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Missionary Cenacle Family


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Origins of the Missionary Cenacle Family and how its work demonstrates Systemic Change

Published in: Spiritual
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Missionary Cenacle Family

  2. 2. When Thomas Judge was ordained a Vincentian priest at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Church in the United States faced the task of absorbing thousands of immigrants from the Catholic countries of eastern and southern Europe.
  3. 3. A ministry experience of ten years and the daily struggle with the issues of the day as they touched the lives of the people he served, convinced Father Judge that the priest by himself was insufficient to meet the pastoral needs of the people. He realized that the latent, but undirected power for good present in the laity must be tapped.
  4. 4. Unknowingly, he was embracing one of the key elements of systemic change: developing leadership skills and giving people the tools needed to perform the mission.
  5. 5. On April 11, 1909, at a meeting in Brooklyn, New York, six women responded to his appeal for lay apostles who would share in the mission and ministry of the Church. In the years immediately following, Father Judge’s influence inspired women and men from many walks of life to become members of this apostolic band, later known and accepted in the Church as the Cenacle Lay Apostolate.
  6. 6. In 1912, women associates opened a Missionary Cenacle in Baltimore for the care of homeless and unemployed women, and for work among the Italian immigrants in that city, under the auspices of James Cardinal Gibbons.
  7. 7. By 1915, when Father Judge was assigned to a rural Vincentian mission, some of the men and women he had nurtured in the apostolate followed him to Alabama. Fr. Judge standing in doorway of sacristy at his first chapel and cabin at Holy Trinity, Alabama, 1924
  8. 8. Between 1916 and 1918, while the Cenacle Lay Apostolate continued to flourish in the north, a number of lay volunteers gave their lives completely to the Missionary Cenacle, which was taking a different shape in a rural and remote area of the south.
  9. 9. The formal beginnings of distinct religious apostolic life emerged. Very soon, the call to mission spread beyond Alabama as bishops and pastors from other parts of the country asked for the services of the Missionary Servants.
  10. 10. Within this Cenacle family was a young woman of extraordinary leadership, Louise Margaret Keasey, a school teacher from Pennsylvania. She became the religious superior of the new sisters’ community and received the name Mother Mary Boniface.
  11. 11. Under the combined leadership of Father Judge and Mother Boniface, the Missionary Cenacle Family further developed in distinct forms of apostolic life: clergy, religious, and lay.
  12. 12. Systemic change was and is evident in the ministries of the Cenacle Family. Members of all branches worked and continue to work in designing projects and creative strategies that flow from Christian and Vincentian values. They have a holistic vision which addresses basic human needs – individual and social, spiritual and physical. They work to break the cycle of poverty by addressing the root causes.
  13. 13. Let us thank God in prayer for the gifts of Father Judge and Mother Boniface to the Vincentian family!
  14. 14. Sources: Text: from an essay prepared by Sr. Caroljean Willie, SC Images:, Depaul University Image Archive,,