Photo: Dan Valenti
Getting to the Center of the MHC
By Dan Valenti (Mar 26, 2011)
The Association of Marian Helpers is a worldwide spiritual benefit society of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. The society exists for the spiritual nourishment of its members and for teaching the Catholic faith.
The Marian Fathers administer this global effort primarily from the Marian Helpers Center (MHC) located on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass., home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. At the MHC, Marians and lay staff handle the varied operations required to support such a far-flung mission. This includes departments of information technology, member service, donor development, editorial, design and layout, printing, order fulfillment, a special gifts office, and other specialty services.
When pilgrims and guests tour the MHC, the size and scope of the operation usually makes the greatest impression. From behind a modest looking cinder-block building, the MHC houses an orderly and efficient hive of activity, especially at this time of the year leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend (April 30-May 1).
One special guest to the MHC has been on an extended visit. Since March 9, 2011 (and ending in early April 2011) Fr. Dante Agüero, MIC, a Marian priest who serves at the Marian mission in Argentina, has been learning about the MHC from the inside. He's on a fact-finding mission to study the MHC's procedures, administration, and operation. The goal is that down the road, Fr. Dante may bring this knowledge back to Argentina and spearhead a MHC for that country.
Learning How It's Done
"Father Kaz [Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, head of Evangelization and Development for the Marians] asked me to come here to Stockbridge so I could learn about the center," Fr. Dante says. Asked for his main impression, Fr. Dante said it was the sheer size and number of operations, all finely coordinated as it must be to produce 15 million pieces of literature each year, including a variety of newsletters, magazines in different languages, prayercards, books, and content for several main websites. Most of the work is deadline oriented and requires high levels of communication to keep each of the various schedules on time.
"It can get overwhelming to see how much is involved," Fr. Dante said of the work ahead to build a similar effort for Argentina. He realizes he will have to begin modestly and move patiently, since he has limited resources. Asked how this can be done, he wastes no time in answering: "God will provide."
'God Will Provide'
That saying — "God will provide" — can serve as Fr. Dante's personal motto. He has taken many leaps of faith in his service as a Marian priest. The Marian Vicariate in Argentina is part of the Marians' U.S. Province, based in Stockbridge. There are seven priests, one brother, and two seminarians serving with the Marians in Argentina. They operate two schools and do parish work in Avellaneda, Diocese of Buenos Aries, and Rosario in the Diocese of Santa Fe.
True to the spirit of the Congregation's Founding Father, Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701), Fr. Dante and the Marians in Argentina serve where the need is greatest. The two parishes in which they labor experience great poverty and social unrest. Unemployment is high, opportunity is low, and hopelessness can take the form of drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, violence, and crime. Moreover, the popular culture leans toward an anti-Catholic stance and promotes that type of agenda.
"It is not easy work," Fr. Dante says with characteristic understatement borne from deep humility. "This is the work God has called us to do. Having a Marian Center would greatly assist, but where do we begin? I cannot answer that. I cannot solve such a problem. I must leave it to God and rely on Him in faith."
Marians in Argentina Have the Most Basic Needs
The challenges of the Marians' mission in Argentina can be understood at the most basic level. Father Dante doesn't even have his own office. He shares space in a room at the Marian house. As he runs down the list of needs, one realizes how much the bounty he is experiencing in the United States (he will also visit to the Marians in Chicago before returning home) can make the establishment of a Helpers' Center seem like a goal out of reach. To get a MHC going in Argentina, first the Marians will need such basic supplies as computers and other ancillary electronic devices, desks, business cards, chairs, stationery, electricity — everything from the size of a physical building to a box of paper clips, from a car to a carpet.
First, though, the Marians there need strategic expertise. The resources for purchasing or supplying what we can call the "hardware" of setting up a Marian Helpers Center will be left to God. For now, Fr. Dante is trying to cram in as much as he can about how such a center operates.
At the MHC in Stockbridge, Fr. Dante says he's "impressed at how so many of the people I've met [employees] work together so well. I have met the nicest people. They are dedicated and hard working. They believe in what they are doing, and what they are doing is for the grace of God in spreading the message of The Divine Mercy."
'My Main Job is to Be There for My People'
Actually, The Divine Mercy message per se, Fr. Dante says, "is not a large part of the work I do. My main job is to be there for my people, to show them I care, and help however I can, whether it's materially or spiritually." Of course, that precisely describes Divine Mercy and best illustrates that it must be an action, or it is nothing but a bunch of words.
"It's a challenge in my country now, because the Church [is under attack]," Fr. Dante says. "The politicians, the entertainers, the actors and actresses, and so many of the public figures are giving the young people and families the wrong example." For instance, he notes that Argentina has approved a national referendum supporting the rights of homosexuals and lesbians to marry.
Father Dante said he and the Marians became involved in the campaign against this measure, putting in much time and what resources they could spare. When the national congress approved gay marriage on July 13, 2010, Fr. Dante says, he experienced it "as a crushing loss. I said 'My country is more than sick. It is dying.'" He said he expected the measure to be defeated, and to have it passed made him "greatly disappointed and hurt for my country."
A Jekyll-and-Hyde Moment
In a great moment of personal sharing, Fr. Dante says the results of the election and the headlong atheistic bent of the popular culture left "the human side of me" deeply conflicted. As a Marian priest, "I should be loving people, but my human feelings in this case caused deep hurt and anger. They [those who advocate gay marriage, abortion, and other sin] use lies, lies, to defend their positions. They have the resources. We have the truth, but we don't have the resources." He spoke out against the media in Argentina, which, he says, constantly advocates against the Church.
He finds the answer and what solace he can in prayer: "When I take these problems upon myself, I fail. They are too big for [one man]. I must surrender them to God. I must love, especially when the loving is so hard. In that way, God is teaching me how to love more."
His visit to Stockbridge, to learn about how the MHC operates, has been helpful, Fr. Dante says. He says it gives him encouragement, since the MHC exists to spread the message of Divine Mercy, "the wholly human capacities used by God to spread the Gospel. I've never been in a place like this [referring to the MHC]. I see how great it is that the people here have such a commitment to God. They are all working together for a sacred message."
'I Am Not Giving Up'
Father Dante says despite the daunting obstacles, he believes that "a place like this can happen in my country. I am not giving up. I have been encouraged by my visit. I realize that [building a Marian Helpers Center in Argentina] will have to come about slowly. We are limited in so many ways, but God is giving me the chance to bring my knowledge back with me, so we may attempt to build such an organization."
Please consider helping the Marians in their Argentina ministry.