The beginning of mission in Latin America for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers dates back to 1938, just 27 years after the founding of the Society and after it had established itself in Asia and began investigating mission opportunities in Africa.
In a letter from that year, Fernando Cento, the Apostolic Nuncio in Lima, Peru, wrote to James E. Walsh, Maryknoll’s superior general, seeking the Society’s interest in working among the Chinese in that country. Though World War II hampered immediate attention to Latin America, much as it did in Africa, within a few years Maryknoll had established missions in Central America and South America.
The first Maryknollers assigned south of the U.S. border were those sent to Boliva during April 1942. Father Walsh, who was from Cumberland, Maryland, accompanied Father Alonso Escalante (Merida, Mexico), Father Raymond Bonner (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Father Thomas Danehy (Fort Wayne, Indiana).
Another group of Maryknollers soon departed for Puno, Peru. They were Father Arthur Kiernan (Cortland, New York), Father Bill Murphy (Syracuse, New York), Father Tom Carey (Newark, New Jersey) and Father Ray Hohlfeld (Hastings, Nebraska). Soon after, Maryknoll received invitations from the bishops of Temuco and Talca, and the Society sent 18 priests to Chile during March 1943.
During that same year, Maryknollers arrived in Guatemala and settled in Huehuetenango. Within 10 years, Maryknoll had become established in eight Guatemala parishes. Additional priests arrived during subsequent years, totaling 35 by 1958, to help start parochial schools, dental programs, emergency medical care, address alcoholism and superstitions among the poor, establish adult education programs, and to introduce new crops and farming methods. The increasing political turbulence during the 1960s and 1970s, however, made life difficult for Catholic priests who were dedicated to serving the poor.
Maryknoll attempted to duplicate its Guatemalan programs in El Salvador. Successful despite political unrest and corruption, Maryknoll’s work in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America has continued despite times of violence.
Today, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers minister in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.
In Boliva, the Society has operated the Maryknoll Language Institute at its mission center for more than 40 years. Located in Cochabamba, which is known for standard Spanish with clear pronunciation, the Maryknoll Language Institute has assisted people with linguistic and cultural preparation for intercultural service. Since 1965, more than 10,000 people, religious and laity preparing for mission, have studied Spanish and the Andean languages of Aymara and Quechua, at the Institute. Graduates work in all parts of Latin American and in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
For more information about Maryknoll’s current projects in Latin America, visit http://maryknollsociety.org. Follow Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MaryknollNews and Facebook at www.facebook.com/maryknollsociety.
For July: Maryknoll in Africa