Sharing the “family stories” with students in the Philippines

Fr. Frank Wittouck, SCJ

In spring Fr. Tom Cassidy received an e-mail from Fr. Delio Ruiz, an SCJ formation director in the Philippines. Fr. Delio noted that students in the district would soon be on summer break, during which they would again take part in “our English enrichment program for seminarians.”

Last year during the program Fr. Quang Nguyen, SCJ, joined the formation community to assist students with their English studies. “Would a member of the U.S. Province be available for such assistance again?” asked Fr. Delio.

The request came only two months before the English program was to begin. But Fr. Tom decided to forward it to members of the U.S. Province to see if anyone might be able to go.

Fr. Frank Wittouck said that he remembered seeing the request from Fr. Tom, but “didn’t give it much thought,” he said. “I had a lot of commitments coming up in spring and early summer –– weddings, family commitments. I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to get away then.”

Retired since January, Fr. Frank is currently taking part in a spiritual renewal program at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. During a visit with him in March, Fr. Tom noted that Fr. Frank’s program ended in May. Would he be available to go to the Philippines for a few weeks after the program?

Again, Fr. Frank assumed that prior obligations would conflict with the dates of the Philippines’ request. But then he looked at his calendar and realized that he did have an open block of time and it just happened to be when the Philippine SCJs hoped to have an American come and visit.

“My spiritual director suggested that the Holy Spirit might be speaking to me,” said Fr. Frank.

Regardless if it was the Holy Spirit, or simply a bit of calendar luck, Fr. Frank was available and so he agreed to go. He leaves for the Philippines on May 12 and returns June 3.

It won’t be Fr. Frank’s first visit to the Philippines. As an Army chaplain stationed in Korea in the 1980s he was able to travel to several Asian locations.

After he retired from the military, he had an account full of travel points with Northwest Airlines “so I decided to use them to visit our SCJs in the Philippines,” he said. On that second visit he stayed with a family in Manila and then went to Mindanao “to spend time in our community’s missions.”

Fr. Frank has been interested in Asia for as long as he can remember. “When I was a kid I wanted to be a missionary in China,” he said. “That’s what first inspired me to pursue my vocation.”

The Priests of the Sacred Heart don’t have any ministries in China but by the time Fr. Frank realized that he had come to know the community and knew that it was with the SCJs that his vocation belonged. “When I joined the SCJs I signed on to do whatever was needed.”

“Doing whatever was needed” included a term as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Houston. “We had many Filipino families at the parish and I was so impressed by them,” he said. “They had a wonderful fervor about their faith; they were such good people to be around.”

Agreeing to another visit to the Philippines, especially to fill a need in the community, was an easy decision for Fr. Frank.

He admits that he has a few of the usual apprehensions about international travel, but his suitcase has already been all over the world. After years as a military chaplain, serving in areas as diverse as Germany, Honduras, Panama and the Middle East (Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia), overseas travel is nothing new to Fr. Frank.

“I love to travel,” he said. “I love to spend time in other cultures and I especially enjoy seeing other SCJ places.”

In the Philippines Fr. Frank will be a part of the ESL program for SCJ students and candidates, though not as an instructor. In some ways, he will be like a “visiting uncle,” he said. Bringing in SCJs from other parts of the congregation is one way in which the Philippine community tries to introduce its younger members to the worldwide congregation.

“I’ll help them with their English simply by speaking with them,” said Fr. Frank, “and sharing stories of the congregation as well as my own vocation. I love to talk about history and especially about the history of the community.”

Like the visiting uncle, telling stories from the family’s past.