The history of Mission Sunday

Each October the Catholic Church celebrates Mission Sunday. The observance has special meaning for The Society of the Divine Word

When Mass is said at Divine Word College on World Mission Sunday—this year it was October 24— it is truly a celebration. Students walk up carrying candles, representing our cultural diversity. Readings are read and songs are sung in various languages. Those in attendance are invited to join in a feast that offers a host of ethnic dishes. Everything reveals a glimpse of the global embrace of the Catholic Church.
Those in the pews of the Main Chapel on that day enjoy an intimate connection to the legacy of missionary support exemplified by this special Mass that can be traced back nearly two centuries.
It’s hard to imagine this country as “mission territory.” That’s what it was in the early 1800s, when Pauline Jaricot started gathering small groups in her family’s mill in Lyon, France to offer daily prayers and sacrificial giving of a penny a week—a great amount at that time—to support missionary work in North America and China. Her effort steadily grew to become the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which continues to educate people on the global mission of the Church and asks for prayers and financial support for the missions.  
A century later in the early 1920s, the US was no longer a primary focus of missionary efforts. But there was concern that Catholics here lacked an understanding of the Church’s global outreach and the work of missionaries.
“Most didn’t see the Church as worldwide,” said Fr. Bill Shea, SVD.  “They were more concerned about their parish or their diocese.  It was very parochial.”
In 1926, Church leaders decided a way to combat this narrower view of the faith was to designate the

Fr. Bill Shea, SVD

second-to-the-last Sunday of October as World Mission Sunday.
“Every parish was asked to have a special Mass and collection for the missions, and that would go to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith,” Fr. Shea said. “The other part of it was the education of the people through homilies and literature to let them know what mission was all about.”
In the 1960s, Vatican Council II—echoing the missionary credo found in the words of Mathew 28:18—emphasized that the Church is actually missionary by nature, and every baptized Catholic should be involved in missionary work through good works and setting a good example.
“The new understanding of ‘mission’ is more in the spirit of Jesus. The core of his teaching is the Kingdom of God. St. Paul tells us that the Kingdom of God is justice, peace, joy and the spirit,” said Fr. Oliver Quilab, SVD, who presided at World Mission Sunday Mass this fall at DWC. “If I understand ‘mission’ as this spreading of the Kingdom of God, I work for justice, peace, joy and the spirit of human development.”
Today, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith supports this work. It collects contributions from Catholics around the world—through efforts like World Mission Sunday—to support the Church’s worldwide mission in more than 1,150 missionary dioceses. Many of our DWC students are destined to work in those missions.
With a faculty, staff and student body representing 23 countries from around the globe, the education and multi-cultural experience students receive here will help prepare them for their future ministry.
“We’re already doing mission here, the way we adjust to each other, we live in community, that’s already ‘mission’ at Divine Word,” Fr. Oliver said. “We cross bridges. We learn foreign languages and we try to understand each other. We try to live equally. The positive experience here flows.”