Apostolic Work's mission for the future
AMID the flurry of centenaries and landmark anniversaries being marked both now and in the next few years, it might be easy to overlook the quiet dedication and broad vision of Apostolic Work, writes William Scholes.
The lay organisation has another five years to go before it marks its 100th birthday in Down and Connor, where it was founded.
But however you look at it, 95 years of helping overseas missions still represents a significant milestone and legacy.
That landmark will be celebrated with Mass in St Mary's on Chapel Lane in Belfast this month.
Apostolic Work is not, however, stuck in the past. Mission needs have changed considerably since Agnes McCauley founded the voluntary group in 1923, and as it faces towards its second century, Apostolic Work in Down and Connor has moved to respond to those needs, both spiritually and practically.
Traditional help, such as providing priests and sisters with sacred vessels, remains an important part of its work; but so too are new outworkings of mission, such as providing prison chaplains with the means to allow those imprisoned thousands of miles from home to use WhatsApp to communicate with their families.
"Agnes McCauley's vision is still alive today," says Apostolic Work's Down and Connor president Mary McGrath.
Agnes McCauley seems to have been something of a force of nature. Bishops and priests alike bent to her will as she set about supporting 'the missions' upon her arrival in Belfast from Enniskillen as a young teacher in 1903.
Supported by a group of similarly enthusiastic friends, she organised, persuaded and cajoled support for a variety of projects, such as the building of a leper hospital in Uganda and bursaries to train priests for Africa.
With the support of Bishop Joseph MacRory - "I do not see how anything but good can come of it" - the first meeting of Apostolic Work was held in the Lourdes Hall of St Mary's Church on Chapel Lane in Belfast on October 23 1923.
The organisation quickly flourished and groups were soon found in every parish in Down and Connor, with yet more established across Ireland.
Today, 178 projects are being supported in 30 countries, says Mrs McGrath, with almost £345,000 collected in Down and Connor last year.
There's a pleasing lack of red tape, as well - out of every pound donated, 94 pence goes "out to the missions," she says.
"We help missionaries by providing funds to enable them to assist with education, medical needs, transport, building churches and schools, supplying sacred vessels - in fact, anything that helps to improve the lives of people in need," says Mrs McGrath.
"We help feed and supply medicine to Aids and HIV patients, and support the carers who look after them.
"We also assist self-help groups to train people in various trades to help them get employment and earn an income to support their families."
It is hugely important work, and Mrs McGrath says is often reminded of the words of Cardinal Cahal Daly, who said that supporting Apostolic Work "helps me fulfil my obligation for mission".
- Apostolic Work's 95th anniversary Mass will be celebrated in St Mary's Church, Chapel Lane in Belfast at 2.30pm on Sunday October 21.