Father Green as a police officer and as a missionary in Africa.
Father Green as a police officer and as a missionary in Africa.
Rev. Ronald Green, MM, once walked into a bank robbery in progress in Detroit. Luckily, he was in the right profession at the time and curtailed the culprit with a bullet to the shoulder.

"I pulled my weapon, identified myself as a police officer and fired," he remembered.

Now administrator of St. Joseph's parish in Worcester, Father Green spent four years on the police force in the 1970s. In that time, he sustained two stabbings, two gunshot wounds and a strike to the face with a broken beer bottle.

He always respected the people he arrested, but started to become sarcastic and cynical. "I wasn't particularly happy at the type of person I was starting to turn into," he admitted.

He turned to an idea he had as a child in Michigan: priesthood.

In second grade, he recalled, "Sister Jean Pierre asked if any of us wanted to be priests, and I raised my hand. The thing is, I wasn't considered the sharpest knife in the drawer in second grade."

Teachers encouraged him to strive for other professions, but his mother's family had a long history of producing men and women religious. Besides, he ended up just needing glasses to do better in school.

So his interest in the priesthood continued - until high school, when "I discovered girls and got sidetracked," Father Green said. He dated during high school, college and beyond.

His "aha" moment was arriving at Christmas Eve Mass after a police shift and finding that the peace he usually found in church was shattered by the way people looked at him in his uniform.

He started looking for religious communities and remembered Maryknoll, the Catholic foreign mission society in America, from a magazine his parents received. He attended a few retreats.

"I just seemed called to it," Father Green remembered. "I really was looking for [service in] Africa. It was a macho thing - living in the bush with the animals."

When he visited a missionary house in Detroit in 1978, "the first thing they did was hand me a beer" and talk about mission work. "You could really sense the love of the people they serve.

"We had dinner; then they proceeded to take me for $25 playing poker. That's what sold me with Maryknoll: They're not out to impress anyone. They are who they are."

During his formation as a Maryknoller, Father Green spent two years in Kenya, learning languages and cultures, leading services and ministering in hospitals and in grass-and-mud homes.

"Nothing ever starts on time," Father Green said of coastal Kilifi, where he spent a year. That was new for him: "Being a Midwest person of German descent, I'm very punctual."

The Giriama tribe in Kilifi had only been exposed to Catholicism for 100 years; 20 percent of the people were Christian or Muslim, the rest animist. People subsisted on cash crops like pineapple and cashews and fished for sharks, whose jaws were sold to tourists.

Father Green's second year of formation was spent in urban Nairobi. His law enforcement experience came in handy when he witnessed an attempted coup in 1982.

"It was frightening," he said, recalling explosions and gunshots, but his "clarity of thinking" got him through it.

He returned to the seminary to finish his studies. He's now been a Maryknoller for 26 years.

His first official assignment was as pastor of a parish in Nairobi that covered a square kilometer. There were six weekend Masses, a daily Mass, 30 small Christian communities and 20,000 parishioners. "We're really trained as lone rangers," Father Green remarked. "Maryknoll recruits are workaholics."

Next, he reopened a closed parish in a more rural area that covered 3,000 square miles, including a mission and four "out-station" chapels. He added six more chapels. People there believed in witchcraft and there were "very few" Catholics, but he covered close to 200 miles on Sundays: His first Mass was at 7 a.m. and he didn't return home until 9 p.m.

He learned that the same principles apply to ministering East Africans and Americans: "You've got to care for people, care about people. My faith has always been enriched wherever I have worked. Being with them in their difficulties and in their joys and accomplishments - that's what nourishes me."

Ultimately, Father Green returned to the U.S. because his human rights and land rights work didn't sit well with the Kenyan government. He was assigned to promote Maryknoll in Washington, Buffalo, New Mexico and elsewhere, then became a hospital and nursing home chaplain in New York.

At an 800-bed nursing home in East Harlem, 200 of the beds were for AIDS patients. He saw eight to 15 of them die each week.

"I've seen the power of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick," Father Green said. "Once they had gone home to God, I felt comfortable knowing I had given them everything. 'Brother Death' and I are on a first-name basis."

Having settled into parish life at St. Joseph's, Father Green says his varied life experiences have taught him a thing or two: "There's not much people do or say that would surprise me....They know, as I jokingly say, that I used to work for a living."