St. Bryce Ministries lives out the missionary spirit
World-class pianist and composer Eric Genius will present “A Night of Inspirational Music” concert Nov. 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Dominic Church, 775 Harrison Ave. in New Orleans. Admission is free, but an offering will be taken to benefit St. Bryce Mission’s St. Francis Emmaus Pregnancy Hostel for at-risk, indigenous women and children in Costa Rica.
St. Bryce, a nonprofit, lay Catholic organization, was founded in 2011 in Costa Rica by Greg and Colleen Mitchell originally of New Orleans. Through their ministry of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, they work in the third-world mission communities of Turrialba, Costa Rica, helping the indigenous Cabécar people, and now Tanzania, Africa – in collaboration with the local Catholic Church – learn the basics of the Catholic faith while addressing their pressing needs of “food sustainability, job creation, maternal health and education.”
A family calling
Greg Mitchell said he was familiar with Costa Rica from taking vacations and traveling there through his father’s business. He and his spiritual advisor, Father Gregory Chauvin, had visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels and met the rector who mentioned how the patroness of Costa Rica – Our Lady of Angels called La Negrita – had left her image there 400 years ago as a sign that Church was to evangelize the indigenous people and treat them like brothers. It was inspiring to Mitchell.
“Costa Rica was for me divine providence,” he said. “The rector of the Basilica told us about the Cabécars and the mission, and later we decided to build chapels. It turned into living here for a trial of six months that has now been five years.”
The Mitchells and their five sons received the calling to start the ministry while living in Lafayette and moved to Costa Rica in 2011 “with the permission and support of Bishop Michael Jarrell of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Bishop Jose Francisco Ulloas Rojas of Cartago, Costa Rica.” It is named after one of their sons, Bryce, who died in 2009.
In Costa Rica, they have put their “faith in action” by teaching catechism and sacramental preparation and building or rebuilding chapels. They put their “hope in action” by teaching the indigenous people to be self-sustaining through raising chickens to eat and then teaching entrepreneurial skills to sell the chickens and also use them to prepare as meals to sell.
Their newest effort of putting their “Love (charity) in Action” is building the St. Francis Emmaus Pregnancy and Medical Hostel, a 25-bed facility with a full kitchen, medical clinic, chapel and housing for visiting doctors and missionaries.
“This will provide a place for indigenous Cabécar mothers to stay in order to access needed health care services and have support, advocacy and education during pregnancy, postpartum and their children’s early years,” Mitchell said.
St. Bryce Missions operates the hostel with one staff member and volunteers and have been cited by the Costa Rican Board of Medicine as playing a major part in the reduction of infant mortality in the indigenous reserve by 50 percent over the past two years, Mitchell said.
Continuing to expand
The St. Bryce ministry expanded into Africa in 2013-14 when Mitchell recognized a need for the “poorest of the poor to have chapels,” food supplements and learn agricultural trades. St. Bryce bought a brick-building machine to allow the locals to make bricks to build a permanent chapel, an idea Mitchell culled from his logistics and building background.
“They would no longer have to buy expensive bricks and give jobs to locals,” he said. “When I traveled there I was able to help them in areas of project management and logistics to reduce the cost of the materials.”
Other ministries in Africa are the Mango Initiative in the bushlands outside of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, and the Maize for Africa initiative where St. Bryce provides maize flour for families to supplement their diet.
“St. Bryce Missions’ first goal is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all creatures as he commanded us to do in the Bible and to bring all humanity into the sacramental life of the church,” Greg Mitchell said. “All of our projects and actions are directed toward this goal,” adding that the poor should have a safe and dignified space to gather and worship God. “Along the way we cannot, however, be deaf to the cry of the poor and hungry.”
St. Bryce Missions also sponsors mission trips for evangelization and medical purposes, as well as days of renewal and concerts.
Mitchell said he hopes that Catholic parishes in the United States begin to partner with St. Bryce “to build simple chapels in these missions territories and then have a direct relationship with extremely poor missionary communities.”
To learn more about or donate to St. Bryce Missions or to plan a mission trip to one of its locations, visit www.stbryce.org. Greg Mitchell regularly writes a blog to give updates about the ministry.