Hills and blue sky of Kentucky

Fr. Michael Chowning fell in love with the mountains of Appalachia.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Robert Burns (18’th-century Scottish Poet)

Fr. Michael Chowning, OFM

St. Anthony knew the disappointment and turmoil of “best laid plans” being suddenly overturned and facing a future askew and problematic. After he left the Augustinians, he joined the Franciscans with the dream of being a missionary martyr in Morocco. Once in Morocco, St. Anthony fell gravely ill and was forced to return to Italy. He was assigned to a small friary at Monte Paolo where he had to perform menial tasks. Later the friars were surprised to discover he was a highly educated, talented preacher and “wonder worker.”

Like St. Anthony, I long desired to serve in the foreign missions, though I did NOT dream of being a martyr. During my formation as a friar, I often volunteered to continue my studies in a mission country, but my superiors insisted that I complete my studies first. After ordination, I was assigned to teach at a local parochial high school when my chance finally came. I volunteered to assist the Irish Franciscans re-establish their missions in Zimbabwe, Africa. This time, my superiors approved. I waited to hear from Zimbabwe; however, after a long wait, word finally came back that it was not a good time to come. Like St. Anthony, I was disappointed and disillusioned.

But I learned an important lesson. I may carefully craft plans, work hard, and even take a study program at Notre Dame for missionaries to Africa, yet despite my efforts, I discovered that God’s promised joy lie elsewhere. Several years later, my brother friars assigned me to the mountains of Appalachia in the heart of coal country. God’s promised joy had come and 23 joy-filled years of ministry as a missionary among God’s poor followed. God’s promised joy awaits all who in turn wait and trust in Him.

Fr. Michael Chowning, OFM, is the Special Delegate for Child Protection.

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