The road to Asia begins at Sacred Heart School of Theology!
Well, at least for some members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Twenty-five years ago an international group of SCJs came to Hales Corners to prepare for the congregation’s first mission in the Philippines. Together they honed their English skills in SHST’s ESL program and outlined their plans for the mission.
Once again, SHST is a springboard to a new venture in Asia. Fr. Ricardo José da Rocha Teixeira from Portugal, Fr. Daniel Antônio de Carvalho Ribeiro of the Central Brazilian Province and Fr. Albert Suryadi of Indonesia spent the past semester in ESL before they will join with the rest of their mission group in Manila in January.
For Fr. Ricardo, coming to SHST was a return to familiar ground. He first studied in the ESL program in 2001 and then again in 2004.
English studies gave Frs. Daniel and Albert their first opportunity for a visit to the United States.
“Coming here was a real gift for me,” said Fr. Daniel. “I had no sense of what our congregation was like here; I knew nothing of this mission, this school.”
“For me, it is a first step in becoming a missionary,” said Fr. Albert. “I learned about living with people from other countries, and what it is like to be in another culture. These are skills that I need to be a missionary.”
Vocations nurtured in parish, school and on TV!
Fr. Albert and Fr. Ricardo each felt a call to the priesthood and religious life when they were very young. The Priests of the Sacred Heart served at Fr. Albert’s home parish. “An SCJ baptized me,” he said. “I’ve known the community my whole life.”
It was a presentation by an SCJ priest who spoke at Fr. Ricardo’s school – a public school in Portugal –– which inspired him. “I was only 10 years old but I was fascinated by the idea of going out to the world and speaking of Jesus, going beyond what was familiar to me.”
He entered the minor seminary as soon as he was eligible.
And for Fr. Daniel “it was the television that was important to my vocation,” he said laughing. The SCJs in Brazil are well known in mass media. “I watched a program with an SCJ priest answering many of the questions that I had been thinking about. At the end of the program there was a number to contact if I wanted to learn about Priests of the Sacred Heart.”
Fr. Daniel was 19 when he called the number. At the other end was a voice that said, “Hi! Come and get to know us.”
“And I did. Within a month, I knew that this is where I belong, with the SCJs,” he said.
“We are SCJs first”
It is one thing to start a vocational journey, but not all who begin formation find their vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Why did these men continue, eventually professing vows and pursuing ordination with the SCJs?
“The sense of welcoming,” said Fr. Ricardo. “You notice it when you go to our houses, the way SCJs receive others is special and it is something that is then in our ministry outside of our communities. We help people be welcoming to others, to be close to others.”
Echoing what Fr. Ricardo said, Fr. Daniel added that “fraternity, conviviality –– this is a part of our spirituality. Also, mercy, the Dehonian charism of mercy. This is very important to me.”
“When I look at an SCJ community I don’t see different kinds of people,” said Fr. Albert. “I don’t see young and old, I don’t see different nationalities. I just see SCJs. We are SCJs first and this is why I am an SCJ before anything else.”
Although they are from different cultures, and from different countries, Frs. Albert, Daniel and Ricardo share many similarities – even the year of their birth.
“1980!” They all say when asked their age. “We were all born in 1980,” said Fr. Albert. “It must have been a good year.”
Aside from a common age, all three were involved in youth ministry prior to accepting a call to the missions. A month after he was ordained Fr. Ricardo was assigned to vocation ministry; he was also a teacher. “Seeds that you plant when a person is a child begin to grow as they get older,” he said. “Even here, at Sacred Heart, I get email or a Facebook message from someone I may have spoken to two years ago: ‘Do you remember me? You gave a presentation at my school and I have been thinking…’ The seed has begun to grow and the person starts to think about what he wants to do with his life.”
Ordained just two years (his second anniversary of ordination was December 11), Fr. Daniel was assigned to a parish prior to entering ESL. He had hoped to start his English studies earlier in the summer but World Youth Day activities consumed much of his time through July. Fr. Daniel worked with young people preparing for the event –– which included hosting 30 youth from Australia at his parish –– and then chaperoned over 100 young people to Rio de Janeiro to see Pope Francis.
“I worked in different areas of the parish,” he said. “But most important to me was ministry with the young; youth ministry is vital.”
As with Fr. Daniel, Fr. Albert’s first assignment after ordination was in parochial ministry. “My primary focus was in youth ministry too,” he said of his parish assignment. During formation Fr. Albert worked at a K-12 school operated by the Indonesian Province.
Saying “yes” to the missions
All three noted that by saying “yes” to the missions they were following a desire for “something more.”
“I am at an age when life is going well, no problems. I loved my ministry, my community; I love being a priest,” said Fr. Ricardo. “But, I want more. Since my ordination I have wanted to go to the missions… expanding the SCJ presence in Asia is important because so much of the world’s population is there; China alone has one-fifth of humankind. It is important that the Dehonian charism be in a place that has such growing influence in the world.”
“At my ordination I said that ‘Now my life isn’t for me but for the Church; I live for more than myself,’” said Fr. Daniel. “It isn’t important where I am; my life is for the Church so I will go where there are needs in the Church.”
“I want to have the opportunity to grow and be changed by another culture,” added Fr. Albert, returning the idea of experiences as “gifts.” “By going to a different country I have the opportunity to learn new languages, new ways of living, new cultures… living with my brothers from other countries I get to learn more about our congregation. It is a challenge and a gift, a very valuable gift.”
After completing their ESL studies Frs. Albert, Daniel and Ricardo will have vacation time before joining the rest of the missionary group in Manila (the full group includes other ESL alums: Fr. Eduardo Agüero, a member of the original Philippine group, and Fr. Agustinus Guntoro, formerly a missionary in India).
The full group of seven SCJs will meet in person for the first time on January 25.