Bro. Mike Decker, SVD
My vocation as an SVD started in 1976 when I was in Rome visiting my relative, who was a Sister of Notre Dame (SND). On my first morning there, I went to a mass being said in Italian and I did not understand the language. Afterward, my relative introduced me to the priest. In our conversation, I mentioned that I was interested in joining a seminary, but the priest did not know English well. He stepped aside for a few minutes and when he came back he had written on a piece of paper: DIVINE WORD COLLEGE – EPWORTH, IOWA. The door opened for me to pursue my vocation as a SVD, because this was the place where I would begin my training. I entered Divine Word College in August, 1979. Since then, I’ve met many people from many different countries, making my life very exciting!
Some of my experiences at Divine Word College gave me the opportunity to live with people from different countries like China, Ghana, Vietnam, Japan, Philippines and the Virgin Islands. This opened my eyes to the larger, global world. I was happy with my vocation and my future. During these times, I was supported and challenged to become the best person I could be. Learning how to serve others through my experiences of ministry with elderly and handicapped people further fed my vocation.
In May of 1983, I graduated from Divine Word College and I was ready for the next step God had planned for me. I entered the SVD Novitiate in Bay St Louis, Mississippi. During my year there I was given the opportunity to look more closely at my vocation, and more specifically, to consider the Brotherhood. Through many retreats, community and private prayer, and attendance at daily mass, I had the opportunity to realize my gifts and to see how I could best serve God and others in my life. In August, 1984, I professed my first vows as an SVD Brother. This was the happiest day of my life. I felt supported by others and especially by God.
My first assignment as an SVD Brother was to work in St Martinville, Louisiana, in an African-American community. Here, I was able to listen, observe and learn from others so I could use my gifts from God to serve them. As I openly accepted others, they also did the same with me. I felt “at home” living in the African-American community, where I learned the importance of family and being happy with one’s life even amidst many struggles.
Two years later, in 1986, God had a new experience in mind for me when I began the study of nursing in order to serve others more fully. Nursing responsibilities became my new ministry and continued for the next 17 years. With my training, I took care of many elderly SVDs who had served others during their entire lives, and now needed care in their aging years. This was a blessing because I was able to develop good relationships with them and learn from them about becoming a good SVD Brother. These SVDs had mission experiences from Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, and Papua New Guinea, and this continued to open my eyes to the global world. Also, many African-American SVDs have shared both their struggles with racism and prejudice as well as their joy in serving others. This has helped me to face struggles in my own life.
On January 29, 1991, I professed my perpetual vows as an SVD Brother. After twelve years of training, I was able to reach my goal: to commit myself for life in the service of others. This became the most important day of my life, even more important than when I took my first vows in 1983. In 1992, I was able to experience mission ministry in the Philippines. As the nurse in charge of our retirement house there, my training was instrumental in my ministry. I served with young Filipino men and women taking care of missionaries who had served in the Philippines for forty or fifty years. This was a challenging ministry and I learned much from those I worked with and from those I cared for. Commitment and dedication were the talents I developed while living in the Philippines.
Since 2003, I have been working with young men who want to become SVD priests and Brothers. Young men bring new life, vision and energy into my life as they search for meaning in their lives and move toward becoming SVD priests and Brothers. Overall, my life has been very rewarding, through the many people I have met and the many experiences I have had. The opportunity to live and work in a multi-cultural community has enriched my life immensely. Yes, there have been struggles, but with God’s help and support from my SVD community and those I serve, I have been blessed each and every day.