by: Kathleen M. Carroll

The members of the Monroe Ladies’ Auxiliary still gather to support the Comboni Missionaries— decades after the seminary closed.

Barb Heising was just helping out a cousin.

“She had been helping out with the booklet for the [Comboni] festival. She was moving out of town and asked if I could help.”

That was in 1978, when the Comboni Missionaries had a robust presence in her town of Monroe. From their 1949 roots in a small house (later headquarters for their rummage sales) to a seminary with a beautiful chapel, gym, and plenty of room for students, the Michigan town definitely had the Comboni stamp.

“Back then we’d have 35 or 40 ladies at a meeting,” Heising recalls. “We helped out at all the festivals. We had a lot of events–the festival, dances, a Las Vegas party, and our

famous flower sale. And those ladies worked hard, especially after the fire [in 1979]. Those ladies were out there on their hands and knees cleaning up. I can’t give them enough credit.”

The 1979 fire was catastrophic. More than a third of the complex was lost and the rest was severely damaged by smoke. In her book Defining Mission, Patricia Durchholz described the aftermath:

“Hundreds of volunteers helped with the cleanup, and 36 truckloads of rubble were hauled away. Dozens of women worked an entire day removing soot from the chapel and workers painted and replaced ceiling tiles, rewired electrical circuits, and repaired plumbing” (273).

It was only after the fire that the Comboni Missionaries found out that the building was underinsured. Still they maintained a presence through the mid-1980s, and the men’s club and ladies’ auxiliary kept up their support.

“When the Comboni Missionaries left Monroe, the men’s club kind of fizzled away, but we took it as a challenge. We still had the support of the missionaries,” Heising says.

Barb Heising is now president of the Comboni Ladies’ Auxiliary of Monroe, but their work is always a group effort, she says. “I have been so fortunate. I might lead the meetings, but the group decides what we’re going to do. I’m just one of the gang.”

There are fewer members these days, Heising says, and many are getting older. “We’d love to have more members, but maybe some younger people don’t find it attractive to spend time with all these old ladies,” she says with a laugh.

“We have one member who joined long after the Comboni Missionaries left. She didn’t have the experience of the seminary and the strong Comboni presence, but she still contributes and helps out. I give her a lot of credit.”

The ladies’ auxiliary still hosts events and raises funds for the missions. They haven’t forgotten the Comboni Missionaries, and the missionaries sure haven’t forgotten them.

Heising says, “Sometimes I think, how can I bother them and ask a priest to come up here when there are so few of us? But my thinking was all wrong! Whenever I call, they always come. There are so few of us, but they remember us, just as we remember them.”

“When the superior general came to Cincinnati, I told Father Louie, ‘I sure would like to meet him!’” Heising says, confessing, “I don’t know why I said that. Next thing I know, Father Louie says, ‘Can we have a meeting next Thursday? The superior general wants to come to Monroe and meet your group.’ So I called everybody together and he said Mass for us and joined us for lunch. He’s just the nicest fellow!”

Does Barb regret that favor she did for her cousin?  No way. “That was probably the best yes I ever said in my life!”

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