A joyful fruit: the profession in New York of the girl who baptized in Tanzania

Most parish priests often enjoy seeing many of those they baptize grow up, cultivate relationships with them, and celebrate some of their other sacraments. However, for missionary priests, like Reverend Edward Dougherty, it's rather unlikely that they will have the opportunity to see their 'flock' flourish. But sometimes, God surprises us.

Jennifer Elizabeth Terranova-August 7, 2023-Reading time: 2 minutes
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Susan during the profession of her perpetual vows

Reverend Edward Dougherty, M.M. has been a Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers missionary priest for forty-four years and served as superior general. He spent over a decade in Rome and twelve years in Africa and is now part of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, where he brings a "missionary dimension" to the parish.

While the geography, climate, local customs, and food might have changed for Fr. Dougherty throughout the years, one thing remains the same: he still loves to perform Baptisms.

Father Dougherty recently sat down with Omnes and shared how he unexpectedly reunited with a girl he baptized almost four decades ago. It's a story about a Baptism, a chance encounter, and a final profession of religious vows.

Baptism and the encounter

Fr. Dougherty's first overseas mission assignment was in Tanzania, Africa, where he met Susan Wanzagi when He baptized her when she was four. Unbeknownst to this missionary priest and future missionary sister, they would cross paths some twenty-seven years later in New York, in front of the Maryknoll building.

Father Dougherty recalled, "She approached me and said, 'Are you Fr. Dougherty?' And I said, yes." To his surprise, she shared, "I am Susan Wanzagi; you are the priest who baptized me at Zanaki Parish." He discovered that a little girl whom God entrusted him to Baptize "…in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" all those years ago was also endowed with the spirit of mission. Some would say it's a 'small world,' but the faithful know- it's providential! Fr. Dougherty agrees, "God definitely had a hand in it."

At that time, Susan had already begun her formation program and was on her path to becoming a Maryknoll Sister. Fr. Dougherty was working as Superior General, and his time in Tanzania seemed like a lifetime ago. The chance encounter could only have been ordained by God.

They stayed in touch and would periodically meet when they could. Fast forward ten years, Susan Wanzagi invites the priest whom she never knew, but the one who was there to perform her first sacrament in her home country, 7 488 miles away from the place where she would profess her final vows. He happily accepted.

Profession of vows

The Eucharistic Celebration and Final Profession of Religious Vows occurred on Sunday, July 16, at the Maryknoll Sisters Center Annunciation Chapel in Maryknoll, New York. Fr. Dougherty began the Mass by thanking Susan for her "kind invitation" to be part of the special day and said he was "thrilled to be in your company today."

Missionary spirit

The jovial priest said he referred to the Liturgy of Baptism "and its missionary command because it was at her Baptism that I first met Susan." He continued: "I'd like to think that baptizing her all those years ago started her missionary journey, but she had to take it up, and today we celebrate this missionary disciple." He concluded by saying how proud of Susan they were and that Susan "professing her Final Vows proclaims that our mission spirit has not diminished".

Sister Susan expressed her joy, "I am feeling happy as well as ready to do the mission of God and to share this service and love with the people I serve." 

While we might think that Sr. Susan's 'mission' will begin upon her arrival in the country where she will serve, in fact, it commenced at her Baptism. For Catholics, it all starts at Baptism. It's the day when our family and their friends gather around to dote on the gift God gave them: the gift of Life. It's an opportunity to love the child unconditionally, cherish them, protect them fearlessly, and teach them how to be a disciple of Christ by the simple eloquence of their examples. It's joyous because it's the day the baptized becomes a member of the Church. And it is, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)… the first sacrament and gives access to the other required sacraments. It's also the moment God calls us to begin our unique mission.

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