Missionhurst Priests and Brothers Celebrate 75 Years in Arlington
In an increasingly multicultural society, ethnic and racial tensions often arise. But a group of international missionaries with long-standing ties to the Diocese of Arlington stand out as a witness to universal brotherhood.
“It’s possible for a brother who doesn’t look like me, who doesn’t eat like me, it’s possible to live together. Our community bears witness to this, ”said Father Celso Tabalanza of Missionhurst, Superior of the American Province of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose American operations have been based on the Missionhurst property in Arlington for 75 years.
Some are called to be missionaries – to step out of our comfort zones, to leave our families and cultures behind in order to bring the good news to others and to discover the presence of God already there in other people. ”Missionhurst Father Celso Tabalanza, Superior of the American Province of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
The order was founded in Belgium in 1862 by Father Théophile Verbist for the evangelization of China. Because the order is based in Scheut, Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels, they are sometimes referred to as the Missionaries of Scheut, but in the United States they are best known as Missionhurst-CICM. CICM stands for Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariæ.
Today, the order has 780 priests and brothers serving around the world, including 36 in three American dioceses: Arlington, Raleigh, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas. Many will be at Missionhurst in Arlington for an anniversary mass on October 7 celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, and an anniversary dinner scheduled to coincide with their annual retreat.
“When we become CICM, we bear witness to fraternal fraternity,” said Father Tabalanza, noting that seven nationalities are represented in the American province alone: Canadian, American, Zambian, Filipino, Congolese, Indonesian and Belgian.
Just as some men are called by God to serve the church as pastors, Father Tabalanza said: to other people and to discover the presence of God already there in other people. We believe that God is already here, and he calls us to continue what he has already started, in so many different ways.
MISSIONARIES IN CHINA
The life of the first CICM missionaries in China was not easy; many died during the Boxer Rebellion in China, a violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian uprising of 1899-1901. The term Boxer refers to the rebel leaders, who practiced Chinese martial arts, which English speakers at the time called “Chinese boxing.”
During World War II, the order sent Father Ernest Dieltiens to the United States to seek financial support for missions in China and to find new areas of ministry. He arrived on January 1, 1944, and soon the order established a permanent mission. In April 1946, he purchased the 11-acre property called Lyonhurst, on present-day North 25th Street in Arlington.
The Spanish Mission-style stucco house, built in 1907, had been the family home of Frank Lyon, one of the county’s earliest real estate developers. The name has been changed from Lyonhurst to Missionhurst – “hurst” is an Old English word for wooded hill or hill, which aptly describes the park-like property which also houses a retirement home, offices and a chapel. A residence for retired priests is located just outside the main entrance, which leads to a large circular driveway where neighbors with children and dogs can be seen walking among the flowering plants. The main residence still looks the same as in the historical photos. Father Tabalanza noted that the small stone lions flanking the front door have been preserved for their historical interest.
In 1946, 16 missionaries arrived from Brussels, primarily to work in African American ministry in the Archdioceses of Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio. Later that year, two priests were sent to minister at Precious Blood Church in Culpeper, where the order remained until 2016. Today, the priests of Missionhurst work for St Ann in Arlington and the Mount Tabor community in Vienna, in addition to Missionhurst.
After the order decided to expand CICM’s presence in the United States in the late 1940s, many more missionaries arrived. During the first 40 years, most came from Belgium and Holland; most recently, most have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as Brazil and Guatemala.
“Many of us have been inspired by missionaries who came from Europe to evangelize us,” said Father Tabalanza, a Filipino. “We asked ‘Why can’t we do the same?’ ”
Although the original goal of the order was China, the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 resulted in the expulsion of missionaries and the severing of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. The order redirected its efforts to other countries, including the United States.
SERVING THE NEEDS OF THE CHURCH
Over the years, his way of doing missionary work has evolved to meet the needs of the places served by the priests of the CICM. In Europe today, this may mean focusing less on parish ministry and more on Islamic-Christian dialogue and outreach to new immigrants. In the United States, that means increasingly focusing on ministry to Hispanic communities, so CICMs have become experts in Hispanic ministry, said Father Tabalanza, who served in Texas before coming to Virginia. .
“One of our CICM charisms is being able to respond to the needs of our local church. If a bishop calls and says, “I really need you to do this type of work,” we serve, ”he said.
“We are multicultural, so we are able to reach other multicultural communities,” he added. “Ourselves being a foreigner, being an immigrant in this country, it is much easier for us to sympathize with other cultural groups who have just arrived in the country or who feel lost.”
Father Tabalanza said that CICM missionaries include not only priests, but also brothers from many professional backgrounds, such as doctors, educators, engineers and lawyers. He mentioned Dr. Jerry Galloway, an American physician who, after being in the Peace Corps, became a brother of Missionhurst and served the Pygmy tribe of Congo for 27 years.
Father Tabalanza knows well that being a missionary today can be just as dangerous as it was when the founders of CICM went to China in the late 1800s. ordination, he was taken hostage by rebels during the country’s civil wars in the late 1990s. Later, he was detained by the military who, upon learning he was a US citizen, ‘accused of working for the CIA.
The experiences were traumatic, but they tested and purified his faith, like a process of refining gold, he wrote in a 2010 book (My Years in Africa: Crossing the Eye of a Stormy Mission, published by CICM Missionaries), written at the suggestion of a trauma counselor who thought the writing process would be therapeutic.
Today, when asked to speak to seminarians about the realities of missionary life in the midst of global unrest and political change, he does not hide the risk. “Violence is a reality, it is missionary life,” he said. “I tell them that it’s not just roses, there are also thorns.”
Despite the dangers, God still calls young men to become missionaries.
The Missionhurst-CICM celebrated two ordinations this year, one in the Diocese of Raleigh and one in San Antonio. And a parishioner from St. Ann’s Church in Arlington, Mark Joyce, recently became a Missionhurst seminarian, inspired by the priests serving his ward.
“For many years we have had a drought in vocations, but we have one for the 75th year, and that is a great blessing,” said Father Tabalanza.
Find out more
Visit missionhurst.org or call 703 / 528-3800.