They’re relinquishing their home and successful business in Big Flats to move halfway around the world, performing missionary service. As exceptional as that may sound, Maureen and Jerry McInerny feel that God beckons many folks to serve in such ways — whether they realize it or not.
The McInernys plan to relocate to the Philippines, possibly by the end of this year. Jerry and Maureen said that upon hearing this news, several people have alluded to hearing their own calls from God — but haven’t acted on them.
"They knew they were supposed to do something, but were too afraid to do it. And I can relate to that," Maureen said, stating that the only way to overcome this hesitation is to have complete trust in God.
The couple’s dramatic lifestyle change was set in motion when Jerry visited the Philippines for three weeks this past winter, witnessing scores of people who lived in shacks of tin and whatever other material they could find. He was especially moved by the sight of a 5-year-old boy wading into a dark, polluted river and using it as a toilet.
"I felt that pain right there for what that kid was going through, the pain of being poor. I knew right then — ‘I don’t know what I can do and I don’t have the money to fix all this, but I can do something,’" he recalled.
Jerry, 57, said he felt so strongly about returning full-time to the Philippines that he thought, "I think I can go home and pack up Maureen, because we’ve got to come back here."
Maureen, 56, said she could identify with her husband’s feelings, having been to the Philippines in 2001 and 2002. “We’re just amazed at the people — the poverty of the people but the open hearts, the accepting of God’s will. They were just beautiful. As little as they had, they would give you anything," she said. "You just can’t describe it unless you see it.”
Yet Maureen admitted to balking at being in the Philippines for the long haul. “It’s not an easy life — not a life like the United States, I’ll tell you," she said. "But it’s not something I choose to do or Jerry chooses to do; we feel God is calling. It took me a little while, a little bit of prayer, to embrace it. But I knew, by all the signs, that it was God’s call."
The McInernys are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes, Elmira. A major force in their faith journey is their involvement with the Anawim Community, a group of priests and lay Catholics dedicated to spiritual and missionary activities. The center, established in 1975, is located at 122 E. First St., Corning. Its members come from several Southern Tier parishes and meet for adoration as well as monthly liturgies for specific causes, such as healing Masses.
Anawim also has branches in New Jersey and the Philippines. In fact, the Anawim Center in Las Pinas City will serve as the McInernys’ temporary residence when they arrive in the Philippines. They will eventually seek more permanent housing as they establish their ministry to the poor, as well as to young seminarians for whom the Anawim Center was created.
"That’s the beauty of the Anawim Community. If we were faced with this on our own, I don’t think we could do it. That’s what this community is about — a deeper community, walking with the Lord and believing that if he calls us, he will take care of us,” Maureen said.
Through Anawim the McInernys have led prayer groups, set up soup kitchens, ministered to the elderly, led 12-step recovery groups and provided temporary housing to those in need. Their latest commitment involving the Philippines has deeply impressed a longtime friend from the community, Marie Coffey, who remarked that "in a church that is crying out for radical role models, this change is a profound example of self-sacrifice."
"Their lives are dedicated to serving God and they have really found outlets to do that, always willing to open up possibilities that other people aren’t really able to," added Coffey, a parishioner at All Saints in Corning. "This next step, they’re coming from a very stable situation and lifestyle, and that requires a great faith and sacrifice to walk away from. They do have that faith and dedication to serve and follow God’s call."
The McInernys had hoped to move to the Philippines by September, but must wait until their house is sold. At that point they will bid goodbye to family, friends and a prosperous custom-carpentry business, The Carpenter’s Shop, that they operate out of their home.
Exactly how they will go about serving in the Philippines — and for how long — is still unforeseen. “It’s very strange. We don’t know what we’re going to do when we get there,” Jerry said. “But we’re trying not to lay the footwork, because that doesn’t leave any room for God.”
"You’re walking a path the Lord has laid out," Maureen agreed. "It’s nothing I could conjure up on my own.”
The McInernys celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary Aug. 5 and have two grown children. For Jerry, this new chapter of their married life brings him back to their newlywed days.
“When we started out we didn’t know the life before us, and we’re at that stage again," he said. "And those are exciting times.”