January 8, 2006
is happiest when he
is celebrating Mass
at one of the
He is shown at the
St. Anthony of
Padua, Koh Tieu.
MISSIONARY LIFE IN
A day in the life of a missionary priest! Ever wonder what it is
Granted we discover some of the joys---and to the missionaries
that is just what they are---and sorrows---and there are plenty of
those---when the Society of the Propagation of the Faith conducts
its annual appeal in St. Rosalie’s Parish. A priest or nun usually
speaks on behalf of the appeal.
What better way to learn first hand, however,
than straight from, as they say, ‘the horse’s mouth.’
Father Ed McGovern, who just completed his
second Christmas in Cambodia, wrote about his
Father Ed as he
activities in an open letter to members of Court St.
Rosalie of the Catholic Daughters of America.
The CDA has adopted the Maryknoll priest, a
brother of Margaret Byrnes who is a very active
member of our parish.
The missionary, a former assistant district
attorney in both his native Bronx and Queens,
greeted members of the court with humility:
“I hope and pray that you and your families are
all well. You simply may not realize how humbly and deeply grateful I am for all your ongoing support. I have been able to make a
difference in so many different lives only because of your generosity and prayerful support. I couldn’t do it on my own.
“As an example, one of the gifts that you sent was a coloring book entitled, ‘Learn About the Zoo.’ Well, Maryknoll Sr. Regina
Pellicore had one of the teachers in her program type out the names of all the animals in the coloring book in the Khmer font.
“Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. So with a little cutting and pasting, the children are able to see the names of the
animals in both English and Khmer. I’m able to report the successful production and delivery of over 950 photocopies of each page
in the book. We have them for the children in five of our projects.
“Our Christmas plan was to do likewise with the ‘Bible Jumbo Coloring and Activity Book.’”
Changing topics for the moment, Father Ed focused on another area---HIV/AIDS patients who require constant care.
He continued, “My work with Father Jim Noonan and over 2,150 indigent clients with HIV/AIDS and their families keeps me
busy seven days a week. It’s not just that I am Jim’s assistant project director to supervise our staff, etc., but we also visit our
patients in our hospice everyday of the week (sometimes two or three times a
“These pastoral visits offer a huge challenge to me. As many people here
who know me say, ‘Father Ed is always happy when he’s making his rounds,
visiting with the patients and sitting by their bedside.’ The toughest part of my
job, and my life, is when the patient in the next bed, or a family member, tells
me that they’re desperately poor and sick as well, and then literally beg me to
take them on as clients as well.
“The same happens numerous times every day at our office.
Unfortunately, we can’t help everyone. However, I keep trying.”
Reflecting on his life prior to ordination, he added, “In my more humorous
moments, I wonder if they had ever seen an episode of the old show, Queen
for a Day, with the person telling the hardest luck story winning a washing
machine or whatever. It’s easy for me if someone has a cell phone and looks
Caterina is all smiles in the arms of her mother after
being blessed by Father Ed in St. Martin de Porres
“But in all seriousness, I pray for God to guide me to choose whom to
Parish, Kampong Chamlong. The infant had been
help and to have mercy on my soul for having to turn down so many others.
baptized last May.
“One of the saddest stories for me is about Kaou Srey, a 37-year old
Epiphany of the Lord
January 8, 2006
widow. I had first met her when she was being discharged from the Russian Hospital with no place to go. Her 12-year old son,
Chhuun Meng Huhr (who looked like he was 8), had been taking care of her, as there are no such things as a nurse’s aide here. I
had approved the addition of this small family into one of our group homes.
“We actually were able to get Chhuun into first grade, as he had never attended school before. They were too poor to afford it.
However, Kaou Srey’s resistant tuberculosis flared up and she passed away in our hospice. One of our fieldworkers, Mrs. Ngourn
Phall, had to bring Chhuun to meet me so that Chhuun could see his mother’s body before cremation. He ran to me and kept
sobbing quietly, not hysterically.
“It’s very important in Khmer custom to see the body of their deceased loved one so that one knows that the person has truly
died. Chhunn is now in one of our foster homes faithfully attending school. I believe that God and Kaou Srey had the same plan
the day that I agreed to receive that family into ours.”
How does he manage to achieve so much in a day? There has to be time to sleep, but Father Ed’s day usually begins at 4:30
“My day is still the same, arising early as I usually have a morning Mass at one of the convents here. I must admit that the
highlight of my week is presiding at Mass in the Khmer language every Sunday in one of 15 different villages in the province of
Kandal stretching to the Vietnamese border.
“At times, getting to the parish to say Mass can be quite a challenge. As an example, I was going to say Mass for the first time
at the parish of St. Peter’s in Ronchak. I was told that it was five kilometers off of National Road No. 1 on the Mekong. Well, it
was no longer on the Mekong, it was in the Mekong! The road was completely submerged, so we had to take a canoe from the
“Traveling to St. Francis Xavier Parish in Champa was worse. The water wasn’t deep enough for a canoe, so I had to schlep
through murky water that was up to my knee length. Going to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Koh Tieu really took the cake! Our
trek or schlep was just through mud and more mud, slipping and sliding along, as the annual flooding waters had finally started to
To the Maryknoller, such obstacles are no big deal.
“In most of the parishes during October,” related the soft-spoken priest, “the parishioners advised me that my Mass was the
only one being offered there during the month. They’re just so grateful to have a priest preside. I’m already booked on Christmas
Eve for a 4 P.M. Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peach Parish in Areyksath and a 7 P.M. Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Koh
Nores. They have already made arrangements to ferry me across the Mekong that evening. I’ll be in at least two other parishes on
Christmas morning. This is a good vocation.
“Recently we had a three-day event called the Water Festival to mark the end of the rainy season. It’s well over 90 degrees
again, but it will probably rain at least a few times more this month. Then it may not rain again until late May/early June.
“December through mid-January is bearable. It is called the cool season. It may actually go down to 70 at night. But by the end
of February, we enter the hot season. March, April and May are simply brutal with temperatures over 100 degrees with 100 percent
humidity and no rain.”
Sounds like some of the weather in the Hamptons last summer. And weather is not the only similarity.
“One of the biggest problems is the same you face with the rising cost of gas, heating oil and electricity,” concluded Father
McGovern. “The prices have gone up at least 25 percent since October. What’s the most frustrating is the constant brown-outs and
black-outs that still occur three, four and sometimes five times a day for unknown durations.
“When we had the power black-outs in February, March and April, we were told it’s only because there is no water. Now,
there’s plenty of water to run the hydroelectric plants, but the price of oil is too high, so they’ll continue the rotating blackouts
All in the life of a missionary!
Cambodian children, some of them wearing new
outfits donated by members of Court St. Rosalie of
the Catholic Daughters of America, gather around
January 8, 2006
Maria and Hung are shown with Father Ed after
he married them at St. Martin de Porres Parish.
Sr. Lina Kim Leang , S. P., of the Sisters of
Providence, is on the left.
Coloring books donated by Court St.
Rosalie were Christmas presents for the
Epiphany of the Lord