Ever since a seventh-grade Spanish class sparked her interest in Latin America, Molly Minnerath has been interested in global relationships. Just over 10 years later, she is serving as a short-term lay missioner in the Maryknoll Bolivia Immersion Program in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
“I don’t know where the inspiration came from, but something in my heart always told me I needed to go on mission,” she said. “As I grew up, I was also incredibly fortunate to have a family and parish community that supported me fervently in my formation as a disciple.”
Minnerath is a member of St. Mary Church in Alexandria. In high school, she experienced her first service trip and during her last two years of high school, she participated in the Youth in Theology and Ministry program at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
“Afterwards, I knew I had to be a Bennie,” she said. She attended the College of St. Benedict and graduated in May with a major in theology and double minors in Hispanic studies and Latino/Latin American studies.
“I was confident in my calling after that,” she said. “I knew I needed to serve, and the way I was going to do so would be wholesome and transformative. Through much discernment, I felt confident that I was being called to live out this call by being an international, short-term missioner.”
Minnerath researched several possibilities for mission experiences and came across the Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program. She was struck by the emphasis it placed on formation and accompaniment.
“Maryknoll is really about presence — they are about walking with those living on the margins and building mutually beneficial relationships with those you encounter, relationships that transform each person and bear the face of Christ,” she said.
In addition to falling in love with the mission and values of Maryknoll, Minnerath said she has always had a special place in her heart for Latin America.
“Since I studied Spanish in college, too, I knew I wanted to live in a place where that skill would be useful. Also, I thought that the strong indigenous presence here coupled with the fact that 76 percent of Bolivians are Catholic would offer me a really intriguing look at the Catholic Church in a beautiful and totally different culture,” she said.
“The reality in the U.S. is that the face of the Catholic Church is changing. I wanted to be able to understand this change and serve my church in this transition better after this experience of immersion and transformation.”
Minnerath left in August for Bolivia, where she will serve for one year. Her time there consists of two phases. During phase one, she is in language school, learning about mission and about Bolivia. She lives with an Argentine family who moved to Bolivia about a year ago to be part of the Maryknoll Mission Center.
“I am simultaneously learning about Bolivia with them by my side, while also learning about their home culture in Argentina. It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I also have the pleasure of having three little brothers — Simón, 8, Lucas, 7, and Francisco, 4. They fill the house with magnificent amounts of energy and joy. And they also happen to be the best Spanish teachers I could ask for,” she said.
Phase two will begin after finishing her language studies when she will move into the missioner house and begin full-time service.
“This part of my experience, I think, will look and feel different than my life now. I will be living in a way that reflects Maryknoll’s commitment to simplicity and solidarity — living among the people that I am serving and walking with them in their day-to-day life. I envision this time and space to be where I encounter the most transformation and struggle.”
Minnerath has several options for her ministry in Cochabamba, which has about 1 million inhabitants. She has visited ministry sites like, “Niños con Valor,” a center that welcomes children with HIV/AIDS, and another program called, “Manos con Libertad,” a cooperative of women who have either been in, or are transitioning out, of the women’s prison in Cochabamba.
“The women make a variety of handcrafts to sell, and also work in the catering service and bakery that the organization runs as a transitional job out of prison. The organization aims to empower the women to make a fair wage and support their families, while giving them a place to foster stability and strength,” Minnerath explained.
“My program strongly emphasizes the importance of formation and the universal call to mission,” she continued. “And so I hope and pray this time in mission can be a time of discernment for me — what does my personal ‘mission’ look like after this experience? Perhaps I will be called to spend more time serving internationally, or perhaps I will find a calling in my heart to serve back stateside. But whatever that calling is, I know this experience will form, transform and radically strengthen my sense of self, God, solidarity and what it means to be a disciple.”
Minnerath plans to share her experience when she returns back home and also while she is there through her blog, https://mollyminnerathblog.wordpress.com. She invites everyone to journey with her through prayer.
“As a short-term missioner with Maryknoll, I am committed to ‘reverse mission’ just as much as I am committed to living and serving in solidarity while in Bolivia. This means that everything I experience and learn here, I will also bring back to my home community and all those communities I serve in the future — this transformation will affect how I live out my mission for the rest of my life.”