“We are heading toward the reality of becoming an international province… The province is based in the wisdom and experience of our American brothers; you are engine of this province. But slowly we must incorporate the energy of new entities, new cultures.”
-Fr. Ziggy Morawiec, SCJ
“Our Future: Together in Community and Ministry” was the theme of the 2018 US Provincial Conference held January 30 – February 1 at the Provincial Conference Center in Hales Corners, WI.
Every SCJ working in or preparing for full-time ministry in the US Province, as well as the novices, were invited. Called for only three months earlier, the conference had a 100% attendance rate. In the midst of busy ministry and school schedules, each SCJ in full-time, active ministry, was present.
“This is a critical time for our province,” said Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, in his opening comments. During his two-plus years as provincial superior he has seen tremendous change in the US Province, and he anticipates much more.
As each man stood up and introduced himself, one of the most significant changes was quickly evident: the province’s growing internationality. Those in active ministry, especially younger SCJs, are increasingly from entities outside of the United States. Joining native-born Americans at the tables were men from Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, Cameroon, Argentina, Colombia, and Canada.
“Local communities and ministries are becoming more multicultural; this will increase in the future,” said Fr. Ed. “What can the province do to better facilitate this? How can SCJs from other cultures be better prepared for community life and ministry in the US Province, and how can current members better welcome their international confreres?”
Although multiculturalism emerged as a significant focus of the conference, it was not forefront in the minds of provincial councilors when they called for the gathering at their November 7, 2017, meeting. Then, the primary issue was the well-being of those in full-time ministry. With fewer personnel and increasing ministerial possibilities, councilors were concerned about burn-out among the membership. “In some cases, a person can become so overwhelmed that it can lead to the loss of his vocation,” said Fr. Ed.
Councilors also expressed the need to ensure that personnel are appropriately prepared for internal and external ministries.
“How do we flourish in ministry and community?” said Fr. Duy Nguyen, SCJ, provincial councilor. Following the conference’s opening prayer, he and other members of the council shared their vision for the gathering. “Can we find ways to flourish together? How do we live well together? How do we work well together?”
As the conference evolved it became clear that the first step in living and working well together is for SCJs to simply know one another and the province better. Doing so builds a better community experience, a better Dehonian experience.
And that’s when “internationality” took center stage.
The challenge to understand each other
“There is a challenge in understanding each other that does not have to do with language itself, but instead, by what is meant by the words spoken,” said one participant. “Culturally, we have different ways of looking at things and understanding words. How do we ensure that we are on the same page?”
Most agreed that the US Province offers an excellent ESL program. But there is no significant introduction to American culture or the culture of the province itself. “Even our individual ministries and local communities have their own cultures,” said an SCJ. “We expect that people will just ‘learn on the job’ and then get frustrated when that doesn’t happen; this is the case for our international brothers, but also for long-time members of the province.”
Three international members of the province shared their stories of coming to and eventually joining the US Province.
Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, first came to the United States in 2008 on a three-month visa for ESL studies. He was preparing to be a missionary in the Philippines. But then “I was kidnapped by Fr. Tom Cassidy,” he joked. Fr. Tom, provincial superior at the time, asked him to consider serving in South Dakota, to be a missionary to the rural parishes on the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Indian Reservations.
He joined the Lower Brule Pastoral Team in 2010. “When I got there, I didn’t know what to do, what to expect,” he said. “But now, I am committed to this province; I am willing to die for this province.”
What he asks of his fellow SCJs in return is patience and trust. “I have been in South Dakota eight years and sometimes I feel like I am only an eight-year-old boy in how I express myself. It is still not always easy to speak in English. Have patience with me.”
Fr. Hendrik is now a member of the Provincial Council.
Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, SCJ, spoke of his experience of coming from Colombia as an ESL student in 2006. “That is how I fell in love with Priests of the Sacred Heart,” he said. “I learned about the charism. I grew in my love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I came from a different culture but always found support.”
He professed his first vows in 2013 and on February 3, he will make his perpetual profession.
“I am a Colombian in the US Province bringing to it my experiences and what I have learned,” he said. “It is important for us all to be open to our differences –– multicultural, generational –– differences make us great as a province. We are better for our differences and our many cultures.
“But it can only work if we have an open heart and mind,” he concluded, making reference to the congregation’s Mission Statement.
“We are heading toward the reality of becoming an international province,” added Fr. Zbigniew “Ziggy” Morawiec, SCJ. “I am one of those who came from outside. The province is based in the wisdom and experience of our American brothers; you are engine of this province. But slowly we must incorporate the energy of new entities, new cultures. This is good. The US Province is something important to our congregation.”
Fr. Ziggy is vice rector of Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology; he previously served in Texas and Mississippi.
Our Future: Together in Community and Ministry
Who does the “Our” refer to in the theme of the Provincial Conference? By the closing Mass on February 1, it was clear that “Our” represents a wide variety of backgrounds, languages and cultures. “Our” includes many differences.
But most importantly, “Our” means devotion to a single charism, the Dehonian charism.
“Living that charism, we want to continue to make this province INTERCULTURAL not just MULTICULTURAL,” said one participant. It’s not that the province simply wants to welcome Dehonians of other cultures, but that it allows itself to be changed and enhanced by SCJs from around the world.”
In the months ahead, leadership will seek ways to implement some of the ideas suggested during discussions and find ways of ensuring that the work of the conference doesn’t remain in the meeting room.
“What do you take with you from this experience?” asked Sr. Cathy Bertrand, SSND, facilitator. “To what do you commit? What is it that you intend to be more deliberate about as you move forward?”