Stella Maris North America Regional Symposium


by Kevin Walker, NAMMA

Stella Maris North America Regional Symposium

Stella Maris group in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

This August, Catholics of all vocations involved with people of the sea gathered in the Baltimore-DC area to share thoughts on their past and future. Topics included the different ministries of different workers, the life of servant of God Capt. Leonard LaRue, a new Stella Maris app, and the joys and struggles of this unique ministry.

Perspectives on Stella Maris

Stella Maris is diverse: bishops, priests, religious, deacons, and lay Catholics, lifelong and converted, all minister to peoples of the sea and play leadership roles, and the symposium considered all these different angles. Dcn. Paul Rosenblum (Charleston SC) opened the proceedings with a look at the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium and its call for holiness in every kind of vocation, and throughout the symposium all had opportunities to present on their work and praise each others’.

One of the most important ways Stella Maris workers rely on each other is in providing Catholic seafarers with the sacrament. Doreen Badeaux (Port Arthur, TX) recalled learning about maritime ministry after growing up in a maritime parish: “It’s as if I was rewinding a film in my head, and I could see the countless ships sailing past my childhood home, and only now realizing how many Catholic men and women must have been on those ships without access to the sacraments, though they were literally passing the churches themselves, but could only wave.”

In his presentation on diaconal work, Dcn. Jeff Willard (Galveston, TX) supplied a maritime metaphor for the kind of cooperation this challenge takes: ‘I may not be the cargo ship that can take the Mass to the seafarers myself – that has to be a priest – but I can be the tugboat that takes the cargo ship to them.’

Bishop promoters Brendan Cahill (Victoria, TX) and Thomas Dowd (Sault Ste. Marie, ON) – talked about how they advocate for people of the sea within their national conferences: raising awareness, creating supervisory committees, and securing funding. International director Fr. Bruno Ciceri (Vatican) talked about doing similar advocacy work within The Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

National director Sr. Joanna Okereke (Washington DC) spoke about mediating between bishops and chaplains, fostering unity, and the importance of being at once a leader and a servant. de facto national director for Canada Dcn. Dileep Athaide (Vancouver BC) echoed these same points and talked about keeping up with Stella Maris workers across the country. Others, like Andy Middleton (Baltimore MD), Dcn. Jose De Leon (Seattle, WA), and Fr. Peter Lin (Ft Lauderdale FL), told stories of conversion and prayer in their ministries. 

A New App

Also significant for the future of Stella Maris, Doreen Badeaux and developer Ryan Kreager announced the impending launch of a Stella Maris app 2.0. There are some new features, including the ability for seafarers to request emergency help, but just as significant is the complete overhaul of the underlying code. 

The original app was built ‘on top’ of the phone-based prayer app Laudate, which required different code for different kinds of phone and made it cumbersome to use and update. The new app, however, is based on just one set of code usable by phone or computer. Not only does this make the app much easier to use, it also will make it easier to update and to add features to moving forward.

Ecumenical Partnerships

The symposium piggybacked off of the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA)’s annual conference, which many of the attendees had also been part of earlier in the week. In fact, the two organizations have a shared leader: Dcn. Paul Rosenblum, also serves as the president of NAMMA. Several of the symposium’s presenters had already presented at the conference, and NAMMA also lent staff to Stella Maris as tech support for the weekend.

Bishop Dowd also talked about his work with NAMMA in developing a report on Stella Maris ministry in Canada, noting both its value in explaining the ministry to outsiders and in clarifying for Stella Maris ministers themselves what was going on in what ports. As this piece is being written, a similar project with NAMMA is beginning for the USA with Bishop Cahill’s blessing.

Working with ecumenical partners is a rewarding path to walk, but not always an easy one, and time was taken to reflect on that too. Gratitude was expressed for ecumenical partners and good communication with them, but there were naturally also moments of frustration. Fr. Ciceri reiterated the importance of the ICMA Code in handling sensitive issues with partners: all members are to ‘show […] a sincere respect for [seafarers’] personal values and beliefs;’ and ‘respect the loyalty of those engaged in maritime ministry to their particular ecclesiastical discipline and tradition and refrain from proselytizing seafarers’.

Seafarers and Br. Marinus

The symposium was held primarily at the Baltimore Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS), a training and conference facility operated by the International Organization of Masters, Mates, & Pilots (MM&P). Fr. Sinclair Oubre (Beaumont, TX), happened to have a presentation on one very special member of the MM&P union: Capt. Leonard LaRue, also called Br. Marinus, whom there is a growing movement to have canonized. 

Oubre’s presentation focused on Marinus’ role as an example for seafarers. “When I ask seafarers whether one of them could ever be a saint, they laugh. When I ask them if a 19-year member of this union could ever be a saint, they roar.” 

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Brother Marinus
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The SS Meredith Victory, loaded with refugees

Recognized by his crewmates both as a skilled merchant mariner and a devout Christian, LaRue is most famous for his role during the Korean War’s Hungnam Evacuation, the  ‘Christmas Miracle’, when he led the SS Meredith Victory to rescue a record-breaking 14,000 refugees. Afterwards, LaRue took vows as a Benedictine and lived out the rest of his life praying and working in the gift shop at St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, NJ.

Of course there was also much fun and fellowship had at the symposium. On the first day, attendees toured the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where a bas-relief illustrating Lumen Gentium overlooked them in the nave. At the end of the tour, the attendees received Mass together in the Basilica’s Our Lady of the Rosary chapel. There was worship the following day at MITAGS as well, and plenty of time spent enjoying each other’s company over meals.

All left the symposium glad to have spent time in worship and thought together, and no less excited for Stella Maris’ future than they were proud of its past.


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals