This week, Grace Malinee takes Leaven readers inside her ministry as a retreat team missionary at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg.
Q. What is your name, title and where do you minister?
I’m Grace Malinee, and I’m a retreat team missionary at Prairie Star Ranch.
Q. Please describe what you do.
A. As a missionary, our mission is to connect youth and families with Christ. That primarily happens in the retreats we facilitate. We lead 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. That includes doing office work and providing hospitality for groups that are renting our facilities, even if we’re not doing hands-on ministry with them. It can also include feeding horses, maintenance work, writing retreat curriculum, caring for 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 larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. We aim to give people a time and place that is set apart for them to connect with their families, their parish community, their 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 set out to do in life?
A. I’ve always had a heart for ministry. Previous to this, I worked in Catholic education and at a women’s shelter. Both were beautiful experiences, but some of my desires were left unanswered. I wanted to work with youth outside the confines of a classroom.
The more I worked with people who were homeless, I came to understand that the deepest hunger we all have, regardless of our socioeconomic status, is a hunger for God. I had a passion for evangelization that wasn’t explicitly being met in my work there. The desire to evangelize, especially evangelize the youth, led me to Prairie Star.
Q. What road led you to this place?
A. I didn’t know that Prairie Star Ranch even existed prior to applying here. But one day I made a bold prayer: “Jesus, I want to live in a Catholic community, work with youth and be a missionary. Is there even a place that I can do all of that?”
A few weeks later, I met one of our other missionaries and as she talked to me about ranch life, I immediately knew it was the answer to my prayer.
Q. Did you collect some skills from other jobs along the way that have proved surprisingly applicable?
A. The summer after I graduated from college, I volunteered at a wonderful ministry called Catholic Youth Expeditions in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I spent the summer taking high school students and young adults on wilderness retreat expeditions. It was the most fun summer of my life. Many of my experiences there have translated into my life at the ranch.
My other experience working in education and [with] people who were homeless helped me practice receiving the person before me, especially when they are hurting, scared or unsure. Those skills of accompaniment have gone a long way in my current retreat work.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your job?
A. We missionaries live and work here year-round, and it’s not simply a one-time “mission year.” I’ve been here for three years and am happy to continue serving for as long as God wills.
The job has unusual hours and living arrangements (all the missionaries live together on-site), but the thing I love most is that it doesn’t just feel like a job so much as a fun and fulfilling way of life.
Q. Who does your ministry pri- marily serve?
A. It’s mostly youth, whether they come to the ranch for Camp Tekakwitha in the summer or they come with their parish or youth group retreat.[But] we still have people of all ages who come through our gates. Countless parishes and ministries make use of this place of grace, both within and outside of the Catholic Church.
Q. What do you wish everybody knew about your ministry?
A. We’re open year-round and excited to serve. Whether you want to retreat with your Knights of Columbus council or Bible study, or want to take your 7th grade class or your youth group on a fun excursion. We’d be happy to host you here. Prairie Star is truly a gift for all, no matter your age.
Q. Why does the world need more of what you’re offering, especially now?
A. In our increasingly hectic or chaotic society, it’s essential to give people a place to separate themselves from the normal goings-on in their lives and have the time and space to encounter the Lord. Many have felt isolated from each other or from the larger church in the past couple of years, so providing a place where people can reconnect to the church and sacraments during a retreat is critical.
Q. What have you learned about people in this job?
A. I’ve learned that a lot of people can feel alone in their faith, or unsure how to discuss faith or be in Christian community. But going on retreat with others and participating in communal prayer and faith-sharing are often profound experiences.
The youth are deciding how and if they want to make faith a part of their lives and seeing others, especially young adults, living an integrated faith life is a necessary witness that furthers conversion.
Q. What have you learned about yourself?
A. I’ve learned that there’s a lot I don’t know, but to be patient with myself while I learn.
I’ve learned a lot of new things since coming to the ranch, including tractor- driving, horse-trailing, high-ropes belaying. I’m even learning American Sign Language as a part of this job. But I’ve learned how to have an openness to continual newness and learning.
Q. How has it changed the way you view your identity as a Catholic?
A. It’s made me take Jesus’ commission so much more seriously. It’s each Catholic’s mission to spread the Gospel, whether we have the job title of “missionary” or not. But it’s made me realize the gravity of my baptismal call and that a witness to the Gospel must be proclaimed in words and deeds.
Malinee is a St. Louis native and moved to Prairie Star in 2019. Previously, she has served as a Totus Tuus missionary in both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.