Since their beginnings in 1918, Scarboro missionaries have been present in Canada and have also served overseas in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. They set out to help build up the local church and lay leadership in the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Thailand, and Zambia.
In the September-October 2009 issue of Scarboro Missions magazine, Fr. Jack Lynch writes, “Innumerable are the parishes throughout the world that Scarboro priests have established, served, and now transferred to the care of local priests. Today, people from several of the countries and communities where Scarboro missioners worked have immigrated to Canada and are some of the most active and faithful members of many Canadian parishes.”
In serving the poor and disadvantaged, Scarboro priests promoted cooperatives, credit unions, and other community based initiatives, many which continue today, particularly in Japan, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. Scarboro priests introduced the first credit unions in Japan. Fr. Harvey Steele and Fr. Jack McIver are considered to be two of the principal founders of the cooperative movement in the Dominican Republic. From there, Fr. Steele went on to found the Interamerican Cooperative Institute in Panama, and Fr. McIver taught courses on cooperatives at the university in Guyana, assisted in the consolidation of credit unions in the Philippines, and established a training centre in Swaziland, South Africa, that exists today.
Twenty-three Scarboro priests, having spent most of their lives in their place of mission, are buried in their overseas parish.
In addition to their overseas missionary focus, Scarboro Missions has also had a presence in Canada from the time of its founding in 1918 as the new China Mission College in the town of Almonte near Ottawa, Ontario. The seminary, which eventually became known as Scarboro Missions, was moved in 1921 to Scarborough, Ontario, where it served as the Society’s central house until November 1918. At that time, having sold the property to the Toronto Catholic District School Board, many Scarboro priests moved to a newly built residence called Presentation Manor, located nearby in Scarborough. Several religious congregations of both women and men united to lend support the the Presentation Manor project and are part of this new community.
Scarboro Missions was also present in British Columbia. The first ordained priest for Scarboro Missions, Irish-born Fr. Dan Carey, after a brief experience in China, returned to Canada in the early 1920s and eventually became the founding editor of the BC Catholic. In the mid-1930s the Grey Sisters assisted Scarboro priests in developing an apostolate to the Chinese community in Vancouver. For the next 40 years, the Sisters taught the Catholic faith to the children of St. Francis Xavier parish in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Today this lively, thriving parish community is a testimony to the missionary spirit of these early priests and Sisters.
Scarboro Missions also had a ministry to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. In 1972, Fr. Al Felix returned from Guyana to work among the Ojibwe-Odawa people on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, Ontario. Later he worked among the Chippewa (Ojibwe) people on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula. In 1988, Fr. Joe Curcio went to live and work among the Cree peoples of Northern Saskatchewan. He saw their suffering and wanted to journey with them in their struggles. He felt drawn to their gentle ways, their love of family and community, their oneness with nature, reverencing creation and experiencing God in the whole web of life.
A time of change
Facing a period of diminishment and downsizing, in November 2018 many of the Scarboro priests moved into the newly built Presentation Manor residence. The Society’s General Council, the Financial Affairs Office, and Archives are also located there.
By December 2017, Scarboro Missions had closed its in-Canada ministries: Scarboro Missions Magazine, the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office, the Department of Interfaith Dialogue, and the Mission Centre.
Almost 100 years ago, Fr. John Mary Fraser, a Scottish Canadian missionary in China, returned to Canada motivated by the quest to recruit and train missionary priests for China. On November 9, 1918, he succeeded with the enthusiastic support of the local pastor in Almonte, Ontario, as well as Archbishop Gauthier of Ottawa, and the Sisters of St. Joseph who allowed their local convent school to become his fledgling China Mission College, later to be known as Scarboro Missions. Its missionaries were to work solely in China.
Three short years after the foundation of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Pembroke in 1926, a group of young Sisters was sent by their community to Lishui, China, to join the Scarboro priests already working there. Moved by the suffering of the people of Lishui as a result of poor health and nutrition, the priests worked closely with the Grey Sisters whose medical clinics and orphanages for abandoned children reached out to the poor.
After the Chinese civil war and the takeover of the nationalist forces by the Communist party in China in 1949, all foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. In the next few years Scarboro priests began doing mission work elsewhere in Asia, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, at the invitation of the local church.
By the late 1970s it became possible for foreigners to work once again in China, no longer as missionaries attached to a church, but as teachers in universities. This new situation allowed Scarboro Missions to revive its commitment to serve the Chinese people not through direct evangelization but through Christian witness. We were there to participate in China’s reintegration into the family of nations through the teaching of English at universities, giving students the opportunity to interact with non-Chinese and exchange ideas, world-views, customs, and values. Today, Scarboro continues its mission presence in China through teaching.
In the 1980s, two Scarboro missioners went to the University of Hong Kong to study. They also volunteered at the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a Hong Kong-based Catholic organization that seeks to share insights on the Church in China. Established by Cardinal John Tong and the Diocese of Hong Kong almost 25 years ago, the Centre is concerned with pastoral formation and is involved with gathering documentation, furthering research, and encouraging active dialogue with Catholics in mainland China. Several Scarboro missioners have volunteered at the Centre.
In 2005, Scarboro missioner Fr. Ray O’Toole began serving the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) in Hong Kong, first as Assistant Secretary General and then in 2012 as Secretary General, the first non-bishop to hold this post. The FABC is comprised of 19 bishops’ conferences located in countries of South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia. Fr. Ray said, “Asian culture is imbued with spirituality and one cannot but be influenced by this. And I believe that this depth of spirituality is Asia’s gift to the world. The contemplative stream that flows from these religions is having a deepening influence on the Catholic Church. At the same time, our rich Catholic tradition of spirituality has lots to contribute to the Asian religions and to the dialogue with them. What we are discovering is that interreligious dialogue is a way of being Church in Asia. For me, it is a great gift and a privilege to work with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference in its commitment to dialogue with religions, cultures and the poor.”
Scarboro’s founder Monsignor John Mary Fraser, at 73 years of age, established the Japan mission at the invitation of Bishop Yamaguchi of Nagasaki. With foreign missionaries expelled from China and the closure of Scarboro’s China mission, Monsignor Fraser faithfully looked to Japan as his missionary society’s next site. He writes in his memoirs: “Bishop Yamaguchi sent me a cordial invitation to go to Nagasaki. He wished me to rebuild a large church, Queen of Martyrs, destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945…I left San Francisco, May 28, 1950, and arrived in Tokyo on June 20, this being my 12th crossing of the Pacific…”
Scarboro priests served many parishes in the Catholic archdioceses of Japan. The parishes of Takanawa in Tokyo; Ichinomiya, Oshikiri, Inazawa, Mizunami and Minokami in the Diocese of Nagoya; and Yoshizuka and Minami Kasuya in Fukuoka are among the many parishes founded by Scarboro priests. Besides these, there are many other diocesan parishes where Scarboro priests served with distinction. Several parishes, including Toyoshiki in Tokyo, Totsuka in Yokohama, Ichinomiya in Nagoya, and Minami Kasuya in Fukuoka had new churches built during the last 20 years while Scarboro priests were pastors there. Scarboro missioners also set up credit unions in Japan in the early 1950s and 60s that are still thriving today.
Another aspect of working in Japan was the interaction with peoples of other faiths. Shintoism and Buddhism are the country’s major religions. Christians form less than one percent of the population and Catholics less than .05 percent. In sharing his mission journey in the pages of Scarboro Missions magazine, Fr. John Carten said that by experiencing the friendship, goodness, generosity, and kindness of the Japanese people, he saw the face and presence of God. “In our openness to other faith traditions,” Fr. Carten said, “we are privileged to taste another aspect of God’s beauty and truth.”
A greater legacy than the church buildings or credit unions that Scarboro left behind in Japan are the friendships that have continued and the regard that many Japanese Christians still hold for Scarboro priests they once knew. This relationship continues in Canada through the small Japanese Catholic community that gathers monthly at the Scarboro Missions central-house to celebrate mass in Japanese and support one another.
At the request of Bishop Lino Conzaga of Palo on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, Scarboro Missions began serving this new mission territory in 1955. At that time, the diocese covered the whole of the island of Leyte and consisted of more than one million Catholics who were served by only 80 priests.
In July 1983, after 28 years of assisting to build up the local church and with the ordination of more Filipino clergy, Scarboro’s mission to Leyte ended. Their work then moved to the Diocese of Malaybalay on the southern island of Mindanao, as well as to the island of Cebu. They accompanied the people during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos who instituted almost 10 years of martial law. During that time, parishes served by Scarboro missioners experienced killings and persecution. Fr. Charlie Gervais, who spent more than 25 years in the Philippines, said, “I will never forget the joy of celebrating with the people when they finally expelled the dictator in a nonviolent demonstration in the streets of Manila. I was there when millions of Filipinos stopped military tanks with their bodies, rosaries, prayers and flowers.”
Scarboro priests not only put their efforts into sacramental work, but they also worked with the people to build schools and a hospital, and established credit unions and other projects to help the people improve their lives. By their simple lifestyle and priority to the poor, the missionaries witnessed to Gospel values. Basic Christian communities also became an important aspect of faith life through which the people gathered together to apply the Gospel to their struggles for liberation and were able to participate in the renewal of the church.
Missioners also stood in solidarity with local communities in their nonviolent picket to save the forests of Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao. The people succeeded in stopping logging companies from clear-cutting the trees in their watershed in the mountains.
While in the Philippines, Scarboro lay missioner Gary Saulnier studied herbal medicine with rural mananambal (practitioners of traditional medicine) and compiled a book on Visayan herbal medicine in 1981 that is still widely used by the community-based health program of the Visayan-speaking regions of the Philippines.
In January 2000, husband and wife team Georgina and Paddy Phelan went to teach at the Redemptorist Fathers’ vocational school for disabled adults in Pattaya, south of Bangkok. At that time, Thailand was the newest area of mission for Scarboro Missions. Other Scarboro missioners joined them at the school in Bangkok, and began working with the Good Shepherd Sisters mission to exploited women. Later the missioners went to the northern cities of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to work with children and adults with special needs, and with struggling migrants from neighbouring countries. Another area of ministry was to hill-tribe peoples, through the education of hill-tribe youth and through a microcredit project that helped to improve the life of these indigenous communities.
Guinea Bissau, Africa: 1981-1982
Fr. Joseph Curcio visited Guinea Bissau in 1981 to investigate the possibility of working with an existing mission group in Africa. In May of that year, he was appointed by the Bishop of Bissau to work with the Bijago people, where he stayed for just over one year.
Kenya, Africa: 1998-1999
In 1998, Scarboro lay missionaries David Fish and his wife Elena Abubo were assigned to Nairobi, Kenya, and served almost a year in solidarity with the victims of HIV/AIDS and their caregivers. David worked as a researcher and educator at the University of Nairobi through the university’s Regional AIDS Training Network, helping to develop educational programs to stem the rapid spread of the disease. Elena offered her skills as a nurse and field worker in the slums of Nairobi, and at hostels, hospices, and a home for HIV infected orphans.
Malawi, Africa: 1996-2013
After completing Scarboro’s lay mission preparation program in 1995, Ray and Beverley Vantomme were asked to begin a new mission in Mzuzu Diocese in Malawi, Central Africa. They began their ministries in January 1996, Ray as a project coordinator and technical advisor for the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and Beverley in the field of psychological counseling, training the staff at the St. John of God Community Mental Health Services. For the next 17 years, Scarboro lay missioners continued to work in the cities of Rumphi and Mzuzu in the Diocese of Mzuzu in northern Malawi. They were also invited to walk in friendship and ministry with the Rosarian Sisters, assisting them in health care, education, HIV/AIDS awareness, pastoral care, and human development with a focus on women and children. Scarboro Father Jim McGuire also served in Malawi in Dedza Diocese as a spiritual director and chaplain. Since 2013, no Scarboro missioners have served in Malawi.
South Africa: 1978-1986
Scarboro missioner Fr. Jack McIver spent the last years of his missionary life serving the church in South Africa during the apartheid years. He went there in 1978 at the invitation of the Bishop of Eshowe Diocese, Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal), to share his expertise in cooperatives and credit unions, an expertise honed during his early years teaching at the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Fr. McIver worked tirelessly to promote the cooperative movement among the farmers of Zululand. At the time of his death in 1986 he had succeeded in establishing 12 credit unions recognized by the South African government, as well as the Zulu Agricultural and Credit Union Central Co-operative and Training Centre in the Eshowe Diocese, which still functions today. Fr. McIver is buried in South Africa.
Zambia, Africa: 1995-1998
Scarboro lay missioner Mary Rowlands was sent to Zambia in 1995 to work as a nurse midwife at the Zonal Health Unit in Kanyanga, an isolated village in the northeastern part of the country. She worked with the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception at their health centre to provide care to women during their pregnancies and assist them in the safe delivery of their babies. She also provided post-natal care as well as healthcare to children up to five years of age.
Unable to go to mission in Peru due to escalating tensions in that country, Scarboro lay missioners Lorraine Reaume and Tim Richards were assigned to the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they joined a Maryknoll mission team accompanying the urban and rural poor.
In the January-February 2013 issue of Scarboro Missions magazine, Fr. Ron MacDonell writes: “In Brazil’s vast Amazon jungle at a place where the Amazon River is at its narrowest lies the small city of Itacoatiara, meaning ‘Painted Rock’ in the Tupi language. Five young Scarboro missionary priests arrived here in 1962 to begin their witness to Christ.” This was the beginning of Scarboro’s mission to Brazil. Celebrating the sacraments was the main focus of the priests who travelled by boat and canoe to the small towns and villages where the riverside dwellers eked out a living by farming cassava root and fishing.
In 1965, Scarboro Father Paul McHugh was appointed the first bishop of the newly created Prelacy of Itacoatiara. A prelacy is a new church region assigned to a religious congregation until it can be staffed with local clergy and become a diocese. That year, Bishop McHugh attended the last session of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. The central document of the council, Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) begins: “The joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially the poor and those afflicted in any way, are the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the followers of Jesus Christ.”
These values affirmed by the council expanded the work that Scarboro missionaries did in the Amazon. They turned their attention to the problems affecting the people. The church, both religious and laity, became a prophetic voice in denouncing injustices and calling people to build more just social relations. Scarboro priests also founded an agricultural school for students from the rural villages near the town of Urucará. In 1978 the prelacy’s second bishop, Scarboro missionary George Marskell, continued to affirm the church’s social responsibility, particularly in defending the cause of landless people. Bishop Marskell served a term as National Vice-President of the Land Pastoral Commission of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. Scarboro’s legacy lives on through the Bishop George Marskell Association founded by lay people after his death in 1998. The Association keeps alive the social Gospel of the church.
This vision of church lived out by both priest and lay missioners and local lay leaders is best described in the words of Bishop George when he addressed the People’s Assembly of the Prelacy of Itacoatiara in June 1998, just a month before he died. He said, “I know that all of you believe with me that our church is, and tends to be, more and more participative, more and more a church of solidarity. Only so can we become a church with the face of Jesus.”
Now in his 50th year in Brazil, Fr. Omar Dixon is retired from active pastoral ministry and living in the riverside community of Itapiranga in the Diocese of Itacoatiara.
Fr. Ron MacDonell is in Roraima where he continues his work in language revitalization among Indigenous peoples who struggle to protect their language and culture.
In 1993, Scarboro accepted the invitation of Monsignor Victor Corral Mantilla to work in the Diocese of Riobamba, Ecuador. The previous bishop, Monsignor Leónidas Proaño, known as the bishop of the Indigenous, fought for justice, equality, and dignity for the Indigenous peoples who for generations had lived as slaves on the estates of the large landowners.
When the Scarboro team arrived in Ecuador, Bishop Proaño’s work was beginning to bear fruit. The Indigenous who had been voiceless were now actively participating in the church and through a new seminary for Indigenous young men. They also engaged in political change through organizations such as the Indigenous Movement of Chimborazo and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). The poor of Ecuador were creating a new understanding of church and were committed to living as witnesses to the Gospel. Through Base Christian Communities, they gathered to reflect on their struggles and to better their lives in the light of their faith.
In supporting the people’s efforts, the Scarboro team of priests and several lay missioners worked in diverse areas of ministry: community health care; pastoral work with the aged and infirm; adult education to urban, rural and indigenous communities; organizing and working with women; formation of indigenous and mestizo priest candidates at the new seminary; the education of children; parish work; collaborating in community economic development programs; and community and eco-tourism development in the Puruhá Indigenous communities on the snow covered slopes of Mount Chimborazo.
In the early 1980s, Scarboro missionaries worked in Chiapas, Mexico, and experienced firsthand the plight of the Mayan people. The missionaries were there at the invitation of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, who stood in solidarity with the Indigenous people.
On January 1, 1994, an uprising drew international attention to Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. The Zapatistas, descendants of the Mayan peoples, were protesting centuries of exploitation. Their rebellion led to the militarization of the area, along with intimidation, assassinations, and a massacre in the village of Acteal. In 1998, a mural designed and painted by members of 12 Indigenous communities in the area was unveiled in the town of Taniperla in Chiapas. The mural depicted Mayan traditions and ideals of community life—peace, harmony, unity, and happiness. In an act of international solidarity, the Taniperla mural was recreated in Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Ireland, San Francisco, Mexico City, and in Canada when it was painted on the property of Scarboro Missions’ central house in Scarborough, Ontario.
In 1984, arrangements were made with the American Franciscan community in Nicaragua for three Scarboro priests to work in their mission area in the northeastern part of the country. At that time Nicaragua was in the midst of an armed conflict. The country had been invaded and was under attack by rebel forces known as the Contras who were attempting to undermine and overthrow the Sandinista government.
Since the area served by the Franciscans was in the war zone, the work of these Scarboro missionaries was all the more difficult and dangerous. They were attempting to minister to people caught in the crossfire. One of these missioners, Fr. Joe Curcio, served as pastor in the small town of Muelle de los Bueyes, about five hours drive from the capital of Managua. He witnessed firsthand the devastation brought to families and to the economy as a result of the 10-year war.
From 1987 to 1992, Fr. Robert (Buddy) Smith worked on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, journeying with people who were struggling for life in the midst of armed conflict and then in the aftermath of war.
After years of working in the field of cooperatives and credit unions in the Dominican Republic, Scarboro missionary Fr. Harvey Steele went to Panama in 1962. There he established a study center to educate Latin Americans in the cooperative movement. This work led to the founding of the Interamerican Cooperative Institute (ICI) in 1964, which has provided leadership training to more than 3,000 men and women from nearly 800 organizations involved in grassroots development in Latin America and the Caribbean. At ICI, participants analyze their local situations, learn from each other’s experiences, and strengthen their skills in order to strengthen their communities.
Scarboro lay missioner Thomas Walsh, one of several Scarboro missioners who served as a director of the work of ICI, remembers: “Instead of bio technology and mono crops, ICI has advocated organic cultivation and crop association; instead of intermediaries and unjust terms of trade, ICI has advocated producer-to-consumer relations and fair trade; instead of globalization, ICI has encouraged strengthening of local economies; instead of exclusion, ICI has advocated gender equality and inclusion of minorities.”
In January 2010, after almost 45 years, Scarboro turned over the buildings, land, and responsibility for ICI to a new Board of Directors with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras as President and Carlos Lee, a well-known Panamanian lawyer, as Executive Director. At that time, the new Executive Director outlined a vision to create at ICI a Latin American Centre for the teaching and diffusion of Catholic social teaching.
In 1975, Fr. Jack Lynch began working with Fr. Denis Hebert, an Edmonton diocesan priest and pastor of Christ, Light of the World parish in a dry, barren, and dusty area on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. At that time, there were 50,000 people in the parish living with no electricity, water, sewage, or mail service, and only rudimentary streets. Fr. Jack said at that time, “There is little doubt in my mind that our vocation calls us to be identified with the poor, to be close to them.”
After working in Japan, Scarboro missioner Fr. Bill Schultz went to Lima in 1980 to accompany the poor in the time of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the vicious rebel group that terrorized the country for more than a decade. This group destroyed the crops of poor peasants, threatened the municipal governments and put on public trials of local officials followed by instant sentencing and execution. During this dangerous time, Fr. Bill chose to stay with the people rather than return to Canada. While in Peru, Fr. Bill also helped to lay the groundwork for Japan’s first-ever lay missionary program in which Catholics from Japan went to work as missionaries in Peru. He is buried in the cemetery of the poor community of Carabayllo, his grave still lovingly maintained some 27 years after his death in 1986.
Scarboro’s second Peruvian mission was established in 1980 in the parish of St. Joseph the Worker, La Victoria, Chiclayo, in the northern coastal desert. Invited by the Diocese of Chiclayo, the Scarboro missioners were part of a team consisting of the Sisters of Charity and priests from the Diocese of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Then Archbishop of Halifax, James Hayes, had participated in the Second Vatican Council and sent the first team of diocesan priests to Chiclayo in 1968 in response to Pope John XXIII’s call to mission in Latin America.
Scarboro’s mission team in Chiclayo was comprised of priest and lay missioners, including a married couple. They served the parish, celebrating the sacraments and doing faith formation through base Christian communities where the people prayed and reflected on their lives in the light of the Gospel. Missioners also worked with CEPAS, a popular education and social action group through which the illiterate learned to read, the marginalized learned to organize, and women were empowered. Despite living in conditions of extreme poverty and death, the people of Chiclayo continued to proclaim and celebrate the God of Life and Goodness.
Former lay missioner to Peru, Armella Sonntag, recalls: “The images that continue to motivate me are images of people who carry on scratching out a living for their families, in the daily grind of poverty, yet have their sights and faith set on a different and transformed society. These people, at great sacrifice, are active in unions, politics, civil society, church, and any avenue that creates spaces for social transformation.”
Another missioner, Gerry Heffernan—the first lay person to join Scarboro Missions when it opened its doors to the laity in 1974—was publicly recognized in 1990 by the people of La Victoria for his continuing efforts to help this poor community to obtain proper housing. Gerry organized a housing project and worked alongside the people as together they built almost 200 houses for themselves.
The journey of Scarboro missioners with the Bahamian people began after Fr. Jack McGoey made a visit to the islands in the early 1950s. He observed that priests served only the larger islands and since the 13,000 Catholics in the Bahamas were widely scattered, many were without the services of a priest. In 1954, in response to this pastoral need, Fr. McGoey and Fr. Craig Strang, both experienced missioners with years of service in China, became the first Scarboro missioners assigned to the Bahamas. In the early years, they travelled by sea and air to minister to the scattered groups of Catholics on the islands. Pastoral work was the main emphasis, but they also participated in efforts to alleviate the widespread poverty of the people by attempting to help farmers and establish schools to educate youth.
For the next 58 years, Scarboro Missions sent almost two dozen priests to serve in the Bahamas on the islands of Eleuthera, Harbour Island, Cat Island, New Providence, Bimini, and Grand Bahama. Fr. Ambie MacKinnon, the longest serving missioner to the Bahamas and the last to leave, served there for 37 years. Four Scarboro priests are buried in the Bahamas.
In 1999, Scarboro missioner Fr. Hugh MacDougall went to work in Cuba with the Quebec Foreign Mission Society. This was an exciting appointment for him as Cuba was a new area of mission for Scarboro Missions. Fr. MacDougall died after being struck by a vehicle outside of his residence in Havana in 2001 and is buried in the parish of San José in Bahia Honda, in the Diocese of Pinar del Rio where he served. Scarboro ended its mission presence in Cuba at that time.
Dominican Republic: 1943-2012
Scarboro Missions began sending priests to the Dominican Republic in 1943. At one time, this was Scarboro’s largest mission. However, with the eventual development of the church in the Dominican Republic and the increase of vocations to the priesthood, Scarboro missioners gradually moved on to other countries.
The principal groups that worked side by side with Scarboro personnel were the Sisters of Charity from Halifax, Nova Scotia; the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception from Pembroke, Ontario; and the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph from Kingston, Ontario. The Sisters of St. Martha from Prince Edward Island also collaborated.
Most of the missioners worked in rural areas among the poorest communities, an experience that profoundly impacted their lives. They spoke out about injustice and lived an option for the poor long before it became part of the Church’s social teaching. A few had to leave the country under threat of death for speaking out about conditions under the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Scarboro missioner Fr. Art MacKinnon was an outspoken advocate for young members of his parish who had been unjustly imprisoned by the Dominican military. He was assassinated on June 21, 1965, after speaking out at the Sunday masses in defence of these young people. He is a martyr for his commitment to justice.
Scarboro priests also tried to help the people by introducing the first credit unions and cooperatives to the Dominican Republic. Leading the way were Frs. Jack McIver and Harvey Steele who were influenced by Fr. Moses Coady and the Antigonish Movement in Nova Scotia.
In rural development, Fr. Joe Curcio, Fr. Lou Quinn, Fr. Robert (Buddy) Smith, and Fr. Joe McGuckin encouraged the people to participate in identifying and solving their own problems. Fr. Lou Quinn was involved in community development for more than 40 years in San José de Ocoa and became known nationally as the “padre of the poor.” Besides being a recipient of the Order of Canada, he was made a Dominican citizen.
Today, the work of helping Canadians become more aware of the reality of people in the global South continues through the work of former Scarboro lay missioner Dean Riley in the town of Consuelo. Dean coordinates one-week exposure trips for teams of Canadian high school students and teachers. Solidarity visits are also organized by ADESJO, the community development organization started by Scarboro missioner Fr. Joe Curcio and continued by Fr. Lou Quinn in the town of San José de Ocoa.
Scarboro closed its mission to the Dominican Republic in 2012. Although retired, Scarboro missioner Fr. Joe McGuckin continues to live among the Dominican people.
Scarboro priests and laity first went to Guyana in 1953, working in the major urban areas of Georgetown and New Amsterdam and in towns and villages along the Atlantic Coast. For several years two Scarboro lay missioners also served in the remote area of the South Rupununi among the Makushi indigenous peoples.
Missioners responded to the needs of both Catholics and non-Catholics in this multicultural, multi-faith nation known as the “land of many rivers.” They cooperated with the thrust of the local Church, focusing on faith formation and renewal of the laity and encouraging and promoting vocations. The vitality of the Parish Lay Assistants (PLA) program, pioneered in Guyana, gave meaning to the future of the Church in Guyana and in other Caribbean nations.
For many years, Sisters of Our Lady’s Missionaries from Toronto worked alongside Scarboro missionaries in Guyana. In the latter years, Scarboro missioners were actively involved in parish ministries as well as working in prison ministry, health care, and education. They also worked with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in their homes for the elderly and daycare for children.
St. Lucia: 1964-1989
The St. Lucia mission was interwoven with the St. Vincent mission. Bishop Kenneth Turner, SFM, arrived on the island of St. Lucia for the Society’s new mission in 1964. He stayed until 1966. Seven Scarboro priests were missioned there, including Fr. Tom McQuaid. The mission closed in 1989.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: 1957-1990
Starting in 1957, Scarboro missionaries went to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to continue the work of the Benedictines in promoting vocations, which led to the establishment of local priests and vocations to religious life. Scarboro priests worked in the town of Mesopotamia on the island of St. Vincent and on the islands of Bequia and Mayreau in the Grenadines.
There was also a strong emphasis on the vocation of the laity with a focus on faith formation, education, and renewal. Fr. Russ Sampson whose first mission appointment after ordination was to St. Vincent and the Grenadines said, “The lay leaders (pastoral agents) and local priests form us from the time we arrive in a new country. The fact that we are to work side by side with them and ultimately be replaced by them and move on is an essential part of the spirituality for a missionary priest. In this process, the one thing we can remind them is that they, too, are missionary and often we see some of them go and minister in other countries.”
Working with the laity, Scarboro priests also tried to address the social needs at the time. Fr. Rollie Roberts spent 31 years in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and established the St. Benedict’s Day Nursery and Infant Hospital. “The missionary must become involved in the day-to-day living of the people,” he said. “Their problems must be his problems.” The challenge of a missionary vocation he said, “is a challenge of involvement; it is the thrilling experience of being a witness to the love of Christ.”
In 1994, Anthony H. Dickson, now Bishop Emeritus of Bridgetown, Barbados, said: “I wish to extend my own personal gratitude for all that the Scarboro missionaries have done to build up the Church and to enable the Church to serve the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and those other English-speaking Caribbean territories. It was my privilege and pleasure to have worked with them.”