The arrival of The Field Afar (FA) for mailing always brought strenuous work for all the Teresians. The wrapping was done at St. Teresa's Lodge until The Field Afar Building was built in 1915. The Teresians could remember when a dozen of them in 1917 took days to wrap and mail The FA's 35,000 copies. They were amazed to discover that in 1923, with their increase in personnel and circulation of over 100,000, they could, and did, wrap up to 22,000 FAs in a two-hour period!
The announcement in the June 1918 issue of The FA that Maryknoll found a mission field in China signaled a new growth for the magazine. When reports of the first Maryknollers in Yeungkong appeared 6 months later, about a thousand new subscribers joined monthly. During the Depression Years circulation fell below 100,000, but then rebounded, and by 1939 there was a circulation of 216,000. By 1949, when Maryknollers were expelled from China, there were over 600,000 subscribers.
Mollie's Gifts and The Field Afar
Mollie found herself unusually gifted with a great ability to express her thoughts spontaneously in the written word. Her early years of editorial work on The Field Afar served the purpose of mission well as her skill took the basic forms of mission communication in letters, diary accounts of travel and spiritual conferences. In 1913, a collection of mostly fictitious short stories was published under the title Stories From The Field Afar.
About two-thirds of the fifteen stories were written by Mollie Rogers, and one-third by Father Walsh, all under the pseudonym, John Wakefield. Each account dealt with an aspect of mission life in China.
A 1913 entry in the Teresian Diary related that in the midst of their work: The first Maryknoll chickens pecked their way through their shells and were immediately given a bed in a Field Afar envelope box (being too cold outside), that they might realize from the start that they were missionary chickens!
The Field Afar targeted special audiences among the subscribers. One important group was school children. In the first issue, 1907, Fr. John I. Lane started Our Young Apostles, a column under the pen name of Father Ignatius, which dealt almost exclusively with China. Fr. Lane's precarious health and new responsibilities forced him to give up the column in 1912.
In March 1916, Father Ignatius' column reappeared as a four-page supplement called The Maryknoll Junior. Father Chin was introduced to the readers: "He has spent a portion of his life in China and if he had stayed there longer, he would be called Father China!" Father Chin became so successful that in April of 1919 The Maryknoll Junior became an independent magazine which reached 15,000 young subscribers by 1924. The articles of Father Chin were written by different Sisters, including Sr. M. Theodore Farley.
Catholic Mission Crusade
When the Society of the Divine Word launched the Catholic Students' Mission Crusade in 1917, The Field Afar gave enthusiastic support. Starting with the first national convention in Techny, Illinois, in July 1918, Maryknollers always attended meetings of the Mission Crusade.
Mother Mary Joseph, Fathers Raymond Lane and James Drought addressed the students at the seventh national convention in 1931, and Father James A. Walsh was a guest speaker at the meeting in 1933. Both Mother Mary Joseph's and Fr. Walsh's talks relied heavily on examples from the Maryknoll experience in China.
Father Considine and The Field Afar
In January 1937, Father John Considine, Editor of The Field Afar, organized the Maryknoll Mission Education Bureau. Gathering Maryknollers, especially Sisters with literary, dramatic or artistic talents, he divided the Bureau into five sections: Press, Reference & Research Services, Entertainment, Lectures and Schools.
The first two books prepared under the aegis of the Education Bureau were written by Father Considine and Sister Alma Erhard, who was in charge of the School Section. Following in the footsteps of Father Considine and Sister Alma, Maryknollers wrote about 50 books on foreign missions between 1940 and 1955. As early as 1929, Maryknoll made a weekly appearance on the Paulist Radio Station WLWL in New York City. This was the beginning of several Maryknoll radio shows of which "Father Chin's Chats" of the mid-1950s were the most popular.
Maryknoll Sisters and Reaching the Young
During the 1930s, prior to establishing the Mission Education Bureau, the Maryknoll Sisters were responsible for the only organized Maryknoll effort to reach young people. As head of what was then known as Mission Education Activities, Sister Alma Erhard had gathered a team of enterprising and creative Sisters who edited The Maryknoll Junior and most of the literature appealing to youth.
Sister Immaculata Brennan was Sister Alma's Associate Director. She had a special talent for writing and editing school plays and was later responsible for plays in the entertainment and lecture section of Father Considine's Education Bureau. Less than a year after the official opening of the Bureau, she had prepared some 25 plays that included directions for staging, costuming and music. Her plays were written for each part of the liturgical year and accommodated all age groups from primary school children to college students and adults, for an all-male or all-female cast.
The School Section
The task of the fifth division of the Mission Education Bureau, the School Section, was to provide teaching materials which would "build mission ideals in the hearts of the young people of school age." Father Considine entrusted the entire direction of the School Section to Sister Alma and her team. The group comprised a wide range of talented Maryknoll Sisters.
An accomplished author, Sister Alma wrote extensively for The Field Afar, The Maryknoll Junior, the Play Library and the Maryknoll Bookshelf under a variety of pseudonyms, ranging from "S.M.A." and "Marie Fisher" to more exotic names, such as, "Autumn Fairy" or "Granma Li Li."
Sister Chaminade Dreisoerner, who edited the materials, became indispensable as the number of school-oriented publications increased.
Sister Louise (Maria Giovanni) Trevisan, a professional illustrator, brought the books alive with her drawings and paintings. In the early 1950s, she also developed several series of popular teaching cards on the Mass, the Sacraments, and various Mission Countries.
As the years went by, several Sister-writers were added to Sister Alma's team, including the especially talented Sister Juliana Bedier, a veteran of 12 years in the Far East, who began writing in 1937. By the mid-1950s, she had written or co-authored 28 books, 24 filmstrips, and countless articles, mostly for children of kindergarten and primary-school age.
In October 1938, together with Father John Considine, Sisters Alma Erhard and Grace Marian Martel, Sr. Juliana launched Mission Time. This bi-monthly bulletin was published during the school year to provide Catholic teachers with guidance and inspiration on how to inculcate mission ideals in their students. Each issue offered a mine of information on the missions, as well as lesson plans to give the teachers a missionary dimension to their various classes.
Sister Juliana also prepared a three-volume series on teaching religion in the classroom, entitled Religion Teacher and the World. She was the main driving force behind The Catholic Geography Series published by William H. Sadlier for grammar school children. Between 1948 and 1952, she wrote three volumes and co-authored the others in this nine-volume series. The Geography Series was widely adopted and appreciated in Catholic schools throughout the United States. From 1945 to 1947, Sister Juliana's efforts were continued at the high school level by Sister Mary Just David.
Influence of The Field Afar
The Field Afar was undoubtedly the major attraction to Maryknoll. In "The Secret of Maryknoll," an article published in the October 1950 issue of the magazine, the editor wrote: "Every year we make a survey of our new students to determine the sources of their vocations. Over 60 percent of them were introduced to Maryknoll by The Field Afar."
The Maryknoll Sisters continued to carry on the legacy of their Teresian days by performing most of the housekeeping tasks at the Major Seminary at Maryknoll, NY, and the Venard Preparatory Seminary in Scranton, PA. They did the cooking, canning, cleaning, laundry, sewing, shopping and every form of secretarial work, including The Field Afar.
Only in the mid-1940s did the Sisters begin to curtail these services for the Society. The hiring of a new person as the printer, who also handled the mailing, gave Mother Mary Joseph an opportunity to withdraw the Sisters from routine tasks at the magazine.
Over the next twenty years, the Maryknoll Sisters gradually ceased performing most of the household work for the Maryknoll Society, but continued the work with The Field Afar on many different levels.
Beginning in April 1939, The Field Afar was renamed: Maryknoll-The Field Afar. The complete turnover and change to the name Maryknoll was on the 50th Anniversary of the Magazine in 1957.
Question for Reflection
The purpose of The Field Afar was to vitalize the missionary spirit in its readers.
MMJ said: "May no one take us for anything but missioners!"
What is deepening our mission charism today?
~ ~ ~
The above Reflections were adapted from the Teresian Diaries; Maryknoll in China by Jean-Paul Wiest; Maryknoll's First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM; To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, M.M., and Archival Documents.
Maryknoll Contemplative Community for theSistersCentennialRetreats-Reflection Committee
~ ~ ~