At the service of the Word of God

Guest editorial by Fr. Jack Lynch, S.F.M.

A few months ago, Fr. Linus Wall celebrated his 90th birthday and his 60th anniversary as a Scarboro priest. Those of us who live with this hearty Newfoundlander have come to appreciate more and more each day his wonderful approach to life, his youthful vigour and enthusiasmremarkable in a man who, without complaint, now goes for dialysis three times weekly.

One day I asked if he feels a certain level of frustration going to the hospital three days a week. “Heck no!” he said, “I am so grateful to God that I am alive and can enjoy walking and life in general. What have I got to complain about?” 

Fr. Linus is typical of generations of Scarboro priests that I want to acknowledge and honour during this Year of the Priest proclaimed by Pope Benedict. They left their homes as young men full of Christian idealism, having responded generously to the call to “Come follow me.” During the first 25 years of the Society, that meant going to China and leaving home and family for life. It’s hard for us to appreciate the generosity of that risk and commitment as well as the implications for those young priests. Yet they did it and it is our legacy.

Six months ago, while visiting our personnel in Guyana, I had the opportunity to celebrate Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Fatima where Fr. Linus had served as pastor for 42 of his 52 years in Guyana. Previously he served five years in the Dominican Republic. One of the lay leaders spoke to me about the new pastoral approach in the city of Georgetown where the number of priests available for pastoral work is down to just a handful. He said, “Father, when we get together with the laity from the other parishes, we realize just how well Fr. Linus and the Scarboro priests prepared us to assume our rightful responsibility in our church.”

I felt such a deep sense of pride at that moment in all of our priests and their work, and not only the priests who worked in Guyana but elsewhere as well: in China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, Malawi, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Cuba, Panama. 

All who served in those countries leave to us in the Canadian church a proud legacy. They set out to help build up the local church in both structure and personnel and did a superb job. It has always been our policy to build up the local church. We could have received many vocations from our countries of mission, but the charism of Monsignor Fraser was to assist in the building of the local church. Our vocations were to come from Canada only.

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 our missioners worked have immigrated to Canada and are some of the most active and faithful members of many Canadian parishes. 

Scarboro priests were promoters of cooperatives, credit unions and other community based initiatives to serve the poor and disadvantaged. Many of these are still going strong today, particularly in Japan, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. The first credit unions in Japan were introduced by Scarboro priests. Fr. Harvey Steele is considered to be one of the principal founders of the cooperative movement in the Dominican Republic along with Fr. Jack McIver. Fr. Steele went on to found the Interamerican Cooperative Institute in Panama which is still going strong today. Fr. Jack McIver took his background in the Dominican Republic to teach about cooperatives at the university in Guyana, to assist in the consolidation of credit unions in the Philippines, and to establish a training centre in Swaziland, South Africa. 

As a Scarboro community, we remember the more than 100 deceased Scarboro priests, 23 of whom are buried in their places of mission overseas. We look back with profound gratitude and pride in these men, their priesthood, and God’s handiwork. 

Vatican II tells us that the responsibility for mission lies with the local church. For Societies like Scarboro it has meant the need to look ahead and articulate a new vision. It has meant a renewed sense of our priesthood and the call to be at the service of the Word of God. Our vocation is to celebrate and empower the laity with a renewed sense of their mission as members of the church and as disciples of Christ. We are deeply grateful for the more than 120 Canadians who have served overseas as lay missioners with Scarboro. In this issue, we acknowledge the most appreciated 27 year commitment of Louise Malnachuk. 

To Fr. Linus Wall in his 60th year and to all the Scarboro missioners who have gone before us, we acknowledge God’s grace in their lives and we rejoice as we remember the words of Mary’s Magnificat, “The mighty One has done great things for us. Holy is God’s name. From age to age God’s mercy extends to those who live in God’s presence.”∞