Who are we? What is our mission, history ? What was our inspiration, beginning and reality ? Who is the VM founder ?
Who are the Victorious Missionaries?
We, the Victorious Missionaries, are people united in providing spiritual support for all people with disabilities or who are chronically ill. We are a visionary people called to a way of life that sees beyond the suffering and struggles of life to the victory that is born through the spirit of love.
The missionary movement was founded by the late Fr. John Maronic, O.M.I., in 1964. He believed that people with disabilities had gifts… gifts that could and should be shared with the Universal Church and the world!
We are comprised of both laity and religious, women and men, the young and not so young. We attempt to provide an atmosphere which celebrates “no difference,” and yet, we challenge each person to develop and share his or her own uniqueness.
We, the members of the Victorious Missionaries, commit and dedicate ourselves to offer to God and to each other our giftedness, our visions, and our dreams. We will create and foster an atmosphere where all members are encouraged and empowered to come to a deeper understanding of the call to live out of our Gospel Values and bring God’s message of love to all people.
The missionary movement began in 1964 and was founded by the late Fr. John Maronic, OMI . He believed that people with disabilities had gifts too – gifts that could and should be shared with the Universal Church and the World! If Missionaries are people sent out to spread the love of God, then we are Missionaries too.
So, we have been adding our spirit of love to the world in ever increasing numbers and on several levels. We, as VMs, are encouraged to share our gifts with those around us; to be involved in our churches and communities.
“Eyes do not matter, hands are not absolutely necessary, we can walk into heaven with feet, we can serve God and others in blindness, deafness, speechlessness, and evened in total paralysis, provided we believe and love.”
Even before he visited the Lourdes Shrine in 1961, the kernel of this belief was growing in Fr. John Maronic, OMI. True to his calling as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he had a heart for all people, especially those most abandoned by society. When he saw thousands of persons with disabilities being enriched at Lourdes, he wondered if he could start a group for people with similar challenges.
A few months after that visit, he was named the first pilgrimage Director at the new Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. Noticing that many persons with physical handicaps were visiting the Shrine, Fr, John began requesting their names and addresses.
He also decided to do some research around the country to determine what groups existed for persons with disabilities. He discovered that not many groups existed for such persons, and the existing organizations involved “healthy” people helping those with disabilities. In other words, the existing organizations had been formed for and run for persons with disabilities.
In 1963, encouraged by his congregation, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Fr. John shared his idea about a group with six young persons with disabilities, and he invited them to develop some goals.
Two inspirations came to this group at the beginning:
Those who have disabilities should run the movements; and
This would be a spiritually oriented program.
Beginning in May 1964, this would be the first movement that was formed by and run by persons with disabilities. What an exciting time for Fr. John who later recalled, “I wanted to establish the group on the philosophy that people with handicaps should help and minister to other people with handicaps. I believe having people with disabilities actively participate – helping one another and running the group – is much more effective and meaningful for those involved.”
The group would call themselves Victim Missionaries:
Victims – those who offer themselves willingly to God and accept whatever God
Chooses to give;
Missionaries – those who are agents of the redeeming action of Christ, bringing
Light to those in darkness, bringing relief to the agonizing.
The dreams were big.
The spirit of the group was a spirit of “reaching out” toward others, no matter what handicaps the persons themselves may have had. Fr, John exclaimed, “it was a delight to see!”
After only one year, membership reached 1,000, and the organization became the largest spiritual movement for persons with disabilities in the U.S. At the group’s first Day of Renewal , Fr. John emphasized, “The main objective of the Victorious Missionaries is to realize the awesome spiritual potential that people have for the Church and the world.”
By 1977 that potential spread through Chapter and Unit affiliates in Detroit, MI, St. Louis, MO, Owensboro, KY, Flint, MI, Buffalo, NY, New Orleans, LA, Omaha, NE, and Springfield, MO, and membership totaled 6,000.
“We hoped, commented Fr. John, “to start a movement throughout the world to alert persons with handicaps that they can be a positive force, doing whatever they can for people, instead of having people always doing things for them.” The tremendous growth has verified the fact that persons with disabilities can be a powerful force in the world and are often able to do what others cannot.
Despite the incredible growth, Fr. John remained a bit modest. Aware that each year about 50,000 persons with handicaps arrive at Lourdes from all over the world, he admitted, “we cannot hope to measure up to those numbers, but we certainly can maintain the ‘spirit’ of Lourdes, e.g., that the handicapped and chronically ill are among the ‘kingpins’ in the People of God.”
By 1974 the group’s National Board added two policies:
Any chronic handicap would fulfill requirements for membership.
The organization would have no dues; it would depend strictly on donations
Because most members would not be affluent.
The original name Victim Missionaries, chosen to identify the members with the redeeming action of Christ was sometimes perceived in a negative, passive sense. So in 1985 the Board changed the name to Victorious Missionaries to reflect the outcome of the redemptive suffering of Christ and to signify the positive, active qualities of the group. For consistency, the stories in this book use the current name – Victorious Missionaries.
One member reflected on the current name: At first glance, victorious may seem a little pretentious, as if we had all the battles won and were through with struggling; but looking at it a little deeper and longer, we see that we have been victorious in the fact that we have accepted our disabilities and are not only willing, but eager to use our experience to help others…to discover the gifts we have been given and to share them!”
The Victorious Missionaries affirm the fact that all persons – including those with disabilities – are ABLE. Moreover, the group’s activities – days of renewal, conferences, retreats, publications, and personal prayer ministry – all are designed to UPLIFT the members and, in turn, to help them to reach out to UPLIFT others.
This book reflects the first thirty-five years of the Victorious Missionary movement. Through its pages, some of the group’s members can tell their stories. Although some readers may appreciate the reflections, prayers, and appended materials, the Victorious Missionary story is told best through the stories of these real persons. Their words and their lives demonstrate that they – and many others like them – are ABLE TO UPLIFT.