Lisa Small’s spiritual and apostolic life has come full circle.
Ever since Lisa encountered Jesus Christ as a 17-year-old in New Zealand, she wanted to spend her life bringing His love to others. This led her to Regnum Christi Mission Corps, a program in which young adults dedicate a year of their lives entirely to the service of the Church. In 2000, Lisa, along with others from all over the world, travelled to the United States to be trained and then assigned, with a small group, to a community where she would spend the rest of the year in active apostolate, serving the local parishes, schools, youth groups and families.
For Lisa, that community was Michigan, and it was here that she first got to know the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi. During her missionary year of service and formation with RC Mission Corps, she discerned and felt Jesus calling her to give her life within Regnum Christi as a Consecrated Woman.
After her years of formation and graduate studies, Lisa served Christ forming other Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi and young men and women through different Regnum Christi and diocesan programs. So when she was asked in 2018 to take on the new role as National Formation Director of the RC Mission Corps volunteer program in the North American territory, she jumped at the opportunity. “My missionary year completely changed my life, allowed me to learn so much about myself and launched me to impact the lives of so many young people I served,” says Lisa.
Lisa’s role as National Formation Director means journeying with the young women from the moment that they apply to be a RC Missionary, through their formation and training, to the end of their year when they prepare to bring their experiences back out into the world into their college or professional lives. “It is such an honor to interview and meet these amazing young women from around the world who have a real relationship with Christ and who want to spread his Kingdom full time,” says Lisa. “They have received so much from Regnum Christi and ECYD, and now they want to give that back to others and live in community. They grow so much as leaders, and so many young people look up to them as role models.”
Two such Regnum Christi missionaries who were inspired to continue to live the apostolic spirit formed in them during their mission year are Jude LeCompte and Christian Rabalais. These two RC Mission Corps alumni returned from their missions to their native New Orleans, where they started a podcast called Geaux Forth, geared towards encouraging young Catholics to learn more about their faith and how to live it more passionately in their lives.
Over the past twenty years, over 900 young men and women have gone through the RC Mission Corps program. For the great majority of them, their year grounded them in the Catholic faith and gave them the tools to be leaders in the own communities. Of these RC Mission Corps alumni, many go on to establish new ministries in their own parishes, become youth ministers, or serve as teachers, staff and administrators in Regnum Christi and other Catholic schools. Others, through their experience at RC Mission Corps, have gone on to answer the call to the priesthood or, like Lisa, consecrated life.
While the RC Mission Corps program has a positive influence on every community it serves through its wide variety of apostolic activities, from high school retreats to social outreach, it’s clear that the greatest impact the apostolate has is on the missionaries themselves. “I think each young man and young woman that comes is deeply impacted by the Mission Corps because it is an intense living of the Regnum Christi charism that offers a path to live their baptismal call to holiness and apostolate,” says Lisa. One of the keys to this lasting impact is spiritual formation.
Throughout their year, RC missionaries partake in a variety of activities designed to nurture their spiritual life, from pilgrimages to retreats (including an Ignatian Spiritual Exercises retreat lasting six days). However, it’s the cultivation and fostering of a personal friendship with Jesus, through daily prayer and the sacraments, which Lisa says is both the foundation and highlight of the missionary year.
It’s this personal relationship with Christ that RC Mission Corps alumna, Kristin Haskins, cherishes most from her recent mission year:
“Through this past year of being a Regnum Christi Missionary, God has really worked on my relationship with Him. I am so thankful for all the times of prayer that were worked into my daily schedule. Over and over, I was reminded that when I surrender my day to Him, I will feel so much more joy! Not only do I feel that my relationship with Christ was strengthened, but also I have learned so much about myself, that I know will help me in the future.”
Formed in the practise and love of continuous prayer, the missionaries can then take the virtues that they have developed over the year – like service, compassion, and responsibility – back into their families, their communities, and ultimately, their future relationships and professional lives. In fact, when the participants return home from their year with RC Mission Corps, their mission isn’t over. It’s only just begun.
Never has this been as apparent – and as important – as this March, when the 2019-2020 mission year came to an abrupt and premature end.
In light of rising concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa, along with the others in the national team, had to make the difficult decision to suspend the current missionary year and send the participants home. “It was really hard apostolically, because we had a to do a lot of discernment, have a lot of discussions, and see what was the best for the missionaries,” says Lisa.
This was difficult news for this year’s missionaries to hear. “When I spoke to the missionaries about finishing their year early, I could see it totally broke their hearts, they weren’t expecting it,” says Lisa. “It was very hard for them to know that they would be all of a sudden leaving the souls that they’d been ministering to and serving.” And it wasn’t just the people that they were serving, and the community that they were serving with, that the missionaries were leaving. Lisa knew that, in being sent home, the missionaries were also saying good-bye to a life where the chapel – and the Blessed Sacrament – were right down the hall, and returning to a life without the sacraments, and without the mass.
Despite how difficult it was to make, Lisa knows that sending the missionaries home was the right decision. “They could have stayed nice and sheltered with us,” says Lisa, “but their families actually need them, their communities need them, and so what a beautiful way to respond to Jesus with their fiat.”
And in the few weeks since this year’s program was suspended, Lisa has already seen that fiat response embodied in the lives of several of the RC Mission Corps participants, as they continue to live their missionary year at home. One such missionary is Lizzy Conklin, who had to leave her mission community of Cincinatti to return home to Atlanta. “When we were told that the mission year was coming to a close earlier than we had expected, it was a difficult pill to swallow at first,” says Lizzy, “but if I learned anything throughout the year, it is that God is always good in every circumstance, so I knew it would be for the best. I think it’s a testimony to what the mission year did inside of me – it helped me to see things through His eyes and not my own.” Indeed, Lizzy’s mission has continued in her home community: since her return to Atlanta, she has started working at a lab preparing coronavirus test kits to send out to hospitals. Through this new purpose that God has given her, Lizzy is reminded that, as she puts it, “He never leaves us missionless.”
Lisa’s not exactly sure what next year will look like for RC Mission Corps, but she trusts that Christ will take care of the apostolate, as He always has. “God really works – and speaks – through circumstances,” says Lisa, and she knows He’ll work through these unprecedented times. “My role in leadership with the RC Mission Corps has been an incredibly beautiful spiritual journey of discernment, and realizing that this is Jesus’ program. He has been my guide.”
To find out more about RC Mission Corps, visit their website at https://rcmissioncorps.org.