Father James Walsh, M.M. blessing new priests
Categories: Call to Mission, Events & Celebrations Tags: Leave a comment

Cherishing Maryknoll’s History

Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay People All Cultivate a Family Atmosphere at Maryknoll.

Maryknoll's Dr. Harry Blaber treating a patient in Xinhui, southern China, 1934 I had the special privilege not long ago of refreshing and deepening my understanding of Maryknoll’s great history. The three-week intensive course, given at the Maryknoll Society headquarters, was led by historians, Sr. Camilla Kennedy, M.M. and Fr. Bill McCarthy, M.M., teaching us about the history of the Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Special guest lectures were given by Br. Kevin Dargan, M.M. on the unique history of the Maryknoll Brothers, Ms. Alícia Butkiewicz, MLM on the later emergence of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and Ms. Mary D’Arcy on the most recent emergence of the Maryknoll Affiliates.

The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (CFMSA), known popularly as the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, was founded by two U.S. diocesan priests: Fr. James Anthony Walsh of Boston, MA and Fr. Thomas Frederick Price of Raleigh, NC. It was officially recognized on June 29, 1911. The CFMSA was founded at a time when the Catholic Church in the U.S. had still been primarily receiving missionaries from Europe, particularly Ireland, Italy and Germany, to work as clergy and religious for the building up of the church in the United States. The sending of missioners from the U.S. Church was seen as a sign of the U.S. Catholic Church finally coming of age. The first Maryknoll priests were missioned to China in 1918 just after the close of World War I. In 1920, construction of the Maryknoll seminary began which was finally completed in the 1950s.

From the beginning, “the Ladies of Maryknoll” as they were sometimes called, were an important and integral part of the first Maryknoll mission efforts. They began working as secretaries on the publication of a magazine called “The Field Afar,” which had as its goal to nurture and spread mission awareness among U.S. Catholics. Ms. Mollie Rogers, a 1905 graduate of Smith College, rapidly emerged as the natural leader among these young, committed women. She envisioned women as being missioners in their own right and not merely serving in supportive roles to the men. On February 14, 1920 the Maryknoll Sisters were officially recognized as a religious community with Mother Mary Joseph (Mollie Rogers) as their founding superior. In 1921 the first Maryknoll Sisters were missioned to Hong Kong and China. In 1927 the Maryknoll Sisters acquired land to build their Motherhouse, which they miraculously were able to complete during the Great Depression years.

In 1912, three men joined to serve as members who would commit themselves to the work of the missions as Maryknoll Brothers. Thomas McCann was the first candidate to become a full Brother member of the Maryknoll Society on Nov. 21, 1912. By 1918, Maryknoll had ten men serving as Brothers. They were first called the Brothers of St. Michael and lived in the St. Michael’s residence on the current Maryknoll property. Many of the early Maryknoll Brothers were skilled tradesmen and were responsible for constructing and maintaining a good number of buildings in the missions. Throughout the years, Maryknoll Brothers expanded their specialization to include many other areas of mission service including pastoral ministry.

Although the Maryknoll Lay Missioners officially got their start in 1975, the first layman, Dr. Harry Blaber from Brooklyn, NY, served for five years in China with Maryknoll beginning in 1934. In the first years, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners worked exclusively with the Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers. However, in August 1994, the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful (MMAF) was founded to become an independent and autonomous organization. Presently, they are popularly known as The Maryknoll Lay Missioners and are on their way to achieving complete autonomy and official canonical recognition.

From 1990-1992 the founding of the Maryknoll Affiliates began under the leadership of Fr. Jim Madden, M.M. and Sr. Ellen McDonald, M.M. The Maryknoll Affiliates are groups of people who want to be affiliated with the Maryknoll spirit. The Maryknoll Affiliates claim four pillars to their organization: community, spirituality, action, and mission vision. They publish a newsletter, entitled “Not so Far Afield.” Currently the Maryknoll Affiliates have 46 U.S. Chapters and 12 overseas Chapters claiming a total of 800-900 members.

Today the Maryknoll Family is composed of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the Maryknoll Sisters, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Maryknoll Affiliates. An important element of those early years when Maryknoll was being founded was always to cultivate and maintain “a family atmosphere.” That vision of the first founders of Maryknoll has grown and changed throughout the years, such that today Maryknoll has become a movement whose future will be determined by the direction and action of the Holy Spirit.


I became a Maryknoll Missionary Priest and served in Brazil for ten years. Now I am working as a Vocation Minister and have the privilege to invite other young people to join us in this exciting life.  If you think you might be interested in the mission life, feel free to contact us directly

Leave a Reply