and affordable housing for the poor.He spent 15 years working with the Brothers’ Building Crew, a group of Glenmary Brothers who did construction work. He also advocated for Legal Aide for the poor, AIDS funding and ending the death penalty. He was a tremendous supporter for lay ministry, especially with women in leadership.
In addition to putting a plan into action, Brother Terry was a lifelong learner. Just when some folks start getting comfortable with the idea of a remote control and an easy chair, He was pursuing higher education goals. When he was in his mid-60s, he earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago. Missionary disciples never stop learning. Never.
There is a saying in Glenmary that the most important thing one might do all day is go to the post office. We really never know where or when we will encounter people in need of God’s love. All the doing of Brother Terry’s life served as a witness to his commitment to those who live on the margins. However, it was never really about the doing; it was always about being present. He understood the ministry of presence.
Brother Terry had a very special place in the hearts and minds of those he served. For me, it might have been his Irish wit or his quick smile. It could have been his quiet, gentle way. Whatever it was, my heart was enlarged every time I sat down with him and his dog, Obie. Sometimes we would communicate by using words. But words, with Brother Terry and reportedly St. Francis, were not always necessary to preach the gospel. There was comfort in knowing that we did not have to have a conversation in order to have a visit. It was in those silent spaces that gratitude flourished. The aged face of Brother Terry, his sparking Irish eyes and monk-esque beard are forever imprinted in my memory. When I think of missionary disciples or I think of life-long formation, I think of Brother Terry. Gently, carefully and lovingly living discipleship. His faithfulness illuminated the path for so many others to find their way.
So, like I mentioned earlier, people enact plans. And people give witness when they live as missionary disciples. We, “the people” all have a role in bringing our pastoral priorities to fruition in our homes, schools and parishes. I encourage all of us to really think about how we can make a contribution. How can we find our way, define our charism of discipleship, nurture our thirst for life-long formation?
“I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives”–Tracy Chapman. BrotherTerry, your example of discipleship remains an inspiration.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)