Tricia Bølle
Tricia Bølle

St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest hailing from Spain, dedicated much of his life to foreign missionary work that would take him throughout Asia. Living out Christ’s charge to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19), he set a striking example for other Catholics to pursue as he selflessly gave himself to those he encountered. Emulating this patron, Tricia Bølle, a Stanford graduate and founder of the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society, devotes herself to foreign missionary work in various parts of Asia. She visited Thomas Aquinas College’s California campus this past week to share her story with students.

“When I was a little girl, I was deeply saddened when I realized some people have never learned about Jesus Christ,” she recounted. “I think it was then that I began to know my calling as a missionary, though it would take years to fully realize it.” Later on, as a teenager, Ms. Bølle found herself deeply moved by the examples set by the Japanese martyrs “who gave everything for the Gospel.”

After her initial undergraduate degree, she traveled to Japan to teach English for a year with the hopes of sharing the Gospel. “It didn’t quite work out, and I was deeply disappointed.” Subsequently she pursued a graduate degree in linguistics at Stanford, “putting [missionary work] behind her,” or so she thought. In fact, it was her graduate program which would give her the opportunity to pursue her calling.

“I went abroad for my degree and things fell flat,” she recalled. “It was meant to be yearlong, and I had three months left before going home. In my disappointment, though, I realized I had an opportunity to do something greater.” Over the following months, Ms. Bølle would pray for opportunities to evangelize to local residents and study in public so as to be readily available to anyone who wanted to speak with her.

“I was in a restaurant by myself one day and I offered up grace before my meal. I didn’t think anything of it, but a man approached me and invited me to eat with his friends,” she said. “I joined him, and he asked if I was Christian. I wasn’t entirely certain of what to say, so I offered a silent prayer and said, ‘yes.’ His eyes lit up, and he and his friends began asking me questions about the Faith.” While that was the first instance of chance evangelization, it wasn’t the last. “It happened at cafes, parks, university campuses.” She found herself approached regularly to share about her faith.

 “I invited everyone who approached me to Mass, and I spoke to the pastor beforehand,” she said. “I wanted to enable them to continue learning about the Faith with their local priest and to continue to engage in the Faith even when I was gone.” When her time overseas came to an end, she left for home somewhat disquieted. “I thought of St. Francis Xavier, saying essentially, ‘We want to baptize so many but we lack the hands to do so.’ I wasn’t done.”

After completing her graduate program, she “was offered [her] dream job,” but accepting it would mean no longer going overseas for missionary work. “My friends and family didn’t entirely understand, but I turned down the job. I had to go back.” Though uncertain of what would happen next, Ms. Bølle “felt Christ’s peace” as she undertook this journey and prepared herself to give everything to fulfill Christ’s mission.

Finding herself abroad once more, she spent the next couple of years applying herself fully to her calling. She started Bible study groups, met with young adults, and helped catechumens learn the Faith. Collaborating with local priests and eager young adults, she helped start youth programs for young Catholics to engage with each other and learn the Catechism. “So often I was tired or anxious about the next thing, but a priest from home counseled me to entrust myself to the Holy Spirit to continue living this mission out.”

During this time, Tricia founded the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society to strengthen the faith communities she helped foster. In conjunction with others, the group would expand its reach across multiple countries and teach subjects ranging from “the Trinity to the Catechism and Holy Scripture.” It would aid in teaching at seminaries, orphanages, and humble parishes. “We had so many people attend everything,” she recounts. “High schoolers, families, college students, elderly people — everyone.”

Today her organization receives donations of materials and courses from Word on Fire and collaborates with religious. Online courses offered by the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society have “global attendance” with families tuning in from countries yet to be traveled to by her or her colleagues.

“It’s not an easy vocation, but it is absolutely worth it,” Ms. Bølle told the College’s students. “Ask yourself if you feel called to join us. We’ll give you the training you need to share the Good Word.”