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Meet the Missionaries

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Sister Elaine Kohls

Medical Missioner Sister Elaine Kohls is a good example. Originally from St. Mary Church in Hyde Park just east of Cincinnati, she has lived most of her last 54 years in Ghana and Ethiopia.

From an early age she knew that mission was her calling. During a high school visit to Notre Dame University, she encountered multiple religious orders, including the Medical Mission Sisters.

She claims that once you have boots on the ground in mission territory, it confirms your vocation. “I think once you go into a country and you see the problems and you’re there to help the people, you do something,” she said. “It’s God working through us. No question.”

Sister Zoe Brenner

Sister of the Blessed Sacrament Zoe Brenner embraces her missionary vocation in a nation a bit closer to home: the Navajo Nation. Founded in 1891 by St. Katherine Drexel to serve African Americans and Native Americans, The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament continue their mission today.

As she discerned her vocation, Sister Brenner had no doubts. “When I heard the sisters speak, it was like I was zapped by the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to be a sister, this is the congregation!’ I realized I wanted to serve people who were not part of the status quo.”

Living on a reservation surrounded by Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, Sister Brenner supports the Catholic Native Americans, 10-15% of the reservation’s population. She works with Catholics, but she is a missionary after all, so evangelization is part of the gig. “I want to open them to the Catholic faith and let them know that their traditional ways are also about God,” she said. “I want to introduce them to Catholicism. … We’re here to be a presence to them.”

The missionary’s life isn’t always easy. Sister Brenner traveled a long way from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish (now Our Lady of the Valley Parish) in Reading, but she said that when one is doing God’s will, the benefits outweigh the costs.

“People say we have given so much, but they don’t know how much we get,” she said. “We get much more… I have been enriched by them. It is in being with people of different cultures and beliefs that I have been enriched.”

Father Tom Charters

Father Tom Charters, a Glenmary Home Missioner, knew in high school that he wanted to be a priest, and he felt the missionary call, but he was concerned that he’d be unable to learn a foreign language.

Enter Glenmary. Glenmary serves in rural parts of Appalachia and the South right here in the U.S., where hundreds of counties have a Catholic minority with poor access to the sacraments and high poverty and where many people have no faith affiliation.

“It was the idea of being a missionary in an area that was not Catholic and reaching out to people that weren’t Catholic that appealed to me,” he said. “Glenmary was the match for me.”

Father Charters grew up in Dayton at St. Joseph’s Parish and was only 18 when he decided to pursue a vocation with Glenmary. He attributes the decision’s clarity to his prayer life. “I was developing a prayer life as a foundation in my own way. It just kind of came,” he said. “My prayer in those days was a conversational prayer. I’d pray after homework.”

Stationed in Erwin, TN, a town of 6,000 located two hours east of Knoxville, Father Charters is pastor of St. Michael the Archangel mission, which started off worshiping in an Elks’ Lodge.

Once the mission collected enough money, they built a permanent worship space.

Whether one is called to serve in the U.S. or overseas, missionaries are still needed today. If someone feels called to that life, Father Charters said they should talk to someone who has lived it. “Find a missionary to talk with,” Father Charters said. “Talk to someone who has been walking through those mountain paths, you might say, who has been experienced in the missions. Listen to them.”

“And of course,” he adds, “don’t forget to pray.”

This article appeared in the October 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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