Our Mission to the Missions Days before ordination in May 1987, Father Emile Pfister, S.J., announced to our class at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, “My boys, before long you will be a part of one of the greatest fraternities in the world, the Roman Catholic Clergy.”

What a blessed journey it has been for me! I have served as parochial vicar and loved being a pastor in three culturally diverse parishes. Since 2007, I have served the Church of the United Sates as Executive Director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C. The human eye has not seen, the human ear has not heard, “what God has prepared for those who love him” (2 Cor 2:9).

Our Mission Office is made up of three distinct but interrelated organizations, each with its own purpose and history, but all seeking to fulfill the one Mission to the Missions. Founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States, each organization cooperates with local diocesan communities to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and respond to real and pressing catechetical, academic and new evangelization needs. They are:

• Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions (established 1874).

• Commission for Catholic Missions (the annual collection established 1884).

• Catholic Negro-American Mission Board (established 1907, united with BIMO 1980).

The Black and Indian Mission Collection, usually the first Sunday of Lent in most dioceses, was established by the bishops of the United States for the sole purpose of supporting the evangelization of Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and African Americans. This is the first and oldest nationwide collection in the American Catholic Church that funds dioceses who apply for grants.

I read applications from across the nation and award them to worthy recipients with the approval of the Black and Indian Mission Office’s Board of three archbishops: Board President Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

Where grants have been awarded, I visit parishes, religious education programs and Catholic schools. I celebrate Mass, talk with parish councils, pastors, principals, etc. Two recent experiences: During a visit to an African-American Catholic parish in the South, choir members were lined up in Church holding their hymnals (purchased with a small grant) and singing their hearts out. This was a powerful moment for me!

A second experience was the reception that Native American children gave me at a Church in the northeast at a Catholic Mission school serving the Ojibwe people. “Father, Father, come see our shrine to St. Kateri (Tekakwitha),” they said. With great pride, the children gave me a tour of their recently painted mission school. They sat me down to see their new first-through-fifth-grade religion books. At the parish church we prayed together at the Shrine of St. Kateri.

Baptized into the mission of Jesus, with the support of the faithful from coast to coast, we are able to distribute approximately 6-to-8-million dollars annually in grants. We provide stipends to our missionaries — priests, religious and laity — who are passionate in their service to the poor on reservations and in urban communities from the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, to the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico.

I’ve loved my priesthood from day one — from celebrating Mass and sacraments with the people to administering a national evangelization program. I do count on you, my brother priests, for help. An invitation from you in the pulpit urging parishioners to be “stay-at-home missionaries” through their prayers and support of the national collection would multiply the good that is being done by the Black and Indian Mission Office. Read more about our evangelization work on our website, www.blackandindianmission.org, and join us in our Mission to the Missions!

FATHER PAYSSE the executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2021 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20006-4207.