US Catholic Mission Association and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate 

By Jim Brobst, OMI and Harry Winter, OMI, September 2020 

As the US Catholic Mission Association (USCMA)  moves from its current location only a block away from  our provincial headquarters on Michigan Ave., NE, Washington, DC, to Silver Spring, MD, this is a good time to recall the very intimate relationship between it and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  We will present three periods, its construction  by Anatole “Benny” Baillargeon, OMI (1970-73); its contact with the Oblate Center for Mission Studies (1994-98) and the presidency of Greg Gallagher, OMI (2013-16). 

Fr. Anatole Baillargeon, OMI

       Benny Baillargeon and His Proposals for USCMA, 1970-73 

Father John Nuelle, MS, executive director of USCMA (2011-15), has written a comprehensive history of USCMA, beginning with the crucial three day consultative conference at Maryknoll, NY, Sept 6-8, 1949, organized by the Social Action and Education Departments of the National Catholic Welfare Conference.  By Nov. 18, 1949, the Secretariat of the Catholics Societies of the United States Engaged in Foreign Mission Activities, known for the next 17 years as the Mission Secretariat, was established (see the website of USCMA, [www.uscatholicmission.org] for Nuelle’s history). 

The Mission Secretariat, according to Nuelle, organized training and renewal programs for Catholic missionaries, facilitated contact among US Mission sending Societies by providing a convenient mean of contact with Catholic missionaries, organized annual meetings and conferences and worked to keep the mission mentality alive in the US Church. 

But he describes the structure of the Mission Secretariat as “heavy.”  He doesn’t mention the work of Fr. Baillargeon at all, which is unfortunate.  We rely on Bennie’s autobiography, available in both French and English, for Bennies’ influence on the Mission Secretariat.   

He describes January 12, 1970.  “The Executive Board of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), in session at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago and in conjunction with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), would  like to interview me concerning the job of executive research assistant for the U.S. Mission Council in Washington (ch. 23, p. 339). 

Jan. 14, 1970.  “After a day and a half of briefing by Joe (Connors, SVD), I meet with the CMSM Board, chaired by Fr. Paul Boyle, in the Sheraton Hotel at O’Hare Airport (Chicago).  I’m grilled on my background, travels, opinions, etc. 

Jan. 15.  Train to Ossining, NY, headquarters of Maryknoll Frs. and Srs. (MM). Lunch with Superiors General McCormack and Mother Coleman, Msgr. Ed O’Meara, National Director of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City and Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli, Sub-Prefect of Propaganda Fide in Rome.  A former Apostolic Nuncio in Canada, he visted our missions in the Arctic and names the OMI he met at Inuvik, Aklavik, Igoolik, Tuktoyaktuk…Unbelievable memory. His praise for these apostles is so effusive that I feel somewhat embarrassed in the presence of great missionaries like the two MM generals  at table. I am interrogated very neatly, diplomatically by real pros at this business.  Being on the carpet doesn’t prevent me from putting away a very fine meal; I think it even stimulates my appetite…

Jan. 27.  TWA to Pittsburgh, to Greenburg for discussion with Bishop William Connare, head of Bishops’ Mission Committee.  I pass the test, and accept the new job of Executive Research  Assistant for the U.S. Catholic Mission Council (USCMC) in Washington, to be officially appointed February 1. 

Feb. 5. North East flight to Washington, to attend Latin American Affairs sessions where I begin interviewing Major Superiors of Men and Women Congregations with missionaries abroad. They, the U.S. Bishops, Catholic Mission agencies, etc., are to be consulted as to the format, structures, objectives, composition, funding and personnel of a new Catholic Mission Council about to be instituted–perhaps in Washington.  Over the next five months, as permitted by y classes at Natick (Mass.) Scholasticate and at Dominicans’ St. Stephen Priory in Dover, Mass., I will collect this info, synthesize it and present it at an assembly of all parties (hierarchy, religious, laity) concerned.  Very important, I am told, to find a capable executive secretary for the Council. 

From Jan. 12-June 1, 1970, 41 plane flights from Boston to: Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Madison (Wis.), Omaha, Lincoln (Neb.), Kansas City, St. Louis, Newark, Detroit, Harrisburg (Penn.) plus repeated flights to these cities. 

From Jan. 16-May 25, Interviews with Ned Butler + George Butler (AID), Fr. George Mader, Patricia Mader, Gabrielle Miner, Vince Hogan, C Duke; Major Superiors of Women T Laustini, M Fleming, A Sharkey, L Russell,  Lynch, S Didomenicantonio, E. McNabb, F. Borgia; Frs. J Young, La Luzbetak, SVD, L Bender, SJ, L. Elliott, SJ, John Furniss, SJ, J Moriarity (St. James Society), Msgr. John Nolan, Msgr. Bill McCormack, John J Considine, MM, John McCormack, MM, Tom Cronin, Fred Haggerty, Edgar Holden, Tom Reddy, OMI, J. Kavanaugh, Leo Figge, OMI, Eugene HiggensBob Festie, Frank Gokey, SSE, Dan Devitt, Frances Neason + Fred McGuire, Tom Quigley, Mike Colonnese (Lat. Am. Bureau); Nick Maestrini, J Moloney, Joe Cusack, Gus Reitan; Bishops Frank McSorley, OMI, Joe Bernadin, W Connare, W O’Meara, J Boardman, Harold Perry, Archbishop John Ryan (Anchorage), Umberto Medeiros (Brownsville), John May, R Ackerman, Cletus O’Donnell, Glennon Flavin, J. Marling, Ed Swanstrom (CRS). 

Note from authors:  in this long list, please see the prominence of women, and missiologists such as Louis Luzbetak, SVD, and later cardinals such as Bernadin and Medeiros. 

“June 1.  Maryknoll, NY.  Second Assembly of the U.S. Catholic Mission Council.  Bishops’ Committee (ConnareSwanstrom, Ackerman), Major Superiors of Men, Women, Lay Mission Committee.  Present my report at General Assembly.  It was accepted, as were the location (Washington), priorities, budget ($100,000), etc. 

From Sept. 17-Oct. 7, he described helping five Catholic religious orders obtain $5,000,00.00 from the US government for the loss of schools, colleges, hospitals and orphanages in China, telephone calls from Walter Cronkite of CBS evening tv news, and black tennis player Arthur Ashe’s wife, and publishing Mission Intercom, a 4 page newsletter sent to all U.S. bishops, major superiors and all Catholic missionaries overseas.  He commented “this is getting interesting.” 

In the interest of brevity, his many travels and ministry  through May 13, 1973 (pp. 340-49), when he left his position with USCMA to become Information Officer for the OMI’s, in Rome, Italy, are described on the Oblate Missiology page, website Mission-Unity-Dialogue:  www.harrywinter.org. 

Bennie spent his last years at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Residence, Tewksbury, MA where he died on  Dec. 18, 2008. His accomplishment in establishing the structure of the USCMA, and expanding its ministry in its first years, deserves to be better known. 

Oblate Center for Mission Studies and USCMA, 1994-98 

When the Oblate Center for Mission Studies  (OCMS) started at Oblate College in 1994, Sr. Rosanne Rustemeyer, SSND, was executive director of USCMA and Fr. Gene Pocernich, a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, its assistant director.  He lived at Oblate College. Both were most helpful in the activities of OCMS.  

Fr. Hank Lemoncelli, OMI

Hank Lemoncelli, OMI,  administrator; Jim Sullivan, OMI, co-director, and Harry Winter, OMI, founder and co-director,  attended many of the functions of USCMA.  When the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’  Committee on Missions sponsored a symposium on World Mission, “Our Missionary Response to Jubilee 2000,” November 22-24, 1996, at the Center for Development in Ministry, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelin, Il, USCMA was very much a part of the symposium.  Harry attended on behalf of OCMS. 

 Visiting OCMS missiologists Jose Ante, OMI, from the Philippines, and Ron Young, OMI, from California, attended USCMA events.  One monthly event, Pizza and Mission, featured  Zairean  Oblate Gode Iwele, OMI, addressing “How Africa Is Reinventing Christianity:  Experiences and Challenges from Zaire” (6th in the series, March 6, 1996). 

But the most important event was the planning for a meeting bringing together Catholics from USCMA, mainline Protestants and Eastern Orthodox from the National Council of Churches, and evangelical Protestants. This event, organized by members from the three groups, “The Continuing Committee for Common Witness,” was held at the Bishop Cousins Center, Milwaukee, WI, from May 14-17, 1998.  It was publicized as the “Third Ecumenical Conference on ‘Mission in a New Millennium’.” Harry served on the planning committee as a USCMA representative. 

Fr. David Ulrich, OMI

Since the Oblate Center for Mission Studies had been disbanded in early 1998, as the five provinces of Oblates in the USA began to merge into one national province, the members of the new administration who would eventually have the portfolio for Mission, attended the event.  Dave Ullrich, OMI, also served on the Board of Directors of USCMA.  When his term ended, his successor, Billy Morell, OMI, served on the board, from 2006-11. 

From January, 1996 to Sept. 1997, four “Mission-Unity” newsletters were published by OCMS.  These  give more details on its criss-crossing activities with USCMA. 

Fr. Bill Morell, OMI

           Fr. Greg Gallagher, OMI, President, 2013-16 and Executive Director Donald McCrabb, 2015- 

Fr. Greg Gallagher, OMI

When Greg Gallagher became vicar for Mission in 2011, he began attending meetings of the USCMA. In 2013, he was elected as President.  At that time there were about 600 members, 30 of whom were Oblates. In an interview published on www.omiusa.org., Aug. 11, 2015, he was asked about his duties as president. 

“The corporate structure of the Association necessitates an annual meeting, which, in the past, has been held at our annual conference in different cities around the USA.  This is the first year we had our corporate meeting online, so that the members of the Association could participate without having to be present at the annual conference.  Every five years, we sponsor The Mission Congress,  which will be in Houston, TX, this year, from Oct. 1-4.  The 2016 annual conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

We continue to grapple with the changing face of mission.  There are more and more short term missionaries, mostly lay, who commit themselves to an overseas mission for several months or years.  The US is now receivin “missionaries,” religious from a foreign country helping the US address the needs of the gospel.  More and more we envision the USCMA as a resource for the Christian Church, not just religious communities.  In a real sense, the experience and history of the missionary congregations and religious orders will become a resource for the USCMA rather  than a large proportion of its membership.  Our new strategic plan includes programming for mission education, animation for mission and networking with mission sending and mission promoting entitles.” 

When asked what his greatest joy had been as a leader of the Association, he replied: 

“The growing numbers of laity who are engaged in mission; the emergence of short term mission; our relationship with the Mission Offices in each USA diocese, and the theological reflection we do.” 

USCMA held a nationwide Mission Conference every year, and a Mission Congress every five years, all held in different cities. The Congress of Oct. 1-4, 2015, hosted by Houston, TX,  was especially important for Oblates, since the Oblate Partnership, led by Artie Pingolt had a booth (see photo on omiusa.org, Aug. 11, 2015). 

Greg noted that the attendance was good. He also pointed out that the Catholic Volunteer Network, one of the ten sponsors, had a significant number of attendees at the Congress. Founded in 1963, this group works with both volunteers and short-term missionaries (www.catholicvolunteernetwork.org.). 

On Nov. 13, 2015, a news release from USCMA  announced that Donald. L. McCrabbD.Min., would be the new Executive Director, effective Dec. 7, 2015. Don is the first married person to serve as Executive Director, underlining the switch from clergy and vowed religious to laity and families as leaders in Mission in the USA Catholic Church.  He and his wife Barbara have three sons and three grandchildren. 

Part of his leadership has been initiating a newsletter Encounter, specifically for lay people. Five issues have been published as of September 2020. He also accepted Harry’s article “Coronavirus, Missionaries and Fundamentalism” as an “Occasional Paper on Mission, June 2020.” 

The Future of USCMA and the OMI’s 

The move of USCMA’s office from NE Washington, to Silver Spring, MD means that Don’s lunches at our headquarters will be less frequent.  But the authors of this article hope that our Oblate contact with USCMA will continue with Jim Brobst’s ministry as vicar for Mission. 

During our movement towards one US OMI Province, we had an office with the same organization where Don will now work, owned by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.  Fr. Bill O’Donnell, OMI, remembers working there, in the Office of the Oblate Conference of the United States. So maybe our vicar for Mission, and other Oblates visiting DC, will go there for lunch. 

As the office prepared to move, some 1,200 books in their library were offered to us.  We decided to give them a home at our national headquarters, at least temporarily. 

We offer our prayers to Don and USCMA and hope to work with them for the future of mission.