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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Museum vs. Mausoleum?

FORWARD THINKERS on Maryknoll's previous Councils (both General and Regional) more than 20 years ago realized the Center building no longer fulfilled its primary purpose: seminary. After the seminarians and Brothers in formation moved to Chicago, the Center didn't serve as the Maryknoll School of Theology for too long either.

With an eye on demographics and actuarial tables, the Councils undertook vast remodeling projects and transformed our once monastic-looking cells and "gang toilets" (Don't you just love that term?) into the spacious, comfortable rooms with private baths we enjoy today.

With more and more retired men living at the Center, its character changed as well. Ambitious plans to use at least a part of the building as a Center for Mission got flushed away with those gang toilets when full-time residents dug in their heals and refused to relocate to what was to be a Maryknollers Only wing. Instead of reserving the R Wing for retreatants, workshop participants and guests, we now spread visitors around the building amongst retirees and transient Maryknollers. Complaints about noise and disturbances are as unavoidable as they are regrettable.

A much-needed assisted living section further reduced the number of guest rooms available to outside groups or individuals.

De facto the Center is now a retirement home, but a pleasant one at that. Ms. Terry Mierswa, Ms. Kathy Brophy and Br. Tom Hickey do a yeoman and yeowomen's job in offering outings and activities to which all residents are invited. (In fact, today is the twice-yearly picnic up in Roosevelt Park with Br. Kevin Dargan doing the honors on the charcoal grill.)

To be sure, we still host huge gatherings now and then, with Fr. Romane St. Vil having a wonderful Haitian Day of Prayer for almost 800 visitors and the Korean Ultreya packing in more than 1,000 two years ago. Our Maryknoll Youth Day also attracted close to 350 young people for the day and weekend groups still find hospitality.

But how are we to use the building 10 or 15 years down the road after the great bulk of retiring Maryknollers (Classes 55~62) passes through like the elephant through the snake in the Little Prince?

I've always dreamed of the MIST (Maryknoll International School of Theology), where we fill the place with seminarians and clergy from around the world, building on the incredibly successful model of Fr. Larry Lewis and the China Project. Imagine Chinese, Haitian, Korean, Peruvian, Filipino, Tanzanian and, yes, young Americans studying holy things together where they actually experience the catholicity of the Church. Returning to their homelands or working elsewhere, they cannot help but transform their communities and we continue to fulfill our mission mandate.

Or we can slowly fill our Center with lovely artifacts from around the world and become a museum. Unlike a mausoleum, at least a museum gets live visitors from time to time.

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