It was like stepping back in time at a Wednesday noon Mass last month at historic Sacred Heart Church in Lincoln Heights, celebrating the 100th birthday of the late Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, founder of the Lay Mission-Helpers Association in March 1955 and four years later the Mission Doctors Association. On this Sept. 5, students from kindergarteners to eighth-graders — girls in white blouses and red plaid skirts wearing, of course, saddle shoes; boys in pale blue polo shirts and matching navy slacks — filled about one-third of the solid wood pews. In front of them were a dozen or more Lay Mission-Helpers veterans, many of whom knew Msgr. Brouwers, who died of multiple myeloma (bone cancer) on Jan. 14, 1964, personally.Sacred Heart, declared a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 1989, hasn’t changed all that much since “Tony” Brouwers was a student at the nearby parochial grade school staffed by Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. There are the sturdy wood beams holding up the high ceiling with tube lights hanging down and stained glass windows along the sides and at both ends the of red brick church. One had only to close his or her eyes to image what it must have been like for 10-year-old Tony attending Mass with his fifth-grade class.“He went to Sacred Heart School, so 90 years ago Msgr. Brouwers was sitting right here in this church and called to be a priest,” said Msgr. Michael Meyers, walking down from the altar to be among the students. “He was open to the power of the Holy Spirit and to God moving and calling him to be willing to do things that he wasn’t expecting. And for Msgr. Brouwers, God put in his heart a great love of the missions, to proclaim the Gospel all over the earth....“But the other part, he [understood] was that all of us are called to proclaim the Gospel. All of us are being called to be touched by God’s word and God’s love. The very Scripture we read today that happens only once a year happens to be on Msgr. Brouwers’ birthday, which is a call for lay people to go out: ‘For we are God’s co-workers or helpers.’ That touched his heart. And it touched him so deeply that Msgr. Brouwers began to get people from Los Angeles to go and work in Africa and in South America and all over the world.”After a moment, Msgr. Meyers — one of the priest’s successors as director of the Propagation of the Faith for 16 years — said, “What’s real important is we don’t just look back at what Msgr. Brouwers did and how he was inspiring. Msgr. Brouwers continues to challenge us to be God’s helpers — to reach out to be his hand to help other people, to be his voice and speak his word to other people, to put his love in practice. God wants us to be his helper.”(A detailed lesson plan on Msgr. Brouwers has also been made available to Sacred Heart teachers and the faculty of other schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.) ‘Missionary call’ In his recent pastoral letter, “Witness to the New Word of Faith,” Archbishop José Gomez echoed a couple of crucial points Msgr. Brouwers made a half-century ago. The ahead-of-his-time cleric stressed during talks as well as in his long-running “Mission Chats” column in The Tidings that, as Msgr. Meyers also pointed out in his homily, the laity have a “missionary call” to witness their Gospel faith, too.“I see this Year of Faith [proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI] as a beautiful opportunity for our family of God in Los Angeles to deepen our conversion in faith to Jesus Christ and to rediscover our missionary call as his disciples,” declared Archbishop Gomez.Later in the letter he observed, “Our world will return to God only by way of witnesses — by way of men and women who testify by the example of their lives that Jesus Christ is real and that his Gospel is the path to true happiness.”In a publication called “The Shield,” Msgr. Brouwers prophetically wrote five decades ago: “Lay missionaries are not just going overseas to build bridges, repair cars, nurse the sick, teach children and write for newspapers. They are not just Catholics working in the mission lands. They are first of all witnesses for Christ, with thousands of critical eyes watching their every action, appraising their every word, and seeing that lay men and women can and do live the same high ideals as their clerical and religious associates.”Addie Coronado, who took up the witness call as a member of the second Lay Mission-Helpers’ class, was assigned to then-Tanganyika, which became Tanzania, in 1957. The then-29-year-old obstetrics nurse did three three-year stints in Africa, working at bush hospitals and clinics in Tanzania and also Kenya. She was surprisingly impressed at the confidence the priest had in ordinary lay people like her.“He made us aware that we are the Church,” she recalled in the 2004 biography “‘For We Are God’s Helpers’: The Life of Msgr. Anthony Brouwers — Visionary of the Lay Mission Movement.” “The Church was ours — mine! And this was before the changes with Vatican II. “There were so many priests and nuns available at the time, the common thinking was: Why do we need anybody else to go to the missions? But he saw us as good examples to other people. He would say you don’t have to be a nun or priest to be a good Christian. So, obviously, he was way ahead of his time.”Coronado, now 84, attended the anniversary Mass at Sacred Heart Church because she wanted to help keep his legacy alive. “I think it’s wonderful that we remember Msgr. Brouwers, because he did so much for the missions and for us — and the Lay Mission-Helpers are still surviving,” she told The Tidings. “It’s important for young people to know about him and his work, and Sacred Heart was his home parish. “He had faith in people,” she stressed. “And the first time he met me, he told me what mission I could go to. And thank God, I was able to serve. It’s been a good life.”Next: Msgr. Brouwers’ relatives remember the priest who left a lasting impression on those who served — and were served — by this pioneering ministry.“‘For We Are God’s Helpers’: The Life of Monsignor Anthony Brouwers — Visionary of the Lay Mission Movement” can be ordered from the Lay Mission-Helpers Association for $10 plus postage. Contact: Janice England, program director, Lay Mission-Helpers Association, 3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1940, Los Angeles, CA 90010; (213) 368-1870. It is also available as an e-book for Kindle from Amazon.comTo learn more about the Mission Doctors Association, contact: Elise Frederick, executive director, 3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1940, Los Angeles, CA 90010; (213) 368-1875. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1019/brouwers/{/gallery}