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"It Was My Duty:" Interview with The Order of St. Ignatius Chair, Mary Winstanley-O'Connor

Mary Winstanley-O'Connor, Chair of The Order of St. IgnatiusMary Winstanley-O'Connor, Chair of The Order of St. IgnatiusThe Order of St. Ignatius Chair Mary Winstanley-O'Connor is a lifelong member of the Antiochian Archdiocese. A Boston attorney, Mary joined the Order in the early 1990's after visiting Antiochian Village, where she was deeply moved by listening to the campers pray and sing. She assumed the role of the Governing Council Chair in 2011, following in the footsteps of Daniel Abraham. Recently asked Mary to reflect on her first year of leadership.

1.  Mary, can you tell us how you became involved in the Order of St. Ignatius?

I have been a life-long member of St. Mary Orthodox Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am an attorney with offices in Boston and have lived in the greater Boston area throughout my life. Like many in our Archdiocese, I was a member of Teen SOYO, a member of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Parish Council President and a Sunday School teacher.While at a meeting at the Heritage and Learning Center in Ligonier, PA in the early 1990's for the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, I visited the Antiochian Village camp to firsthand see this "holy mountain" that Metropolitan Philip speaks so passionately about. I knew from reading The Word magazine and from the financial reports from the Archdiocese that the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch was a chief contributor in the acquisition of the campgrounds for our children and that The Order made significant contributions to maintaining and improving it. Looking back on that day, I was prepared intellectually for what I would likely see but was not prepared emotionally. When I saw all of our children at the shrine of St. Thekla singing hymns to St. Thekla and praying together, the tears, which I couldn't stop, streamed down my face. Still to this day, when I see the video shown at the Archdiocese conventions of our children at the various camps, I have the same reaction.

It was at this point that I left the Heritage and Learning Center realizing that it was my duty as a member of our Archdiocese to join the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

2.  What are your vision and goals for the future of The Order?

The vision of Metropolitan Philip, our bishops, the leaders on the Governing Council for The Order of St. Ignatius and its over 4,500 members who have joined over the past 37 years, is unified. That vision is to ensure that we accept our responsibility as Orthodox Christians to assist in making a difference in our Orthodox community and the lives of others less fortunate than ourselves. The members of The Order work regularly to effectively communicate the message of The Order to increase membership, with the hope and result of increased funds for us to provide to various philanthropic projects.

Our goal is to reach 5000 members (by the time of) our Archdiocesan convention in Houston, Texas in 2013. Such an increase in membership will enable us to provide additional funds to many significant programs throughout our Archdiocese, including the clergy housing retirement fund, the Department of Missions and Evangelism, additional scholarships to our children attending the camping program, and many other philanthropic projects.

3.  Which projects are you most proud of, for their effectiveness and outreach?

I believe that there can be no doubt that the creation of the camping program for our Archdiocese, Metropolitan Philip's vision and dream, has been one of the most important programs in our Archdiocese. Through the gates of the Antiochian Village and now the other camping programs throughout our Archdiocese, thousands of our children have been impacted in a lasting way. Lifelong friendships have developed and numerous marriages between our Antiochian children have resulted. The camping program helps strengthen the spiritual faith of our children who are the future of our Archdiocese.

The Order's contribution of $2.5 million over the years to the Department of Missions and Evangelism, under the chairmanship of, among others, Father Peter Gillquist of blessed memory, has permitted our Archdiocese to spread the Orthodox faith and start missions and churches throughout North America.

There are many, many more worthy projects listed on our Archdiocese website.

4.  What are some of the greatest challenges you are facing these days in leading The Order? Some of the greatest rewards?

One of the greatest challenges is getting the word out to the faithful of our Archdiocese as to the importance of joining The Order of St. Ignatius. The Order is for young or old and people of all walks of life. It is an affordable and effective way for Antiochian Orthodox Christians to make a difference on the local level, diocesan level and Archdiocese level. At times, economic uncertainties have had an impact on membership recruitment. However, despite continuing economic uncertainty, The Order has had a significant number of people join. Many say that the levels of membership--$500 a year, $1,000 a year, or a one-time $15,000 life membership fee, are affordable to all.

We literally receive hundreds of letters from campers thanking the members of The Order for camping scholarships, from priests and their widows who receive clergy housing retirement benefits, from priests of small churches and missions who receive assistance to attend the clergy symposium or Archdiocesan convention, from teens and college students who receive assistance to attend leadership training seminars to be better leaders in our diocesan teen SOYOS, and from college students who attend college conferences held at the Heritage and Learning Center in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Making a difference in the lives of our fellow Christians is one of the greatest benefits of membership in The Order!