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Society of Divine Word priests bringing missionary charism to archdiocese

November 12, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

The new pastor of All Souls Parish is a member of a missionary order founded by a German saint in 19th century Holland that first came to the Archdiocese of San Francisco to minister to Japanese speaking Catholics.

Today, the Society of the Divine Word is resuming its role in the archdiocese as one of a number of religious congregations bringing their charism, or special spirituality, to parish life.

“We are a missionary congregation; we were born to be missionaries,” said Divine Word Missionary Father Briccio Tamora, pastor of All Souls Parish, who was installed Nov. 1 by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone at a 10:30 a.m. Mass. The parochial vicar, Divine Word Missionary Father Jerome Bai, was ordained in May. This is his first parish assignment, Father Tamora said.

In 2011, Divine Word Missionaries assumed administration of St. Kevin Parish in San Francisco. That same year Divine Word Missionary Father Peter Zhai came to the archdiocese and began serving as a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Redwood City. He was appointed Chinese Catholic ministry director in 2013, and is in residence at St. Anne of the Sunset. Divine Word Missionary Father John Tran is pastoral administrator at St. Kevin.

Both Father Bai and Father Zhai are from China, and have family in mainland China.

Father Tamora, who was provincial of the nearly 70-priest California province prior to assuming his new role as pastor, said the order first came to the archdiocese many decades ago to minister to Japanese Catholics but as the number of both Japanese speaking priests and Catholics diminished, that role was no longer necessary. The order returned to the archdiocese in 2011. “It was a good fit,” said Msgr. C. Michael Padazinski, chancellor for the archdiocese.

As a missionary order, the priests of the Society of Divine Word learn at least three languages, Father Tamora said. He speaks English, Tagalog and Spanish.

Father Tamora is originally from the Philippines. He served as a priest for 17 years in Argentina, 15 years in Spain, served as a pastor in southern California and was provincial of the California province. He took a sabbatical in Argentina after serving as provincial before this assignment.

“Now I am back to where I like to work best, in the pastoral ministry. And I’m liking it,” said Father Tamora, who began July 1. “I love the church. When the sun is up, it has an atmosphere of prayer,” he said. “The acoustics are good.”

The concept of missionary work has changed since the order was founded by St. Arnold Janssen in Steyl, Holland, in 1875. A German, St. Arnold wanted to awaken in Germans a sense of their missionary responsibility. Because the atmosphere in newly unified Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was hostile to Catholicism, St. Arnold started the order in Holland, Father Tamora said. Today there are about 6,000 Divine Word Missionaries working in more than 70 countries throughout the world, according to divineword.org.

“Mission territory is not just geographical territory. It is social. Even in the First World countries there are people who are unchurched and they need to be evangelized,” Father Tamora said. “Since we are a global society, our mission is also global. Wherever we can preach the word of God, wherever people need the word of God, is mission territory.”

Other religious congregations administering parishes in the archdiocese include Franciscans, Jesuits, Carmelites, Salesians, Dominicans, Marists, the Society of Precious Blood, the Society of Christ, Paulists and Holy Ghost Fathers.

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