7/24/2013 Divine Word Father Detig reflects on his 50 years as missionary
Enjoying Retirement – Divine Word Father Joseph Detig relaxes in a garden on the grounds of the Divine Word Residence, Bordentown, July 9. David Kilby photo
Days Gone By – In this photo from the late 1970s, Divine Word Missionary Fathers Joseph Detig, right, and Martin Padovani, well-known author and speaker, prepare to celebrate a liturgy in St. Mary Parish, Bordentown. Courtesy of Divine Word Missionaries
By David Kilby|Correspondent
When walking through the peaceful grounds of the Divine Word Residence, Bordentown, it’s easy to forget that those 100 acres overlooking the Delaware River provide a home for missionaries like Father Joseph Detig, who has spread the Gospel around the world and endured many of the trials that come with doing so.
Born May 22, 1935, in Cheektowaga, N.Y., Father Detig is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest this year. He moved to Philadelphia as a child and attended St. Patrick Grammar School and Nativity Parish there, afterwards attending St. Rose of Lima School, Haddon Heights.
He discerned his vocation as a teenager while reading the works of Divine Word writers like Edward Edwards, he shared during an interview at the Divine Word Residence. He studied n the Divine Word Minor Seminary, Girard, Pa., and St. Mary’s Mission Seminary, Techny, Ill. He also enjoyed a special blessing in his final year of seminary, spending the year abroad as an exchange student in Germany. He was ordained Dec. 8, 1962, in the chapel of St. Augustin, Siegburg, Germany, near the city of Bonn.
Father Detig’s father was an immigrant from Germany, and many of his father’s eight siblings—including two of Father Detig’s aunts, who were nuns—still lived in Germany while he studied there and were able to attend his ordination.
As a missionary priest, Father Detig originally served as a teacher and administrator in Fu Jen University, Taiwan.
Fu Jen University is the first Catholic university in China to be established with the mission to increase dialogue between Chinese culture and the Christian faith, states its website.
Divine Word Brother Patrick Hogan, rector of the society’s Bordentown residence, also served in the university and said the school was founded 80 years ago as an infusion of the virtuous elements of Confucianism and the universally embracing love of Christianity. In the Confucian tradition, Fu Jen means “friend of virtue,” Brother Patrick explained.
Not only did Brother Patrick serve at Fu Jen University like Father Detig, but he also attended St. Patrick Grammar School, Philadelphia, which has since closed. The two Divine Word missionaries didn’t know they went to the same grammar school until they met in the Bordentown residence decades later, Brother Patrick said.
After his time in Taiwan, Father Detig taught in Divine Word University in Talcoban, Leyte, the Philippines, and stayed there until 1977. The region is known for being the place General Douglas MacArthur landed in the Battle of Leyte during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. The Leyte Landing Memorial statues at the location commemorate the historic event.
Returning to the U.S., Father Detig served as vocation director at Divine Word Seminary, Miramar, Mass., and provincial superior for Divine Word’s U.S. Western Province, headquartered in Riverside, Calif., a position he held from 1982 to 1988.The Western Province serves Divine Word communities in the dioceses of San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.
Father Detig’s missionary work in the U.S. continued as he traveled to Louisiana and became pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Lafayette. Then he served at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Jeanerette, La., before retiring to a retirement home in St. Louis, Miss. In 2004 he moved to the Bordentown Divine Word Residence to be closer to his family.
“It was all an adventure to me,” he said, reflecting on his missionary experience. “I was very lucky. God blessed me and gave me great priests to work with.”
In doing missionary work all around the world, Father Detig learned how to adapt, assimilate and become one with people from many different cultures. He said these experiences gave him a stronger realization that he was part of a universal Church.
“You learn to be a different person, and to accommodate yourself, and to become one with the people you’re working with,” he continued. “You have to learn the language, to be very sensitive to people’s culture, and have respect for the people you’re working with.”
“People have to learn that the Church is not only a part of their one little world, but something for all people in the world” he said. “Everybody I’ve met in the places I was assigned were very grateful for me being there, and for teaching them by word and example that they were brothers and sisters.”