ARIZONA MISSION TRIP 2012
As part of the Pastoral Formation program at the Seminary College, students in their final year participate in a course, "Ministry to the Universal Church." In the fall semester, the group studies various subjects relevant to conditions of the people in Third World countries, especially in Guatemala. Following this, in January, two groups each spent a week in Esquipulas, Guatemala, with Fr. Gregory Boquet, O.S.B., President-Rector, and Mr. Matt Rousso, a lay Maryknoll missionary. This was the ninth year that the seminary has sponsored this program.
Staying at Mr. Rousso's mission house, the group followed a schedule of prayer and community, and became acquainted with the people through visits with the families in the area, and to a school and orphanage in a nearby village. They also had talks by local leaders on the concerns particular to education and health and nutrition in Guatemala, and on the role of the Church and the parish there. For some of the students, this was their first experience of life in another culture.
In February, Fr. Gregory and Fr. Jude Israel and five students joined Dr. Kate Wiskus and students from Mundelein at the Franciscan mission of San Salone on the reservation in Topawa, Ariz., in order to assess the feasibility of the site for future mission experiences.
On their return, Br. Simon Stubbs talked with Fr. Jude and seminarians Joey Dunbar, Brian McNavish, and Renee Pellesier about the experience.
Br. Simon: How did this opportunity come about?
Brian: Dr. Kate Wiskus from the University of Saint Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) in Mundelein, Ill. arranged the trip and invited us to join them this year on their mission immersion experience in the Tohono O'odham nation in southern Arizona. She has been taking a group of seminarians from Mundelein for a few years now and she recently decided to have a few guys from Louisiana join her. We're grateful for the opportunity to combine seminarians from two schools and immerse ourselves in an oftentimes overlooked part of the universal church.
Joey: I believe Fr. Gregory contacted Dr. Kate and asked her if it would be possible to have us accompany them on this mission trip to learn from them and then do it on our own the following year. This was through a mutual contact that Fr. Gregory was in touch with, and he recommended this program and Dr. Kate.
Br. Simon: How was the trip funded?
Brian: Saint Joseph Seminary College sponsored it along with the prayers from family and friends of our diocese.
Br. Simon: Rene, were these the only ones?
Rene: We also got a grant from a Catholic foundation that focuses on African-American and Native-American studies.
Fr. Jude: And we also had financial help from Fr. Wayne Paysse of the National Office of Black and Indian Missions. He was able to help with a grant to help fund part of the trip.
Br. Simon: What other students went?
Joey: Christopher Dehart and Patrick Carlin. Of course we were with the Mundelein seminarians, a good group of guys. It was definitely a mixture of personalities and ages, as it is with most seminary events. Dr. Kate was the main chaperone since we were not aware of all the rules the first couple days.
Rene: Yes, it was a fascinating experience being with guys from a northern seminary. We quickly picked up on the cultural differences between us.
Br. Simon: What do they do there?
Joey: Well, if you're talking about the Franciscans, I guess their primary duty is to travel around the reservation and administer the sacraments. One brother teaches English and other subjects at the local community college. They also take care of the immigrants that take refuge on the front porch of the church.
Br. Simon: I'm not just talking about the Franciscans. What does the Native American community do there? How do they earn their living?
Rene: There are three main employers on the Tohono Oodham Reservation. There is a large farm that grows all of their native food that employs around 40 people in the summer and 20 people in the winter. There is mining that goes on in the reservation, and there is the gaming industry. The nation owns four casinos, which are their major source of income.
Br. Simon: Where exactly is the reservation?
Brian: The reservation is located about an hour west of Tuscon, Ariz.
Joey: On the Tohono O'odham nation that borders Mexico.
Br. Simon: Where did you stay?
Joey: With the Franciscan Missionaries who run San Solano Mission in Topawa, Arizona on the reservation itself.
Fr. Jude: The Franciscan Friars of the Santa Barbara Province.
Br. Simon: Fr. Jude, why did you and Fr. Gregory go?
Fr. Jude: We went to get a first-hand experience of the mission and to see if it would be a viable experience for our students. It will also give us a chance to offer a different kind of mission experience from the one experienced in Esquipulas, Guatemala.
Br. Simon: Who arranged the meeting with the bishop? What is his name and diocese?
Joey: Dr. Kate arranged the meeting. She knows Bishop Gerald Kikanis from his time as rector of the seminary in Chicago. He is a native of Chicago, so that is the connection. He is the bishop now of Tucson, Ariz.
Br. Simon: You visited a conservatory. What was it, and where was it?
Joey: It was Kitt Peak National Observatory, located 56 miles southwest of Tucson, Ariz., in the Schuk Toak District on the Tohono O'odham Nation and it has a Visitor Center open daily to the public."
Br. Simon: What else did you do?
Joey: We visited their communities for a day of reflection after Sunday Mass. We spent evenings together as seminarians reflecting on our day's activities and praying compline together. And we made some traditional Native American food and had a traditional meal with one of the communities. We also went to the museum on the reservation to learn more about their people, culture, and customs, etc. We also had two different days where we worked on improving the mission site itself by doing some manual labor and small construction projects, like repair roofs, fences, paint, pick up litter - everywhere! - clear brush, etc.
Br. Simon: Rene, in the photos, I saw you all painting a house or something. What was that?
Rene: The San Solano Mission, where the Franciscans are stationed, is in a very remote area, and their income is very minimal. In fact, their weekly collection is something like $15-20. So we helped repair their mission, and one of those jobs was painting.
Br. Simon: What was the purpose of this experience?
Brian: We went to immerse ourselves in a different part of the church, namely, the Native American nation of the Tohono O'odham people. We did not expect the seriousness of the immigration situation to be a never-ceasing, day-by-day issue.
Br. Simon: Rene, what does he mean by the "immigration situation?"
Rene: Because the Middle American economy is so poor, there is a flood of immigrants that cross the border in order to find work, and, because the borders are so tightly guarded in Texas and in California, these people are forced to cross 1100 square miles of desert in order to get into the United States. Thus, we had immigrants on the porch of the rectory virtually everyday who had just spent three to four days crossing the desert.