Delayed sabbatical lead to master’s degree in education
After almost four years of study, and three since he visited his home country, Fr. Donatus Kusmartono, SCJ, is graduating with a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and returning to Indonesia.
Fr. Donatus was originally scheduled to begin a study sabbatical in Sacred Heart School of Theology’s ESL program in 2005. However, a personnel need at home forced him to postpone the sabbatical for three years. And then once he was free to come to the United States, another personnel need changed the sabbatical into a full-blown graduate study program.
“I was originally coming to learn a little English on my sabbatical,” said Fr. Donatus. Instead, he spent two years learning English and two more at Cardinal Stritch University where he did his master’s program.
In recent years the Indonesian Province has taken responsibility for a number of schools, including several K-12s and one university. “But we have very few people with the background needed to manage these schools,” said Fr. Donatus. “When my provincial superior asked me if I would do studies in educational administration I said ‘Ecce Venio’ [Behold, I come] and agreed.”
That meant that a casual six-month sabbatical to learn a little English would become a four-year educational commitment. Fr. Donatus needed to become fluent enough to pass the TOEFL exam so that he could begin advanced studies in the United States.
“That was the hard part for me,” said Fr. Donatus. “Especially in the second year. At first, it was fun to be in a new place and begin to learn a new language. But by the second year I was very frustrated. It took me three tries to pass TOEFL.”
Without a passing score, Fr. Donatus wouldn’t be able to start the studies in education. But on the third try, he got the required score and applied to Cardinal Stritch, a university based in suburban Milwaukee.
Although Cardinal Stritch is based in Milwaukee, the program which Fr. Donatus needed was only offered in Madison, over an hour’s drive from Sacred Heart Monastery where Fr. Donatus lived. But soon Fr. Donatus had both a travel and study partner. Fr. Ignatius, a diocesan priest from Indonesia, was also completing his English studies and looking for a graduate program in education.
The coursework was challenging for both students. Designed primarily for people who already had experience in education, Fr. Donatus said that he and Fr. Ignatius sometimes felt like they were playing “catch-up” to their classmates. “But we also learned a lot from their experiences,” said Fr. Donatus. “They added the ‘real life’ situations to what we were learning in the classroom.”
Language also continued to be a challenge. Although both passed their TOEFL requirements, English was still very much a new tool. “So we always did the class a second time during the car ride home,” said Fr. Donatus.
Fr. Donatus would record each class and then play it back as the two students drove from Madison to Hales Corners. “We would then quiz each other to make sure that we understood what happened in class,” said Fr. Donatus. “This helped both of us. But we were also lucky that our teachers were very supportive. Remembering that there were international students in the class they would explain terms that may have been common to the others.
“Also, I write much better than I speak English. My teachers saw this and I was able to earn good marks on my papers. This gave me confidence in my studies.”
Fr. Donatus said that he is grateful to volunteers with SHST’s ESL program who often proofread his text, helping him to fine-tune his papers.
Strong religious roots
Fr. Donatus is one of the congregation’s three “Kus Brothers.” Fr. Francis Kusmaryadi and Fr. Carolus Kusmaryanto are also SCJs. A fourth brother studied with the community but discerned his vocation elsewhere. Fr. Kusmaryadi has served as district superior of India and Fr. Kusmaryanto is a university professor and researcher in bioethics.
Fr. Donatus has seven brothers and sisters.
The family’s roots are in Java. When Fr. Donatus was just a year old his father, a teacher, was recruited to come to the island of Sumatra to teach. His family and four others immigrated to Lampung on the southern tip of the island. There, they quickly got to know the SCJs.
“Our house was next to the church,” said Fr. Donatus. “When the priest [an SCJ] came he would stay at our house.”
The area where Fr. Donatus’ family lived was served by a mission outstation. An SCJ priest spent two to three days a week in the area before traveling back to the main parish.
“We grew up with the SCJs because they lived in our house,” said Fr. Donatus. “I would have never thought of being a priest as anything but an SCJ.”
The SCJs were a part of Fr. Donatus’ family. Eventually, he and his brothers became a part of the SCJ family.
“My father was very proud of our vocations and gave a speech at each of our ordinations,” said Fr. Donatus. “Both of our parents were very happy that we became SCJs.”
A year after Fr. Donatus began his English studies at Sacred Heart, his father died. Returning to Indonesia for the funeral in 2009 was his last visit home.
The day after his December 17 graduation from Cardinal Strictch Fr. Donatus will fly back to Indonesia. It’s a trip he has been looking forward to for a long time.
“I enjoyed my time in the United States and am very grateful for it; being here was a wonderful opportunity, especially being able to live in a very international community and getting to know people from around the world,” said Fr. Donatus. “But there were many things I missed, especially pastoral ministry.”
Before coming to the United States Fr. Donatus had been a parish pastor, a director of a retreat house, worked with youth and served as a chaplain to the Indonesian army and the local police. But it was always being with people in a parish that Fr. Donatus missed the most while in the United States.
“My first Easter here was very hard,” he said. “I concelebrated Mass at St. Martin of Tours but kept thinking all week of my confreres who were so busy during Holy Week. It was very different for me.”
But soon he will be back in Indonesia where he will “for the first time celebrate Christmas Mass in my home village.”
And after Christmas he will put that new degree to work in his first academic assignment at St. Antonius School in Jakarta.
Before leaving for Indonesia, Fr. Donatus wrote the following to the SCJs of the U.S. Province:
I had known in Indonesia that you welcomed me to study here. You twice sent me invitations. Fr. Paul prepared every thing for me so that I had no problem with my visa application or other immigration difficulties.
This ESL program matches with our awareness of “We the Congregation.” As an SCJ entity the U.S. Province has opened its resources to members from other provinces. I experienced living here as a part of worldwide congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. I met many SCJs from various countries. We shared many things about our lives and possibilities.
The openness of this province allowed me to be here; it was very generous. The Indonesian Province has received much from the U.S. Province through its support of students living and studying here, and with projects in Indonesia. I am the 42nd student from Indonesia hosted by the United States. And many of us were here for more than ESL. Again, this shows the generosity of the U.S. Province.
I especially appreciated the patience of the U.S. Province. When I struggled to pass the TOEFL test the attitude of the SCJs at Sacred Heart Monastery was very helpful. I know that I had a harder time with English more than many of the other students who went on to further studies. Thank you very much! Thank you for your generosity and patience!