A Missionary Close to Home

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It is generally accepted that education is the best remedy for poverty.

In America, thousands of religious sisters have helped waves of newcomers to this country by providing an education that allowed them to enter the mainstream of American life and become successful, spiritually developed citizens.

Many Atchisonians may not know that Mount St. Scholastica’s sisters have not only been sponsors of Benedictine College, but of a small institution near downtown Kansas City, Kansas, called Donnelly College. This year, at its graduation, Sister Grace Malaney received the college’s Delta Award in recognition of her service.

“I know that my name may not exactly ring bells for many of you,” Sister Grace said in her introduction. “Unlike some of the previous recipients of the Delta Award, I have never been a mayor or archbishop, nor have I been founder, president or director of a helping organization.

“But I am one in a rather long procession of Benedictine sisters who served here. The first in this long procession was Sister Jerome Keeler, who in 1949 dreamed of founding an institution of higher learning right in the middle of a simple, working class neighborhood, mainly to serve those who were not being served.

“That was 70 years ago. Since then, we have been a continuous presence here, at least 90 of us by actual count. Anyway, what did I do here? I taught math here for 30 years. That’s a lot of algebra. I counted some 80 semesters including some summers. That’s a lot of students. And 30 years out of 70 is almost 43 percent of the entire history of Donnelly. You know, I wish I could do it all over again!”

When we think of missionaries, we usually think of sisters going to far-off places. Indeed, before Donnelly, Sister Grace served throughout most of the 1970s in central-west Brazil with its cultural diversity and frontier character. In Kansas City, one doesn’t go out to the world to preach and teach; the world comes to you.

“I immediately felt right at home at Donnelly where I could enjoy interacting with the children of Wyandotte County residents with rich traditions and customs from Eastern Europe,” Sister Grace said. “I was here as our population kept up with demographic changes and our number of African-Americans increased.

“I was here to welcome the arrival of Hispanics and see their numbers grow. This diversity, exhibited and managed so beautifully by Donnelly College, is a powerful contrast to the painful stories in today’s headlines of the lack of respectful public discourse, acts of violence fueled by hatred and bigotry, the tragedy of migrant families who stand rejected at borders both here and abroad.

“The diversity welcomed, nurtured and enjoyed at Donnelly is a happy and hopeful sign.”

The people who come to Donnelly come with, as Sister Grace noted, “struggles, overwhelming challenges, tears, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, failures, sacrifices, fatigue, and impossible dreams.” Of a total of 105 surveyed, 78 said they are first in their families to graduate from college.

What Donnelly College offers is not just the American dream, but the dream that all people of faith should dream for others. We are called to give a hand up to the least among us, the opposite of the privileged children of millionaires caught in the recent college admission scandals.

We are called to create spaces where people can be respected for who they are and expected to be their best. We are called to see the potential, the heartfelt desire to succeed, in people of all races and creeds.

We are to welcome everyone in a way that they will, as Scripture says, “see how these Christians love one another” and be inspired to love others too.