A “missionary” to administration

Fr. Heru Ismadi, SCJ, general secretary

Years ago, missionaries from the Dutch Province went to Indonesia to begin an SCJ presence in the country.  Now, the Indonesian Province is one of the largest in the congregation.  Instead being a province served by missionaries, it is a province that sends its own men to serve around the world.

Indonesian SCJs are found in areas as diverse as the remote villages of Papua New Guinea, as well as the rural Indian reservations of South Dakota.

And some are found in Rome.

“I like to help others; when I professed my vows I did so with the desire to serve where I am needed,” said Fr. Heru Ismadi, SCJ. But he didn’t think that he would be needed as a “missionary to administration,” he laughed.

Since December 1, 2010, Fr. Heru has been the general secretary for the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  He succeeds Fr. Anisio Schwirkowski, SCJ, who is now doing graduate studies in theology.

Fr. Heru came to Rome from Indonesia in early 2010 to serve as the vice-secretary.  He had no intention of being the secretary general.

“Fr. Ornelas [superior general] asked me to take the position; he told me that I was needed, and so here I am,” he said.  However, Fr. Heru admits that it wasn’t a quick or easy “yes.”

“More than once I tried to avoid giving a response,” he said.

But as do many missionaries, Fr. Heru finally did say “yes” to a need in the Church, and especially, in the congregation.

“Instead of a parish community, I now serve the computer,” he laughed, noting that much of his day is consumed with administrative paperwork.  Perhaps not what most people think of when they first discern a call to religious life and the priesthood, “but still necessary, still a part of our SCJ mission.”

Nearly 20 years as an SCJ

Fr. Heru, 39, has been in vows almost 20 years and ordained 10.

“I wanted to do something for others,” he said when reflecting on his vocation.  “I am the youngest in my family.  People were always doing things for me when I was a boy.  Because of this I had the desire to help others.”

Fr. Heru entered the minor seminary as a young teen only knowing that he wanted to be a priest.  “I didn’t know what ‘SCJ’ meant; I didn’t know who the Priests of the Sacred Heart were,” he said.

And then he met a Dutch SCJ; a missionary who had worked in Indonesia for many years.  “His mission spirit touched my heart,” said Fr. Heru.  “Because of him I wanted to learn more about the SCJs.  And when I learned more, I decided that I wanted to be an SCJ.”

As with most newly ordained priests, his first assignment was in a parish.  But after only two months as an associate pastor, the bishop of Palembang tapped him for administrative work.

“He asked me to manage the diocesan archives,” said Fr. Heru.  “Managing” in this case, meant establishing the archives.

Did he have training or experience in data management or archival work?

“No,” said Fr. Heru.

Although he hadn’t done archival work before, Fr. Heru told the bishop that he would give it a try. He did independent study on data management and began to create an archives for the diocese.

It was the first time he was called to serve in administration, but not the last.

Three days a week he worked at the diocesan archives and three days a week he worked at the parish.

On Sundays he celebrated Mass at the parish and spent the day with the people. “That is what I enjoy,” he said.  “I like to be with others.  On Sundays I looked forward to playing sports with the young people, visiting families in the parish and teaching the children.”

Fr. Heru maintained his dual role with the parish and diocesan offices for about five months.  “And then my provincial superior asked me to serve as provincial secretary,” he said.

He spent three years as provincial secretary.  At the end of his term he returned to school to earn a master’s degree in economic management.

With the degree, he wanted to either teach, or to develop an economic project aimed at the poor.  “Something such as a credit union or another economic project to help people who cannot always work with conventional financial or economic systems.”

But then came another call from his provincial superior.  Fr. Heru was asked to once more serve a three-year term as provincial secretary.  And that lead to a call from Rome and a request to be the vice-general secretary.

Challenges in Rome

Fr. Heru said that there were many challenges waiting for him in Rome.  English was a language that he rarely used, one that he claims he only knows at a very rudimentary level from mandatory English classes in school.  Italian was even more unfamiliar.

“I knew Indonesian,” said Fr. Heru.  But once again he said “yes” and soon began Italian language classes, studying alongside another person new to the language:  Fr. John van den Hengel, SCJ.  Fr. John had just been elected to the general council and like Fr. Heru, didn’t know much more than “ciao” and “grazie” when he arrived in Rome.

This year, it was Br. Roberto García Murciego, SCJ, from Spain, who found himself in the same shoes as Fr. Heru.  Br. Roberto will take Fr. Heru’s place as vice-secretary.  As Fr. Heru did last year, Br. Roberto spent the first few months of the year in language school, learning Italian.

Br. Roberto began his assignment with the general curia on May 1.  Fr. Heru has been looking forward to the help.

“Others have always been positive when I have asked for assistance,” said Fr. Heru, “especially Fr. Claudio Siebenaler [the procurator to the Holy See served as general secretary for many years] and Fr. Bernie Rosinski [Fr. Bernie, a member of the U.S. Province, was vice-general secretary during Bishop Virginio Bressanelli’s administration].”

Although Fr. Heru is still happy to “serve where needed” and fulfill the general secretary’s role, he admits that some day he wouldn’t mind being another one of the former general secretaries tapped for assistance by a future secretary.

Fr. Heru says that he serves the curia willingly, but at times “I miss Indonesia.”

He gets a little taste of home with periodic get-togethers with the Indonesian community in Italy, including several SCJs who are a part of the Generalate staff or International College.  He loves to join in one of the favorite sports of Indonesia ––badminton –– and is on a team in Rome.  He said that it is a good hobby.

But some day, Fr. Heru looks forward to returning to what he calls his “favorite hobby:  pastoral ministry; being with the people.”