Speaking Spanish with a Polish-Uruaguayan-Texas accent

When asked to send something for the province blog, Br. Andy shared a video that he took of the Opening Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe School. The photos below were taken by Br. Andy of Frater Joseph Vu’s vow renewal.


Br. Andy Gancarczyk, SCJ, has been a part of the SCJ community at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Houston, since early this summer. Originally from Poland, Br. Andy served as a missionary in Uruguay for five years before coming to the United States to put his Spanish language skills to use in Houston.

After a couple of months at OLG, Br. Andy writes that “a Texas accent is now heard in my Spanish and I fear that I am now losing all hope of mastering English! When it comes to Mexican food, sometimes I think it gives me some crazy dreams but generally I like it and I feel great being here in Houston at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“I love to write, it is my second vocation! But I am still adapting to my new environment, so instead of writing, I am taking many photos and videos. I observe everything that surrounds me and I enjoy meeting the people here.”

If a picture really is worth “a thousand words,” Br. Andy sent us several thousand with a few photos from Frater Joseph Vu’s vow renewal ceremony, along with a video from OLG’s first Mass of the new school year.

Frater Joseph Vu renews his vows

Frater Joseph Vu renews his vows

Joseph signs his vow renewal while Fr. Ed Kilianski, pastor of OLG, looks on.

Joseph signs his vow renewal while Fr. Ed Kilianski, pastor of OLG, looks on.

Joseph is congratulated on his vow renewal.

Joseph is congratulated on his vow renewal.

Back home

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Fr. Tom Cassidy’s final blog post about his recent visit to Asia was written back at home, at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake:

This will be the final journal entry as my visit to the Philippines and Vietnam came to an end yesterday afternoon when United #882 touched down at Chicago’s O’Hare Field and I began the final journey to my SCJ community residence you see pictured above. My day began in Manila as we departed for the airport at 05:30 local time. From there I would fly 3+ hours to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, and then 11+hours from Narita to Chicago, ending it all with a 90 minute bus ride back to Milwaukee.

It’s now actually Wednesday (06/08/14) as I took a nap in the afternoon and stayed in bed until 03:00 this morning. I may have been able to go longer but Mother Nature was putting on a pretty good thunder & lightning show outside my bedroom window. I think with that long sleep my body clock is now in sink with the Central Time Zone and I should be able to follow the normal schedule around here.

In the next couple of days I will put together a report to the provincial and his council on my sabbatical year. In brief it was more then I could have hoped for and then some. For me the high points were my time in India and the Philippines working with young men who either were preparing to enter the community (pre-novitiate) or as in Eluru, both professed theologians and the postulant class that entered the novitiate last April.  I had extended stays that allowed me to get to know the local situation and personnel and in turn they got a good sense of who I am as well.

With the exception of Indonesia, where the Dutch SCJs began their mission in 1923, the other Asian SCJ entities are much younger. The SCJs began in the Philippines in 1989, India about 1995, and Vietnam around 1998. The US Province has had a close relationship with all four. We had several American SCJ missionaries in Indonesia, including Fr. Tom Fix, who also worked in India before his death, and Fr. Mark Fortner, who is now retired and living in my community — he was also a novitiate classmate of mine.

The US Province helps to financially support India, Vietnam and the Philippines and often assists Indonesia when requested to do so. In particular, the US Province has sponsored a number of Indonesian SCJs for studies here in the US. Because of all those connections I have a keen interest in what is taking place in our Asian entities.

I first visited Indonesia in 1989, and was taken by what I can best describe as a stateliness in their culture. I have been back several times since and technically will complete my sabbatical year in October when I will visit Indonesia for three weeks. Because of my extended stays in both India and the Philippines it was not possible to work it into the year allotted for my sabbatical.

The sabbatical was truly a time of grace and growth for me. In its own way it was a spiritual experience, a long retreat if you will. I had the time and opportunity to reflect and pray and learn from observing the world as seen through Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, South African, Irish-Scotish-British and Polish eyes. We all do the same things, but culture and custom gives a twist to how, when and why things are done.

Perhaps this is not the best example, but it will get my point across. When it comes to meals, some use their hands, some use chopsticks, some use a fork and spoon, and some use a fork, knife and spoon; the method may vary but the object is the same, i.e., how to feed oneself. One can argue which method is the best, but in the end they all accomplish the same thing. I use a fork, knife and spoon because I was born into it. I have learned how to use the fork and spoon, chopsticks and yes (though still not good at it) how to eat with my hands.

A small matter to be sure but there are so many other things and experiences about living and visiting other cultures and other worlds. In the end they help make you a better person who has a deeper understanding of his/her own culture with its strengths and, yes, its shadow side as well. Ultimately travel is one of the schools we all should attend if possible — it’s a great education.

The widow’s mite

Receiving rice for the student community.

Receiving rice for the student community.

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, writes from the Philippines:

Last night I was hard pressed to decide what to write on my last day in Manila and my last day in Asia as tomorrow morning at 05:30 I will leave for the airport and the long trek home. Then this morning I was talking at breakfast to Br Dang van Nuyen, an SCJ from Vietnam, who asked me if I had photos of the Rice Lady from St. Paul’s from Ho Chi Minh City. He told me about her and what she does for our community and I think her story is worth telling.

It’s worth telling first of all since the US SCJ Province financially supports Vietnam, India and our Philippine SCJs to one degree or another. It’s especially true for Vietnam and India since they both were founded some years after we began here in the Philippines and neither society has a majority Catholic population as you find here.

The "Rice Lady"

The “Rice Lady”

That financial support comes from thousands of donors, in may ways just like The Rice Lady, who give what they can when they can to support our works and the SCJs. Any SCJ worth his salt thanks God daily and prays daily for our benefactors who truly do make all that the US Province does possible. Part of “what is possible” is the support we give to our mission efforts in countries like India and Vietnam as well as in Africa and Latin America.

I met the Rice Lady on my first day in Vietnam when we went to visit St. Paul’s parish and Huong Tam School that the US Province supports. At the end of the visit we met our Rice Lady and two helpers who had a couple of sacks of rice for us to take back for the community. The rice is the widow’s mite of the story.

You see this woman is not wealthy and really cannot afford to pay for two sacks of rice each month to help feed 22 hungry young men trying to master English as they begin their studies in hopes of becoming SCJs. But this woman has figured out a way to solve that problem and provide the much needed rice.

Each month she collects money from friends, neighbors and Lord knows who else, to gather enough funds to pay for four sacks of rice. Each month, somewhere in the city once known as Saigon, and now called Ho Chi Minh City, she meets up with SCJs, like Br. Bat (my Mi Kong Delta companion) to get the rice headed to the SCJ kitchen and into the bellies of hungry, active and grateful young men.

When you realize that rice is served seven days a week, and at least two meals a day, it takes lots of pounds of rice to last a month. Our rice lady does her part to make it all possible.

Now if you were to ask me: Why do you go on trips like this and what to you get out of it? I really think this story of the Rice Lady (the widow’s mite) says it all. It’s such a humbling experience to meet people like her who give so much and who love the SCJ community and the Gospel values of caring for others it represents. Without my connection to SCJs in Vietnam or the Philippines or India it would never be possible to meet up with a woman like this. I am ever so thankful for the window to the world being an SCJ has given me. Likewise I really am humbled by the story of the Rice Lady of Ho Chi Minh City and what she gives to us.


Dedicated to the children of migrants

Fr. Tom and Fr. Rino with the chidden of Huong Tam

Fr. Tom and Fr. Rino with the chidden of Huong Tam

Doing much with little

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from Vietnam, where he is learning about the newest of the congregation’s entities. Today’s visit was to Huong Tam School, a project partially supported by the US Province:

This morning Fr. Rino, SCJ, and Br. Bat, SCJ, and I headed off by taxi to visit Huong Tam School. It is about an hour from here depending on traffic. It is a social project close to the heart of any Dehonian and one the US Province adopted about 10 years ago. On the far right of the picture partially hidden by the bush (top of page) is Fr. Paul Tong. He is pastor of St. Paul parish, which founded Huong Tam School for Migrant Children. The congregation became aware of the school and its needs when SCJs began doing their pastoral year with him at the parish. In fact, Br. Bat has just begun his year at St. Paul’s.

Huong Tam serves the needs of the children of migrants from the north who come to Ho Chi Minh City looking for work. They are not able to pay the fees for public school and without Huong Tam the students could not afford to be in school. At present it is located in a factory area renting five or six small rooms that house 40 to 48 children in each room. Over the course of the year a few students drop out either because their family has moved because of lack of work, or in a few cases, the students are old enough to drop out of school to go to work to help support their families.

Unfortunately for me the school already let out for the summer but the staff were able to round up a few volunteer students who sang a song or two for us and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I don’t think the promise of a free lunch hurt the attendance figures any. Fr. Rino and I were enlisted to help pass out the snack and soda to our eager young recipients.

Fr. Rino and Fr. Tom hand out lunch

Fr. Rino and Fr. Tom hand out lunch

We were told by the staff that the majority of students do well on their state exams. Vietnam has a system of yearly qualifying exams to pass from one grade to the next. Although this is a private school it has to meet state standards and does receive state inspection.

While all that is true, the physical layout of the school leaves much to be desired. The rooms are small and poorly ventilated — remember, this is a tropical climate. It is located right next to a factory so noise from it and its trucks and equipment create a distraction to learning. Fr. Paul was informed that a new location must be found by the 2016 school year as the owner needs the space for his own operations.

The school has many needs from such simple things as notebooks and pens/pencils for the students (many come from families living on the margin with no money for such supplies) to blackboards, and fans to improve ventilation. Those are a few of the items mentioned in our long conversation that stick out in my mind. Getting salaries closer to what a public school teacher makes is also a great challenge.

If I were to sum up my impression of Huong Tam School it accomplishes a great deal with very limited means. The staff (all women) are very dedicated to their task of teaching young minds who represent the future generation for their country. Sometimes I think many Americans tend to forget that investment in education is an investment in the future. With help from the US Province and other funding sources our SCJ Vietnam District in serving the educational needs of over 200 boys and girls who otherwise might very well fall through the cracks of society.  That investment is in keeping with our Dehonian Charism.

Tomorrow morning I leave for Da Nang and won’t return to Ho Chi Minh City until June 10 so I may not have WiFi access until then, though I will continue to write my daily journal and pass them along when I can.

Good morning Vietnam!

A view from the street of our first house in Vietnam

A street-view of our house

Fr. Tom Cassidy has moved from the Philippines, where he was assisting with the English program, to Vietnam. This is his first post from Ho Chi Minh City:

It’s almost 14:30 and the house is quiet as it is siesta time in our formation house. I’m getting ready to go with Fr. Rino Venturin, SCJ, district superior, to visit one of the local markets. It’s more of a scouting trip to look for some small gifts I want to bring back to the States for some family members and friends. I’ll do my real shopping upon my return to the city towards the end of my trip. Looking today will also be a good measure to see if there are items elsewhere in Vietnam that will be better suited as gifts.

My trip from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City was a nighttime affair. Happily we left Manila on time at 22:50 and landed in Ho Chi Minh City just about at midnight local time as there is an hour’s time difference between the two cities. Getting through passport control and customs in the middle of the night wasn’t too difficult as I think we were the only plane that landed on the international side at that time of night. Fr. Rino and one of our Vietnamese SCJ students, Br. Bat, met me as I walked out of the airport.

At present the SCJs do not own a car so we returned to our house by taxi. The streets were all but deserted which made for a fast trip. The roads between the airport and our house are good and so the trip is not nearly as long as what one experiences in Manila.

Motorbikes are the main method of transportation

Motorbikes are the main method of transportation

If you were to describe traffic in Ho Chi Minh City the word I would pick would be: motorbike. I’m sure I’ll be able to snatch a picture or two while I’m here for some future journal entry. The ones you see here are from our parking garage and are those used by our students. This does not represent all as some of the students were off to school by 07:30 this morning when I shaped his shot. I suspect if you count the bikes you’ll probably have a good idea how many students we have.

The students fall into two groups: (1) Those who are completing their college education and (2) those studying English to prepare to go to the Philippines. Those who graduate from step two will leave this October and continue their English studies and next spring, hopefully, another member from the US Province will go to Cagayan de Oro and help with pronunciation.

Fr. Rino said I should sleep in this morning and we’d have the community Mass at 18:00 this evening. I woke up around 06:00 and got up shortly after that. My room is on the third floor right next to the small SCJ chapel. Unfortunately, the chapel is being remodeled and the men doing the work are making a lot of noise. I was offered the chance just before lunch to move down to the first floor but since I’ve already unpacked and will leave in a couple of days for my extended tour of the country I said I was happy staying put.

I am familiar with this house since I came for its blessing as the US Province helps support the Vietnamese SCJ District, including the funding of the house. I was not expecting an air-conditioned room but was happy to learn when I got into the room about 01:15 this morning that indeed it had air. Not all the rooms in the house have air conditioning; it made for a comfortable sleeping environment.

I decided to take my walk this morning as it is a cooler time of day. Our three house dogs greeted me as I excited the house. I noticed this morning that the road in front of our house has been paved since my first visit. I say road but think more like an alley back home as the street is narrow, though two cars can pass one another without too much difficulty. Once I got to the main street, walking became a little more problematic as there are no sidewalks and the traffic, while consisting of a lot of motorbikes, was heavy. Not knowing the neighborhood well I stuck close to home but managed to get in an hour’s worth of walking.

It probably was a good thing as I was thinking lunch would be served at noon so I was a bit surprised when the bell for lunch was rung at 11:25. Soup, chicken, rice and vegetables made up the meal, along with yogurt for desert. In my honor our head table had Tiger Beer as well. I always like to try local beers when I get the chance. Though made here in Vietnam, I was told Tiger is actually a brand out of Singapore.

House chapel

House chapel

Fr. Halim, SCJ, joined us for lunch. He is the district treasurer and also will be my guide during my visit. I know Fr. Halim from his days as a student of scripture in Rome and the stint in ESL he did in the States. He has been a part of our Vietnam project from almost its beginnings. He is a native of Indonesia of Chinese background.

It’s now just about 15:00 and Fr. Rino should be knocking at my door any minute now to begin our visit to the market. I’ll bring this day’s journal to a close with a picture taken in the main chapel on the top floor (see above, right). As I quip this is not an old man’s building as the dining room is on the first floor and the main chapel is on the top (fifth) floor!

Last day

Some of Fr. Tom's students out for a final pizza night with their teacher.

Some of Fr. Tom’s students out for a final pizza night with their teacher.

As noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy has been writing blog posts from the Philippines, where he helped with the English program during the past six weeks. This is his final post before heading to his next stop: Vietnam.

Tomorrow I’ll head to Vietnam for the last leg of my Asian journey. While I call this the last day in truth I’ll be here for most of tomorrow as my flight doesn’t leave until 22:10 (10:10 PM). I’m not sure why Cebu Pacific flies so late in the day — my return journey to Manila leaves Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at 01:00 (1:00 AM)! One advantage, especially on the return journey, traffic will not be as great a problem though Manila never sleeps and the roads are never really empty of traffic.

This morning I had two English Masses at a nearby parish of San Lorenzo Ruiz. Actually within a five to ten minute walk from our house I counted three nearby parishes. One of our students guided me to the parish, though with clear directions it would have been very easy to find. I’m told we often help out at this parish and I think it is our own territorial parish as well. We have used the parish church in the past for deacon and priests ordinations.

Fr. Tom celebrating Mass in the Philippines

Fr. Tom celebrating Mass in the Philippines

If I read the bulletin board correctly there is a Saturday evening Mass and three on Sunday. The first at 06:00 is in Tagalog and the others (08:00 and 10:00) are in English. As today was the first Sunday of the month what’s pictured here is a blessing on those who have June birthdays. It’s done just before the final blessing and announcements. The photo also gives a good picture of the style of alb/chasuble most priest where due to the heat.

I got home a little after 11:00 AM and looked in on the kitchen. Sundays the regular cooks have the day off so the students are responsible for the meals. Actually breakfast is on your own with everyone going in different directions either for pastoral work or off to a parish for Mass. The noon meal was being prepared by some of our Vietnamese students and the evening meal is in the hands of some of the Filipinos. While there are certainly similarities in their cooking styles there are also marked differences. Noodles play a much bigger role in Vietnamese cooking as does the use of vegetables. Rice is still the staple for both.

As the joke went in Cagayan de Oro so it plays well here too: At noon we’ll have fish and chicken and for supper we’ll have chicken and fish. Other meats will appear but not all that often and of the two pork probably makes it to the table more often then beef.


Fr. Tom writes: This street is not too far from our formation house in Cagayan de Oro and I often would walk it during my daily walks. I decided to take this picture for two reasons: (1) It shows the morning build up of clouds that often led to our afternoon thunderstorms. (2) It gives some idea of modern Philippine housing. Housing is one difference I noticed from my first trip in 1990. Both roads and housing have shown marked improvement over that time span. However, do keep in mind Cagayan del Oro is a large city and out in rural areas things can be much simpler. I should also note that I could just as easily turned this camera in the opposite direction and shown shacks constructed of wood, metal and bamboo, or what I take to be bamboo. The same is true in Manila (or any other large city) along with nice housing, mansions even, not all that far away are clusters of slums and shacks. Poverty while less then what I saw in 1990 is still a reality for far too many.

Fr. Tom writes adds a bit about the photo above:  “This street is not too far from our formation house in Cagayan de Oro and I often would walk it during my daily walks. I decided to take this picture for two reasons: (1) It shows the morning build up of clouds that often led to our afternoon thunderstorms. (2) It gives some idea of modern Philippine housing. Housing is one difference I noticed from my first trip in 1990. Both roads and housing have shown marked improvement over that time span. However, do keep in mind Cagayan del Oro is a large city and out in rural areas things can be much simpler.

I should also note that I could just as easily turned this camera in the opposite direction and shown shacks constructed of wood, metal and bamboo, or what I take to be bamboo. The same is true in Manila (or any other large city) along with nice housing, mansions even, not all that far away are clusters of slums and shacks. Poverty while less then what I saw in 1990 is still a reality for far too many.


Sampling the treats of Vietnam and the Philippines

A buffet of Asian dining at the cultural fair in the Philippines

A buffet of Asian dining at the cultural fair in the Philippines

The many cultures of the Philippines and Vietnam

In one of his last posts from the Philippines Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about the community’s recent culture fair in which the foods and traditions of Vietnam and the Philippines were shared.

Our local cultural fair went off without a hitch and I’d say everyone went home full and happy. The event bears some similarities to the cultural fair that caps off the summer ESL program each year at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (SHSST).

The evening began with a brief presentation using tourist videos of the wonders and beauties of Vietnam and The Philippines. Our master of ceremonies was Br. Joseph Dien Tran, SCJ, who just returned from his Vietnam holidays was drafted by the group to do the honors. Joseph graduated from the English course two years ago when Fr. Johnny Klingler, SCJ, served as its instructor in American English pronunciation.

Although we only had two countries represented, their size and cultural complexities ensured that we would have a rich experience representing the islands of Luzon and Mindanao from the Philippines and the cultural diversity of the north, central and southern corners of Vietnam. Our eight Vietnamese students range from as far north as the Hanoi area (Vincent Le Tiep Van) to almost the southernmost tip of the Mi Kong Delta (Anthony Ngo Minh Cuong) and regions in between.

Fried rice by student Peter Nguyen Quoc Cuong

Fried rice by student Peter Nguyen Quoc Cuong

I’ve reported on several occasions of just how passionate Peter Nguyen Quoc Cuong has been about the cuisine of central Vietnam (Quan Binh Province). He’s been selling me the virtues of the Mi Quang Noodles since about the first day of class. Peter worked for four years in his brother’s restaurant and although much to my disappointment he did not make the noodles for our dinner he did produce a great dish of fried rice that as you can see was presented with a bit of flare. He made the flowers out of carrots.

Peter has promised me he’ll make the noodles before I leave on Saturday he’s waiting for one of the students to return on Thursday from the Dehonian Youth Mission who has a stash of Vietnamese noodles needed to properly make Mi Quang Noodles.

As for the other dishes we all enjoyed last evening the two representing the Philippines were made by Argol Chavez from Mindanao who prepared Bicolano. It’s made of coconut milk, pork and chillies and is served as an appetizer. We were warned it is HOT! July Zambrano from Mindanao made a dessert called Poto Cotchinta. It looks something like a flan and is served with shredded coconut.

Every party includes some clean-up

Every party includes some clean-up

In addition to Peter’s contribution, Antonio Nguyen Van Nhat assisted Francis Pham van Phuong in making Cha Gio (fried egg roles) along with a fish dish with sliced tomatoes. Finally John Dang Ngoc Lam made our soup. Both cultures often feature soup as part of a meal.

I think everyone enjoyed the evening. I, for one, always like trying new foods and learning how different cultures both look at food and its role in their society. I always remember Bishop Virginio Bressanelli’s comment about Italians: “Italians,” he said, “are the only people I know who have turned eating into an art form.” I would tend to agree with him. Certainly Italians love nothing more then to sit around a table with good food, good wine and good conversation. I think to a certain degree that same love is part of many Asian cultures.

Fr. Tom with his students

Fr. Tom with his students