They didn’t party like it was 1999 – or 1911, for that matter – but the retired priests living at Maryknoll near Los Altos recently celebrated the Catholic Foreign Mission Society’s 100th anniversary.
Maryknoll residents attended a centennial Mass followed by a special dinner in June to commemorate the century of missionary work around the world.
The national non-profit Catholic organization has actively provided Third World counties with health care, social welfare, religious education, academic and vocational training, and youth formation since the early 1900s.
“(The mission) is to help people by living the teachings of Jesus,” Father Robert Carleton said.
Carleton worked as a missionary for 15 years and now serves as director for the Los Altos Mary- knoll, a home for retired missionaries.
Located on 32 acres near Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, which borders Los Altos and Cupertino, the facility provides a comfortable and serene environment.
Purchased from the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1926, Maryknoll Residence was built to house students at St. Joseph’s College, which for nearly five decades prepared men for missionary assignments around the world. The seminary provided four years of high school and four years of college education.
In the late 1970s, the residence was converted into a retirement home and today is home to 28 retired priests and brothers.
“We live well here,” Carleton said. “You give your life, but then you’re taken care of at the end of your life.”
Most of the men spend their days like other retired people – reading, watching baseball, listing to guest speakers and playing trivia games, bocce ball and horseshoes.
But many of them remain active in the Catholic community, driving as far as Fort Bragg to assist with church Masses.
The lifestyle is a dramatic change from missionary work. Before their retirement, the missionaries spent the majority of their lives in Third World countries, teaching, serving, converting and caring for those in need.
“We go out into places where there is very little,” Carleton said. “We would like to think living the Christian life is good.”
Some missionaries work overseas well into their 80s, but most retire in their 70s, according to Carleton.
Donations fund Mary- knoll’s missionary work.
The Los Altos Mary- knoll Residence welcomes visitors – including school groups – and is open to the public during the day.
“We invite (visitors) to stop by, to walk through the gardens, to visit the chapel,” said activities director Tammy Roberts, adding that there’s an 8 a.m. Mass daily.
Maryknoll often draws the attention of local residents curious about the building’s Chinese-influenced tower, visible from Interstate 280.
For its first mission, Mary- knoll sent four priests to China in 1918. The Chinese tortured the men, Carleton said, and one of them, Francis Xavier Ford, died in a Canton prison.
“(Ford) was a great missionary, and he was heroic in his faith,” Carleton said.
The men’s trip inspired the tower’s design.
Carleton said that according to Chinese religious tradition, the tower’s curlicue roof is believed to repel evil.
While the first mission may not have been as successful as Maryknoll had hoped, the organization has continued to thrive, with more than 450 male and 900 female missionaries serving worldwide, according to Carleton.
For more information, visit www.maryknoll.org or call 967-3822.