ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Marty Roers, a returned Maryknoll lay missioner who over the past 18 years has been a leader in global justice advocacy and mission education, is the 2021 recipient of the Bishop John E. McCarthy Spirit of Mission Award.
Roers is currently co-director of the Justice Office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul.
Maryknoll Lay Missioners presented Roers with the honor in the congregation’s chapel during the lay missioners’ World Mission Sunday celebration Oct. 24.
The award is conferred annually for continued service after missioners have returned to the United States.
Now in its third year, it is named after the late Bishop John E. McCarthy of Austin, Texas. Known for his social justice and advocacy work, he was dedicated to promoting the role of laity in the church, Catholic social teaching and mission. He advocated for migrants and refugees and was a longtime supporter of Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
Roers served from 1995 until 2003 in education, community organizing and development in Kenya and what is now South Sudan.
Since his return to the United States, he has worked in mission education and campus ministry; justice advocacy, particularly with migrant and refugee concerns; and parish social justice leadership development in California and Minnesota.
In his current job, he works with Sisters of St. Joseph communities actively engaged in their Justice Commission and their 10 working groups. Their justice initiatives include the areas of immigration, confronting whiteness and racism, criminal justice reform and Native American awareness, among others.
Roers has said his experiences with Maryknoll Lay Missioners cemented his motivation to work for justice for his global brothers and sisters through healing love.
He still remembers what he wrote in his application to Maryknoll Lay Missioners about the question “Why mission?”: “I want to love, be love and share love.”
“It was wonderful to work with Marty in Sudan for three years,” said Dr. Susan Nagele, a fellow lay missioner. “His ability to tell the Gospel stories to people in Toposaland in ways that local people could understand was extraordinary. He had the qualities of a good shepherd, which was so meaningful in this semi-nomadic community.
“I am sure that they continue to remember him for how he lived his life among them.”
Besides Nagele, Roers worked closely with the Kiltegan Fathers and the Maryknoll Sisters during a time of civil war. His ministry was focused on catechetical education with children and community development.
When he joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1995, he went through orientation at Maryknoll, New York, and learned the Swahili language in Tanzania.
He was then assigned to the remote desert area of Bura Tana, Kenya, a “highly insecure and deeply impoverished area,” according to a Maryknoll Lay Missioner news release.
Roers’ ministry in the region was in catechetical work as well as community organizing and entrepreneur self-help projects. In 2000, he moved to southern Sudan. He returned to the U.S. in 2003 and worked in the mission office of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
He earned a master of divinity degree from the University of Notre Dame and for four years was social justice coordinator in campus ministry for Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
At the university, he got hundreds of students involved in direct service programs and cross-cultural immersion experiences, such as monthly service trips to Tijuana, Mexico, which drew almost 1,000 participants over his four years with the program.
Roers returned to Minnesota and worked in the Office for Social Justice of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He was manager of parish and community education, engagement and leadership development.
He has been with the Justice Office of the Sisters of St. Joseph since 2016 and also volunteers with local parishes in welcoming refugees in their communities.
Roers also is still actively involved with Maryknoll Lay Missioners and has led Friends Across Borders immersion trips to East Africa.
“Marty has constantly been seeking and crying out for justice, but always with love at the center,” said Marj Humphrey, Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ director of missions. “That is why we have chosen him to receive this award.”
“He deeply continues the spirit of mission wherever he is,” she added. “For Marty, our ‘collective work of mission,’ as he calls it, has never ceased.”
The award presentation in St. Paul was part of a virtual Zoom celebration that featured prayers and reflections by current Maryknoll lay missioners working in Bolivia, Tanzania and at the U.S.-Mexico border.