|| By Kevin Foy
Kevin Foy, associate director of mission education and promotion in the western U.S. region, based in Seattle, Wash., introduces a special Partner in Mission from Washington State.
When Bessie Douglas found out she was going to do mission education in her St. Anthony parish in Renton, Wash., her first thought was, “What have I gotten myself into?” Although she is passionate about her mission work now, she admits she did not initially volunteer. “My name just showed up,” she says. “And it all just unfolded.”
A former educator who spent the majority of her career in Maryland, Bessie fell in love with Washington State during a weeklong vacation in Seattle. “I just thought, ‘I could grow old here; this is the place,’ ” she recalls.
When she retired, she moved to Renton and signed up for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at St. Anthony’s. “I decided before I left Maryland that I was going to go through RCIA, that I was going to become Catholic,” she says. She waited, though, until she moved. “I knew I wanted to be involved in my church, not just go to church,” she says.
Before receiving the sacrament of confirmation, she became interested in the parish group that was overseeing a new sister relationship in Haiti. “I thought, that would be so cool to travel to Haiti—newly retired, nothing on my agenda other than RCIA,” Bessie says. “This would be an adventure, and it would be a way to help other people, as well.”
Bessie would get an adventure and help others, but not in the way she had intended. As she puts it, “God has a journey for us, and sometimes things happen to get our attention.”
Her new journey began when she took a bad fall, requiring her to walk with a cane for many months. She would not be going to Haiti any time soon.
Around the time of Bessie’s confirmation, St. Anthony parish partnered with Maryknoll to help enliven the Haiti team and later the entire parish in mission. I was part of the Maryknoll team assisting St. Anthony’s.
Someone put Bessie’s name down to work with us, but Bessie felt a bit hesitant to be a mission educator, since she had just become a Catholic.
During a weekend Mission Education Training Program with Maryknoll, though, she discovered her passion for mission. “I enjoyed it so very much,” she says. “And then I was more comfortable with the idea that, ‘Yeah, this did come together.’ ”
Bessie and I began collaborating. We developed and offered a formation retreat for the parish staff, a speakers series for parishioners and an RCIA lesson on mission.
We often think mission means going to far-off places, but Bessie is fully involved in living and sharing her faith in her own parish. She shows us that mission begins with how we encounter the world around us.
“This idea of seeing Christ in every person has really taken hold in my heart,” she says. “That’s the passion piece: when I think that every person I encounter has a piece of God.”
Not being able to travel to Haiti meant a change of plans for Bessie Douglas. Still, she embraced what she calls, “The whole missionary idea of being present to other people—taking them where you meet them, where they are—and just being open to them.” She adds, “If there is a need that they have that you can meet, do that with love.”
Featured Image: Bessie Douglas outside her St. Anthony parish, where she has found her mission.