For a Small Community, Glenmary has a Big Impact

Glenmary News

For a Small Community, Glenmary has a Big Impact

Nathan Smith creates podcasts, attends ecumenical conferences and otherwise provides leadership for national Christian-unity efforts informed by Glenmary mission.

Glenmary, though small, makes a disproportionate impact for its size. Glenmary has 43 fully professed members—and growing again—but through its mission work in the field and in national leadership, it makes a difference and gets noticed.

Father Steve Pawelk, Glenmary’s second vice-president, offers Nathan Smith as an example. Through Nathan, Glenmary’s director of ecumenism (and Father Frank Ruff before him), Glenmary has become a force in the Christian unity movement. Smith connects Glenmary’s work with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has made inroads in dialogue among representatives of the Catholic Church and those of other Christian communities. People in national leadership have taken notice.

“The General Secretary of the Vatican knows Nathan Smith’s name,” said Father Steve. “That’s kind of a rare thing. That is a pretty astounding fact that our little community of less than 60 people [permanently professed and newer members] is able to have that kind of impact on the national scene in trying to promote Gospel unity.”

Smith is one of several lay ministers who work for Glenmary. Father Steve cites Lawain McNeil (Evangelization) and Polly Duncan Collum (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) as others who have helped grow Glenmary’s reputation, in addition to their local work. Glenmary First Vice President Father Aaron Wessman has also received attention for his book, The Church’s Mission in a Polarized World, a product of his missionary formation.

“Our national leadership is based in our ministry in the field. We share that and its principles with the larger Church,” Father Steve said. “Our authenticity is rooted in the mission. . . .They’re using stories of our missions to help broaden the spirit of God in national ways.”

Father Steve noted Glenmary’s Holy Family mission in Blakely, Georgia, as an example of a small organization with an outsize impact. Father Steve estimates fewer than 40 families attend Mass at the church. Those families are cared for in part by Glenmary Father Mike Kerin and Deacon Scott Watford. Outside the parish, through the work of Brother Jason Muhlenkamp (C-Hope Ministries), and Brother Levis Kuwa (healthcare outreach on addiction), the mission reaches thousands across the six county-area it serves.

“That kind of comprehensive approach has given the Catholic Church a huge identity,” Father Steve said. “Brother Jason is the Catholic minister of the county. For many of those who are not Catholic, they know his work. . . .I think it just gives an example of a church that might be very small, but its output and activity is very large. It makes a true difference in the spiritual and material lives of people.”

—John Stegeman

This article first appeared in our November 2023 Cultivate newsletter.