23 August 2023
23 Aug 2023

“Welcoming the Spirit… preparing for our future”

“Wherever the future will lead us we know that the Spirit never ceases to work among us,” said Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, provincial superior, in his opening remarks of the 17th US Provincial Chapter.

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“Welcoming the Spirit… preparing for our future,” was the theme of the Chapter, held at the Provincial Conference Center in Hales Corners, WI, July 18-21, 2023.

A Provincial Chapter is held approximately every six years in preparation for a General Chapter. It is a time to discuss future directions for the province, review proposed modifications to the Provincial Directory (Rule of Life), spend time together in prayer, and to select delegates and alternates to the General Chapter. This year’s Chapter began in a spirit of celebration following the July 16-17 Centennial gatherings at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, and ended in a moment of pause and reflection as members of the province remembered Fr. Anthony Kluckman, SCJ, on the one-year anniversary of his disappearance. On the last morning of the Chapter, business was set aside as Fr. Anthony’s fellow SCJs remembered and celebrated him with cherished stories, going back to the earliest of his seminary days.

Dehonian Spirituality and Interculturality

To “welcome the Spirit” and “prepare for our future” Chapter delegates focused on two topics: “Dehonian Spirituality” and “Interculturality.”

Increasingly, Dehonian Spirituality is recognized as a gift to the whole Church, not just to the Priests of the Sacred Heart. The impact of Fr. Leo John Dehon’s charism grows in the lives of the many people impacted by it. As a preface to Chapter discussions, facilitated dialogues – first with members of the Dehonian Associates and then with four long-term employees of the province* – allowed SCJs to hear first-hand how Dehonian Spirituality is lived beyond the professed members of the community.

“Everything I learned about Dehonian Spirituality was already in my heart,” said Laura Grisham, communications manager for Sacred Heart Southern Missions and a member of the Dehonian Associates. “Things that I learned about Fr Dehon as we met in the Associates program, these were things that were already in my heart. Dehonian Spirituality helps me to go beyond, to get out in the world and help others as best as I can.”

“When we had the staff in-services and learned about Fr. Dehon and the Dehonian charism, I soaked it all in,” said Lois Harrison, SHSM volunteer coordinator. “I resonate with Fr. Dehon’s call to ‘get out of the sacristy,’ to meet and serve people where they are at.”

“In 1985, my wife and I went to St. Joseph’s Indian School to become houseparents,” said Mike Tyrell. “We planned to stay a year, but here we are, 38 years and five children later.” Mike is now president of St. Joseph’s. “At some point, I realized that being a Dehonian wasn’t something separate, it had become a part of me. I consider myself a Dehonian. It is not just the organization that I work for.”

“Sint Unum,” said John Gallam, who recently retired from the SHSST faculty after 50 years. “That is what speaks to me in Dehonian Spirituality. To me, it is an ideal that is one of the greatest challenges of the Church, and the world. The ideal of Sint Unum is desperately needed in these divisive times.”

The blessings and challenges of multiculturalism

On the second day of the Chapter, delegates heard facilitated dialogues from two groups: four SCJs originally from entities outside of the US Province who then came to the United States for long-term ministry, and four SCJs who have spent their entire vowed lives as members of the US Province.**

There were a few humorous stories of newly arrived SCJs from warmer climates trying to navigate their first Midwestern winter, but there were also stories of great challenge, of an international SCJ’s confusion and sometimes frustration in trying to understand and serve in a culture, and sometimes a ministry, that was foreign to him.

“I drove to South Dakota on my own,” said Fr. Jean Claude Mbassi, SCJ, originally from Cameroon. “I went to a place so unfamiliar to me, to do a ministry I had never done before [parish ministry]. I did not know how to do so many things… it was very hard for me.”

Fr. Rafael Querobin, SCJ, who is originally from Brazil, went to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston at the start of the pandemic. “We could not go out because of COVID, but it was a good opportunity for me to learn,” he said. “Fr. Tim [Gray, SCJ] and I spoke for hours during that time and he helped me understand so much about ministry in Houston.”

The international SCJs emphasized the need for preparation that goes beyond learning English, as well as the necessity of community support. “All of us need to be supported in community,” said one of the panelists, “But for those who are new to the United States it is vital.”

Following the two days of facilitated discussions, Chapter delegates approved a “Provincial Chapter Direction Statement” in which they called for provincial leadership, in dialogue with membership, to implement a list of actions in regard to the two discussion topics.

Under the heading of “Dehonian Spirituality” were things such as establishing Dehonian Associates programs in all of the areas in which the province ministers, developing a standardized introduction to Dehonian Spirituality and the Priests of the Sacred Heart for new employees and those with whom the community partners, and committing to greater overt promotion of the community in all of its ministries.

Tasks listed under “Interculturality” included regular conversations and commitment on the local level to determine how each community lives together with intentionality, creating toolboxes for international SCJs preparing for community and ministry in the US Province and a general toolbox on intercultural life and ministry for all SCJs, as well as linking international SCJs to mentors as they transition to full-time ministry.

The “business” of the Chapter

On the last full day of the Chapter delegates reviewed the Chapter Finance Committee report, the State of the Province Report, and updates to the Provincial Directory. One of the final orders of business was the election of delegates from the US Province to next year’s General Chapter. Those elected to represent the US Province: Fr. Jack Kurps (1st delegate), Fr. Francis Vu Tran (2nd delegate), Fr. Hendrik Ardianto (1st alternate), and Fr. Quang Nguyen (2nd alternate). Fr. Vien Nguyen, provincial superior, will attend as an ex officio member. The General Chapter will take place in Rome from June 16 through July 5, 2024.

“The future we want to create”

“In the past few days, we have come to a clear understanding of the future we want to create together,” said Fr. Vien in his closing homily. “That is, we want to be explicit about sharing our Dehonian spirituality with others, and we want to be welcoming and inclusive…

“If sharing our spirituality with others is our intention and interculturality is our direction, then we need to be intentional and accountable to our Founder’s charism, which is the binding force, the foundation, or the deep story of who we are.”

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