Jubilarians represent a diversity in ministry

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On August 12 Dehonians celebrated the Jubilees of four members of the US Province: Fr. Jim Schroeder (60 years of vows), Fr. Guy Blair (50 years), Fr. Francis Vu Tran (25 years) and Fr. Mark Mastin (20 years). Also remembered during the jubilee was Fr. Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, who celebrates his 10th anniversary. He professed vows in the US Province but is currently ministering in Ecuador.

Dn. David Nagel, SCJ, was the homilist at the Jubilee Mass.

“Religious life is a call to be of service to those in most in need of God’s love,” said Dn. David. “Each one is called service… We know that the call to religious life is like the whisper of God’s voice to Elijah. In our religious life we have a mission that calls us to serve.  We are in God’s boat with Jesus who takes us where we need to go.  Jesus calms the storms of our lives and brings us to him in safety.”

Click here to read Dn. David’s full text.

165 years of religious vows

FR. JIM SCHROEDER, SCJ – Fr. Jim, 79, is from southern Illinois and spent many years of ministry not too far from where he grew up. A licensed psychologist, he worked in St. Louis, focusing on the treatment of priests, religious and other Church ministers through individual and group therapy. His doctorate in clinical psychology is from Loyola University, Chicago. He also did sabbatical studies in France and Spain.

Fr. Jim was ordained to the priesthood in 1970.

At the province and international levels Fr. Jim has served on the Religious Life Commission, the North American Spirituality Commission, the Province Finance Commission and three times as a delegate from the U.S. Province to the General Chapter in Rome, as well as other international meetings. He was also a part of the organizing committee of the North American Dehonian Retreats that took place in Canada and the United States in 2017-18.

Reflecting on his vocation several years ago Fr. Jim wrote that “In grade school I realized that religion, the Church and the sacraments were very powerful forces in my family’s life. My family turned to prayer and the priest to help them with daily struggles and crises. Through daily Mass, I learned the importance of Christ in the Eucharist.

“One weekday morning after communion I realized I wanted to be a priest… A good friend went to the SCJ seminary. After an initial visit, I decided to follow. Although the original decision was questioned and reaffirmed many times, it holds true to this day… I was and still am drawn by the idea of the centrality in Christianity of God expressing Himself as a loving heart who calls us to respond by loving Him and others.”

Fr. Jim is now retired and a member of the Sacred Heart Community at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake. He continues to be active, including teaching classes at the province novitiate.

FR. GUY BLAIR, SCJ – Originally from Connecticut, Fr. Guy is 72 was ordained to the priesthood in 1982. Many of his years of ministry have been with the deaf, a ministry sparked by an encounter that he had with a deaf woman when he was 12.

“One day, back in Connecticut, I was talking to an elderly deaf woman who asked me what the word ‘resurrection’ meant,” said Fr. Guy. “Here she was 75 years old, brought up a Catholic, and had no idea what the word meant. No one had ever explained it to her.” That memory stayed with him when Fr. Guy began his seminary studies. He heard about a sign language class being taught at a local high school and decided to give it a try. When his theology studies moved to Chicago, so did his study of ministry to the deaf community. He gave his first homily to the deaf when he was a deacon.

Fr. Guy has served in parish ministry in Canada and the United States. Often, that ministry is paired with service to the deaf community, which has impacted how he approaches liturgy.

“I have learned from the deaf community that ‘less is more’ in the Mass,” said Fr. Guy.  “It isn’t only music, intrusive lighting, over-abundant floral and candle arrangements which detract from the central event of signing in the deaf liturgy.  It is also our hearing culture’s love of repetition, long and ‘wordy’ prayers, references to novels, movies, and literature.”

Fr. Guy is also passionate ministering to the homeless. In Green Bay, he was instrumental in creating a shelter tied to St. John the Evangelist parish. In 2010, when he left the parish for a new assignment in South Dakota, the shelter’s gymnasium was named after him. It was one of several honors that Fr. Guy received for his advocacy for the homeless; in 2007 he was named by the Green Bay Press-Gazette as its “Person of the Year” for northeastern Wisconsin.

During his years of ministry in San Antonio, he not only ministered to the homeless, but used his skills as a painter to capture them in art. Fr. Guy emphasizes that he received permission from each of his subjects to both paint and share their images to others. There have been several showings of his art.

Fr. Guy is now a member of the Dehonian’s community in northern Mississippi. He assists with parish ministry, and at the two schools operated by Sacred Heart Southern Missions.

FR. FRANCIS VU TRAN, SCJ – Born in Vietnam, Fr. Francis, 47, was raised in California. He joined the SCJs’ formation program as an undergraduate, first studying at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and later, earned his M.Div. at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

His first assignment after priesthood ordination in 2005 was at St. Martin of Tours parish. There, he served the parish community at large, but in particular, the Vietnamese Catholic community in the archdiocese of Milwaukee, which has been based at SMOT for many years.

“Pastoral ministry is so much a part of my vocation; it is who I am and what I do,” said Fr. Francis. “In a parish people come to me and include me in some of the most difficult –– and special –– moments of their lives.  I have spent hours with people at the end of their lives, waiting with them at their death beds.  I have married couples and been there for the baptism of their children.”

It was a ministry that Fr. Francis loved, but one that he set aside to go to Rome for advanced studies in Scripture. Last year, Fr. Francis received his doctorate from the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome. He completed his doctoral studies, and defended his dissertation, while also serving as district superior of Vietnam.

“My religious life has always been full of surprises,” said Fr. Francis. “When Fr. General talked to me about serving in the Vietnamese District it was just one more surprise.”

Fr. Francis completed his second three-year term as district superior last year, and now teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. He is also local superior of the St. Joseph Community at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake.

FR. MARK MASTIN – Fr. Mark entered the SCJs’ Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, IN, as a high school freshman. He had planned to continue with the SCJs and discern a vocation to the priesthood and religious life as a Dehonian. But that was postponed until he was 50 years old.

Fr. Mark’s father died when he was 21, which quickly changed his education plans to business. Following his graduation from DePaul University in Chicago, Fr. Mark got a job in manufacturing so that he could help with the financial needs of his mother and younger brothers and sisters.

But, he continued to feel called to the priesthood. As a candidate for the diocese of Joliet, Fr. Mark enrolled in Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. Reconnecting with the religious order with which he studied as a high school student, Fr. Mark realized that his call was as a religious priest, not as a diocesan. Almost 20 years after he left the SCJ formation program he once again applied to be a candidate. In 2007, he was ordained to the priesthood.

Fr. Mark served at St. Martin of Tours parish, and then as a part of the province vocation team.

For four years, Fr. Mark also served as a chaplain with the US Army, which included a tour in Afghanistan. He rose to the rank of captain.

“As a Catholic chaplain I had two assignments. One was to be a staff officer and chaplain for a battalion and the other was to fill a lieutenant colonel slot as the senior pastor of a Catholic community the size of which could range from 3,000 to 5,000 families,” said Fr. Mark, reflecting on his years with the military. “My day started at 4:00 a.m. with physical training with the troops and ended between 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. with community meetings or marriage counseling or preparation.

“Later my duties included advising the commander, counseling and teaching soldiers, and being the spiritual guide for the battalion. I attended and gave invocation prayers at many events. In addition, I had up to six counseling sessions a day. There were retreats for couples and singles. And then there were the training exercises.

At the conclusion of his service in 2015, Fr. Mark received the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM). Prior to his retirement from the military, he also received the Bronze Star.

Fr. Mark is now a part of the formation team at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology while doing doctoral studies through the Catholic University of America.

FR. JUAN CARLOS CASTEÑADA ROJAS, SCJ –– Originally from Colombia, Fr. “Juancho” pursued his vocation to the priesthood and religious life in the United States.

On January 11, 2006, he entered the English as a Second Language program at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (It is now known as “English and Culture Studies”).

“There, I learned not just the English language but also the culture and the Dehonian charism that taught me how to be a prophet of love and a servant of reconciliation,” said Fr. Juancho. “That is how my identity as a Dehonian began and it continued to grow during all my years in formation. There is nothing that brings me more joy than knowing that I am walking together with others following God’s call to become a Dehonian.”

He became a candidate with the Priests of the Sacred Heart and earned his M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Fr. Juancho was ordained to the diaconate in 2018. On February 16, 2019, he returned to his home country of Colombia to be ordained to the priesthood, celebrating his First Mass at his home parish, surrounded by his family.

His first assignment was at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Houston. For the past several years Fr. Juancho has been a part of the international Dehonian community that serves Ecuador. Fr. Juancho will turn 41 in September.