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Reflecting the Church’s universal nature

Posted By September 5, 2013 | 12:51 pm | Lead Story #1
IMG_3664FrJosephWEB

By Tanya Connor

St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge is increasingly reflecting the universal nature of the Church.
Augustinians of the Assumption, who staff the parish, have brought in three of their members from different countries, one of whom renewed his vows Aug. 28, the Feast of St. Augustine.
That man, Father Joseph Zhang, from mainland China, said he came here May 7 from the Philippines for a two-year assignment.
Father Peter Omwoyo, a Kenyan who has also served in Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo, came July 2 and is here for at least three years.
Father Dinh G. Vo Tran arrived at St. Anne’s last Friday. A Vietnamese native, he came to Assumption College in Worcester from the Philippines in 2002 to discern an Assumptionist vocation. He made his final vows in 2009, was ordained a priest in 2011 and has been doing campus ministry at the college.
The men are to be associate pastors of the parish, said Father Peter R. Precourt, a native of Taunton, who has been pastor and director of St. Anne Shrine, which shares the grounds with the parish, for eight years. He is also the Assumptionists’ provincial delegate for the United States territory. He said Father Vo Tran might become shrine director.
The other Assumptionist on staff is Brother Paul Henry, from New York state, who has been ministering here for several years. Father Salvator Musande, from Congo, who was in residence there, moved to the Assumptionist Center in Brighton.
“It reflects who we are as Assumptionists, being in over 30 countries,” Father Precourt said of the parish staff. It also reflects the universal Church, and the Diocese, which is gaining clergy from other countries, he said. And it is part of the future.
“Quickly we will be a minority, those of us who are Anglo-Saxon,” he said.
“It’s a witness to the local Church that the Church is bigger than this parish, this diocese,” he said. “It has no boundaries.”
He said having this staff helps in welcoming people from various countries to the annual St. Anne Novena, which features different countries different nights.
It’s also helpful to the parish, he said, noting that a parishioner sought out Father Zhang to speak to a boy from China.
“It will make us the envy of a lot of other parishes, because we’ll have four priests here,” he added. “When you have four, you can reach out.”
The parish also has two permanent deacons from the United States, Deacons Keith T. Caplette and W. Steve Miller. Deacon Ky T. Tran, from Vietnam, is moving because of his wife’s health.

Chinese and Kenyan priests talk about what brought them here

By Tanya Connor

Assumptionist priests from Asia and Africa, in the United States for at least a couple years, have joined the staff at St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge.
“I was attracted by the simplicity of life of the Assumptionists,” said Father Joseph Zhang, here from mainland China for two years.
“Father Bernard (Holzer) was superior and he was kneeling down on the floor to clean the toilet. So I was interested, and it was a shock.”
It was Father Holzer who invited him to the Philippines to live with the Assumptionists. Last week the Chinese priest renewed his vows with the congregation – in Worcester.
Father Peter Omwoyo comes here from a different part of the world, which has its own connection with the United States. He said he was born and brought up in Kenya near Lake Victoria, where President Barack Obama’s father was from.
The priests summarized their stories as follows.
Father Zhang said he was ordained a diocesan priest in China in 2004, by a bishop recognized by the pope. He worked at a minor seminary for high school aged boys for a semester, then was elected superior of the seminary, and appointed to oversee four parishes.
He got sick and went to the Philippines to rest, and studied English while there.
“I do not know why I chose English,” he said, adding that now he believes it was God’s doing. “I have never thought that I will be a missionary out of the country.” He said he had previously turned down nine invitations to leave China and do mission work elsewhere – while he was in seminary and after ordination.
“I always said ‘no’ immediately because I was focused on the works in the diocese,” too busy to even finish reading a book, he said. “That’s why I got sick.”
He’s better now?
“I’m excellent. I like the people here – they’re so grateful. I was supposed to help the Church here, but I’m learning a lot. They helped me. We can see how deep the people are living their faith.”
An Assumptionist in class with him in the Philippines introduced him to Father Holzer, he said.
In April 2009 Father Zhang went back to China. Father Holzer invited him to return to the Philippines to study English and live with the Assumptionists, which he did that August.
In 2010 he entered formation with the Assumptionists and in 2012 made his first vows.
Aug. 28 he renewed his vows, this time at Assumption College’s chapel, along with Brother Blair Nuyda, from the Philippines. Brother Blair is assistant campus minister at Assumption College and editor of the Philippine edition of “Living with Christ,” a missalette published by the Assumptionist-sponsored Bayard Inc.
At the same Aug. 28 evening prayer service five other men received the Assumptionist habit, having received Assumptionist crosses and entered the novitiate the previous day. They are Brothers Leo Divinagracia, from the Philippines; Sagar Gundiga, from India; Wilder Pérez, from Peru, and Marciano López and José Manuel Moran, both from  Mexico.
“I was sent here to experience the community which is serving in apostolic works and to mature my Assumptionist spirit and to be close to the community here in the United States, to learn from them,” Father Zhang said. “Father Peter Precourt is my superior and formator.” Father Precourt is pastor of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish.
Father Zhang said he was here in Sturbridge for almost three weeks last year, then returned to the Philippines to apply for a religious worker visa.
He said he doesn’t know what he will do after his two years here. But he has a dream. The Assumptionists are preparing to establish a foundation in mainland China, he said.
“I might be part of that process,” he said. “I pray for that every day. We have to carry the kingdom of God to the people there. They need God. ‘Thy kingdom come’ is our motto of the Assumptionists. I want to have communities there.”
This would be possible, if the congregation is ready for that mission and if the time is right in China, he said.
Father Omwoyo said he started corresponding with the Assumptionists in 1998 and in 2000 became a candidate with them and studied philosophy in Tanzania.
From 2003-2004 he was a postulant with them and did a pastoral year at the parish they staff in Tanzania.
From 2004-2005 he was in their novitiate in Tanzania, then studied theology in Nairobi, Kenya, getting his bachelor’s in 2008 from Tangaza College there. He returned to the Assumptionists’ formation house in Tanzania for about six months, where he served as treasurer.
“Then I was appointed to the Congo and I stayed there for two years,” he said. He studied French and the culture and did pastoral ministry in a parish in the eastern part of the country.
In 2010 he was ordained a deacon in Tanzania, then returned to Congo.
In 2011 he was ordained a priest in his home parish, St. Andrew Kagwa (one of the Ugandan martyrs) in the diocese of Kisii, Kenya.
“My first appointment was in Uganda, but it never matured,” he said; the Assumptionists did not end up establishing the postulants’ house they were planning there.
He went to Congo, where he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, and a couple months later returned to Kenya, and was sent to assist with postulants’ formation in an Assumptionist parish in Nairobi.
“Then I was given an appointment to come to the States,” he said. Getting the paperwork took awhile, so he continued helping with the postulants and the parish.
He came here, on his first visit to the United States, “to show that we are international,” he said of the Assumptionists.
What’s it like?
“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I’m becoming an American.”