“We aim to give people a special time and place”

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Grace Malinee, a Retirement Team missionary at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg, tackles one of the ranch’s many outdoor challenges. Malinee has been with Prairie Star since 2019. COURTESY PHOTO

This week, Grace Malinee takes Leaven readers into her ministry as a Retreat Team Missionary at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg.

Q. What is your name, title and where do you minister?

My name is Grace Malinee and I am a Retreat Team Missionary at Prairie Star Ranch.

Q. Please describe what you do.

A. As missionaries, our mission is to connect young people and families with Christ. This mainly happens in the retreats we facilitate. We offer three types of retreats: confirmation, leadership and environmental stewardship.

When we’re not leading retreats, we still live and work on a 300-acre ranch, so there’s always something going on. This includes office work and hospitality for groups who rent our facilities, even if we do not do hands-on ministry with them. This may also include feeding the horses, doing maintenance work, writing a retreat plan, maintaining our St. Kateri Chapel, connecting with others on the ranch’s social media, coordinating with our housekeepers or even planting a garden.

Q. How would you describe how your role fits into the broader mission of the Catholic Church?

A. We aim to give people a dedicated time and place to connect with their families, parish community, peers, and ultimately the Lord, so that when they return to their normal lives , their homes and communities, they can be refreshed, revived and recommitted to the Lord.

Q. Is this what you have decided to do in life?

A. I have always had the ministry at heart. Before that, I worked in Catholic education and in a women’s shelter. Both were great experiences, but some of my wishes went unanswered. I wanted to work with young people outside the confines of a classroom.

The more I worked with homeless people, the more I realized that the deepest hunger we all have, regardless of our socioeconomic status, is the hunger for God. I had a passion for evangelism that was not explicitly encountered in my work there. The desire to evangelize, especially to evangelize young people, led me to Prairie Star.

Q. What road led you to that place?

A. I didn’t even know Prairie Star Ranch existed until I applied here. But one day, I made a bold prayer: “Jesus, I want to live in a Catholic community, work with young people and be a missionary. Is there even a place where I can do all of this?

A few weeks later, I met one of our fellow missionaries, and as she told me about ranch life, I immediately knew that was the answer to my prayer.

Q. Did you pick up any skills in other jobs along the way that proved surprisingly applicable?

A. The summer after graduating from college, I volunteered in a wonderful ministry called Catholic Youth Expeditions in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I spent the summer taking high school kids and young adults on wilderness retreat expeditions. It was the most fun summer of my life. Many of my experiences there translated into my life on the ranch.

My other work experience in education and [with] homeless people have helped me practice receiving the person in front of me, especially when they are in pain, scared or unsure of themselves. These accompanying skills have gone a long way in my current retirement work.

Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your work?

A. We missionaries live and work here year-round, and it’s not just a one-time “missions year”. I have been here for three years and am happy to continue serving as long as God wills.

The job has unusual hours and living conditions (all the missionaries live together on site), but what I like the most is that it doesn’t just feel like a job, but rather a way of life fun and fulfilling.

Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?

A. They are mostly young people, whether they come to the ranch for Camp Tekakwitha in the summer or whether they come with their parish or youth group retreat.

[But] we still have people of all ages coming through our doors. Countless parishes and ministries use this place of grace, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

Q. What would you like everyone to know about your ministry?

A. We are open year round and happy to serve. Whether you want to retire with your Knights of Columbus council or study the Bible, or want to take your Grade 7 class or youth group on a fun field trip. We would be happy to welcome you here. Prairie Star is truly a gift for everyone, no matter your age.

Q. Why does the world need more of what you offer, especially now?

A. In our increasingly restless or chaotic society, it is essential to give people a place to separate themselves from the normal events of their lives and have the time and space to meet the Lord. Many have felt isolated from each other or from the larger church over the past two years, so providing a place where people can reconnect to church and the sacraments during a retreat is essential.

Q. What did you learn about the people in that position?

A. I learned that many people can feel alone in their faith, or don’t know how to discuss faith or be in the Christian community. But going on retreat with others and participating in common prayer and faith sharing are often profound experiences.

Young people decide how and if they want to make faith a part of their lives and seeing others, especially young adults, living a life of integrated faith is a necessary witness that promotes conversion.

Q. What did you learn about yourself?

A. I learned that there are many things I don’t know, but be patient with myself while I learn.

I have learned many new things since coming to the ranch including driving tractors, dragging horses, belaying high ropes. I’m even learning American Sign Language as part of this job. But I learned to be open to continuous novelty and learning.

Q. How has this changed the way you perceive your identity as a Catholic?

A. It made me take Jesus’ commission much more seriously. It is the mission of every Catholic to spread the Gospel, whether we have the title of “missionary” or not. But it made me realize the gravity of my baptismal calling and that a testimony of the gospel must be proclaimed in word and deed.

Malinee is originally from St. Louis and moved to Prairie Star in 2019. She previously served as a Totus Tuus missionary in both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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