By Kim Ae-ran
Missionaries are constantly coming and going around the world. On the way to an extensive mission trip across the United States, I am happy to meet various types of parishioners.
People whom I encounter during missions are so diverse with unique stories. Most of the stories are so touching that I always remember their tough journeys and keep them in my prayers.
Some people are not able to understand and accept their situation. So, they often ask some questions about life, but all in all, they realize the marvelous and amazing hand of God in their lives.
When I stayed in one of our benefactors’ houses in Atlanta, our faithful supporter asked me to keep an eye out for the whereabouts of Fr. Sean Conneely, a Columban priest and missionary whom she met in Chicago many years ago.
Searching for some information about him, his life drew my attention and invited me to reflect on the mysterious providence of God. I realized again that each of us undergoes a winding spiritual journey of trials. The history of salvation is fulfilled little by little throughout our lives in many ways.
Fr. Sean was born in Galway, Ireland, in 1943. He went to boarding school at age 13. Then, in 1962, he entered the Missionary Society of Saint Columban. After being ordained a priest in 1969, he was appointed as a missionary to Korea.
He worked in Gwangju as a parish priest and then moved to Seoul to work for college students. In 1976, he was involved in the ME (Marriage Encounter) movement for the unity of couples. He also introduced the Choice program for unmarried young people in 1982.
However, during his pastoral activities, he couldn’t help but drink much of the Korean liquor called “soju” with parishioners and students as well. Due to his drinking habit of almost 20 years, he sincerely prayed to God to heal his addiction. As a result, he was sent to the United States to find a way to cure himself and to look for another pastoral activity.
He joined an alcohol rehabilitation center in Chicago in 1992, and he studied Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University in Chicago and attained Addiction Counseling Specialist Certification. Since then, he has been involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as an addiction counselor. He also worked as a pastoral counselor in 1999 and stayed in the United States up to 2005.
With the help of AA’s Twelve Steps Program for addicts, he worked with alcohol addicts, drug addicts, food addicts, sex addicts, etc. Those who overcame their crisis can surely empower addicts to renew their lives. Truly, heaven helps those who help themselves.
Then, he came back to Korea in 2005 and introduced the “Retrovaille” (rediscovery of marriage) program. Thanks to his recovery, he could help others deal with their own problems. He helped people undergoing the crisis of divorce to look deep into themselves and bring forward what they have discovered. He also offered spiritual accompaniment to many sisters of religious orders who searched for spiritual support.
Looking back over the past 70 years of his life, he said “I feel that at times I have allowed myself to be carried by the current and then with the help of God and remaining close to Him.”
He returned to his homeland in 2020, but he always appreciates the beauty of living as a missionary. Happy are those who are willing to experience outgoing missions!
The author is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul. Please feel free to visit her blog “A piece of sunshine” at mtorchid88.blogspot.com.