Mass celebrates 25-year ministry of Missionaries of Charity

Northwest Indiana Catholic
GARY – Four Missionaries of Charity have ministered to the needy in the Diocese of Gary for 25 years, but with all the work they do, it often seems like there are 50 of them.
That’s just how many members of the religious order founded by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta gathered on April 4 at St. Joseph the Worker to joyfully celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with Bishop Robert J. McClory and seven concelebrants.
“There are sisters here from Chicago and Peoria (Ill.), St. Louis, Detroit and Indianapolis,” said Gary’s mother superior, Sister Celine John, m.c., through translator Sister Jonathan, m.c., who currently serves in St. Louis. “Some previously served in Gary, but for all of us, coming here today is a way of giving thanks to God for the mission.”
For 25 years, “The Missionaries of Charity have been a beacon of light bringing the love of Christ to the heart of Gary,” said Bishop McClory. “Now at a site that no longer has a church (St. Mark Convent), they provide a presence and are an invaluable blessing to Gary.
“They meet the material needs of the people with shelter, food and especially by working with children,” the bishop added. “They love the people of Northwest Indiana.”
Bishop McClory admitted that upon his arrival more than four years ago he questioned then-Bishop Emeritus Dale J. Melczek about how the Diocese of Gary had been able to secure the Missionaries of Charity in 1999. “Of course, the request had been made well in advance, and he worked hard once he found out they were coming to find a convent for them and prepare,” the bishop explained. “I know it was one of the great joys of his episcopacy that the sisters came to Gary, as it is one of my great joys that they are here.”
The bishop’s homily noted that near the cross in all Missionaries of Charity chapels is a sign that reads simply, “I thirst,” the words Jesus said while on the cross. “A deeper meaning embraced by the sisters is that his thirst is not only of a physical nature – What is it he is searching for? Who does he long for? He longs for and seeks to be quenched …  he came to save souls and he thirsts for us to bring others to him.
“After the Resurrection, when Jesus comes to the apostles, they are afraid that he is a ghost, and “What does he say to them?” noted the bishop. “Do you have anything to eat? He eats baked fish with them, confirming that he really is the Risen Jesus.
“The Missionaries of Charity have never stopped meeting such material and spiritual needs, both corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” added Bishop McClory. “To those to whom we minister, we bring Jesus and they bring Him to us.”
Sister Usha Marie, m.c., currently serving in Chicago, said the Missionaries of Charity do “whatever society asks of you” in their missionary work, whether it be running a soup kitchen, operating a shelter for expectant mothers and their newborns or guiding a home for homeless senior citizens.
In the Gary diocese, Missionaries of Charity host a shelter for women and their children each night, operate a food pantry, provide resources during home visits to neighborhood families, visit senior citizen home residents and operate a summer camp for local children.
One outreach to parishes has the sisters teaching faith formation to children at numerous sites – St. Francis Xavier in Lake Station, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Mary, both in East Chicago, and St. Joseph the Worker.
Needing extra instructors, the Chicago mission has provided Sister Pushpanjali, m.c. and Sister Rachel Ann, m.c., a Dyer native, to teach at St. Casimir and All Saints, both in Hammond.
Sister Rachel Ann, who joined the religious order eight years ago, attended St. John the Evangelist School in St. John and said that while “any sister can do anything” after their training, she “really loves teaching” and is happy to be serving part-time in her home diocese.
Another ministry the Missionaries of Charity embrace involves visiting, praying with and hosting religious services for men incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. “They have ministered there almost all 25 years of their service,” said Deacon Mike Prendergast, diocesan Prison and Jail Ministry coordinator. “They are so carefree and open that they just automatically lift up the men by praying with them. When they sing, the men sing, too.
“The sisters are such an example of human compassion and sacrifice and their hearts are so open to service and to the Lord,” added the deacon, “They are a joy to work with and so important to the men.”
Father Mikolaj Markiewicz, S.D.S., superior for the Salvatorian Fathers in Merrillville who celebrate daily Mass for the sisters, said all of Northwest Indiana “should be thankful for the Missionaries of Charity. What they do for the poor, the way they live with the homeless women and children, they are the little angels who help in hopeless places.”
Agreeing with that description was Father Michael Surufka, OFM, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker and several other Gary parishes. “It’s not only their service, but their witness, their simplicity and their solidarity with the poor that are so special. They teach catechism and they care for the poor,” he said.
Bishop McClory recommended that people inspired by the Missionaries of Charity join their ministry as avowed lay associates, “who embody the mission and are deeply committed as another concrete example of the way we are supposed to live,” he said.
Having accepted that challenge, John and Margaret Brooks, of St. Thomas More in Munster, have worked alongside the sisters for close to 20 years, first completing a two-year formation, then taking temporary vows of poverty, chastity (depending on your station in life) and obedience, that they renew each year.
“The sisters definitely are our inspiration,” said Margaret Brooks, who first learned about the religious order while working at Franciscan Health Dyer from a friend who suggested to her, “Go up to the door and knock, and the rest will happen.” Brooks did just that, “and Sister Alfreda welcomed me in. I immediately felt at home, and now they are our family. They model Christ for us. They help me get my priorities straight. We pray with them.”
John Brooks added, “The word charity is key. When you talk to any of the sisters, it’s like you are talking to Mother Teresa. There are 13 lay associates and also co-workers who volunteer when they can. We get food ready for distribution and go to the food bank and grocery stores.
“The world is in such terrible shape and sometimes we come in pain to the sisters and ask them how they can go on,” John Brooks noted. “‘That’s why we pray,’ they say.”
“The sisters are known worldwide for never failing to say, ‘Jesus is alive’ and for their steady, quiet witness that has such meaning to those they serve,” said Bishop McClory.

Anyone interested in learning about the Missionaries of Charity Lay Associates can contact Loretta Johnson, regional link for the Midwest, at (847) 254-0684 or    


Caption: The Diocese of Gary, led by Bishop Robert J. McClory (center), welcomed more than 50 religious sisters from the Missionaries of Charity in Chicago, St. Louis, Peoria, Indianapolis and Detroit to St. Joseph the Worker in Gary to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for 25 Years of Ministry in Northwest Indiana by the Missionaries of Charity. Currently, the Gary congregation includes (standing in front of the bishop) Sister Christa, Sister Dominique, Sister Celine John, and Sister Maria Jyoti. (Marlene A. Zloza photo)