Welcoming the Joyful Visitor

This year we celebrate 100 years of Columban mission around the world! We invite you to join us in living out the Columban spirit in your local community.

The Columbans have produced a free toolkit packed with 100 ideas for #SharingGospelJoy: for example, accompanying migrants, deepening your relationship with creation, or building friendships with other faith communities.

Inspired by this resource, and reflecting on 100 years of Columban mission, Nancy Brouillard McKenzie recalls her fond memories meeting Columban missionaries and hearing their stories.

by Nancy Brouillard McKenzie

When a Columban visits the Columban Center for Advocacy for Outreach, he brings us his special gift of sharing Gospel joy. That joy refreshes and nourishes our advocacy spirit in many ways.

Occasionally, a Columban’s schedule may prevent us from learning more about him and his mission. However, if time allows, we gather informally or at lunch to discuss our respective roles in the Columban advocacy priority areas (migration, environmental justice, economic justice, and peace and nonviolence) and overarching concern for interreligious dialogue in our lives. That time together is precious.

Naturally, the best part of our talks is listening to a Columban passionately speak about his mission. The different ways that a Columban is living the Columban priorities and looking for ways to expand interreligious dialogue truly reflect his joy of the Gospel.  

Occasionally, a Columban shares how he discerned his call to the priesthood. Silently, I see a young man hearing Jesus’ call to come follow him to one of the 15 countries where Columbans serve the poor. Matt. 4:19. That is a profound and powerful moment of sharing. Then, I take a breath and meditate on the power of transforming his call into living, working and standing in solidarity with marginalized communities.

In 2016, Father Peter C. Woodruff SSC visited us. Immediately, his outgoing nature, humor and joyful spirit stole our hearts. Father Peter generously put aside remotely working from his mission in Australia to talk with staff members and interns about world issues facing the poor. Since we shared a work area, I was able to talk with him extensively about his book Columbans on Mission, his call to the priesthood, and his experiences as a Columban missionary in Peru.

During our exchanges, Father Peter impressed me with his humility and candor. Often, he passionately and thoughtfully discussed the many ways that Columban missionaries are spreading the Gospel.

Likewise, Father Peter answered my questions about Columban missions from the perspectives of all relevant parties in a community without excluding any group: parishioners, government, people of different cultures or religions, disabled, homeless, and even the lonely.

I also learned how Columbans included people not in the parish system for such services as medical care and education, and nursery, business, and agricultural cooperatives, Columbans have gained the trust and respect of communities. Moreover, cooperatives are one way to empower the poor to take charge of their lives instead of taking commands from others.

Looking back, those discussions with Father Peter helped me understand and connect the big picture of the Columban missionary life centered on journeying with Jesus and not the individual Columban.

Recently, Father Peter’s influence prompted me to reread Columbans on Mission and the last two years of the Columban Magazine, particularly the Columban 1918-2018 Centennial Celebration Sharing Gospel Issue.  Amazingly, those stories became a powerful religious experience for me. I “listened” to multiple ways that discourse among people from different cultures and religions builds trust, respect, and peace among people in Columban missions.

Finally, I rejoiced when I read how Fiji was once a Columban mission and now is a mission sending country with Columbans being the single biggest number of overseas Fijians. From my perspective, that is empowering people to decide a calling in their lives.

Gratefully, I pray for present and future Columban missionaries to keep hearing the call to follow Jesus on mission to the poor.


After ordination in 1967, Father Peter Woodruff worked as a missionary priest in parishes in the northern periphery of Lima, Peru for over 40 years. He has since written a doctoral thesis on the impact of Andean migrants on Lima, in the capital of Peru. Following his missionary work, Father Peter traveled extensively to countries where Columban missionaries worked to interview priests, sisters, lay missionaries, and others for his book, Columbans on Mission. Currently, he is the editor of the Australian Journal of Mission Studies.

Weekly Reflections on Justice & Columban Spirituality is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach. We hope these reflections help to guide you on your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the care of creation.

Nancy Brouillard McKenzie is an Ignatian Volunteer with the Columban Center.