Brother Paul Bongcaras, SVD
Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, entered the high school seminary run by the Divine Word Missionaries in East Troy, Wisconsin, in 1966. After high school, and graduation from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa in 1974, Bro. Dennis worked two years in Japan. He entered the novitiate and professed first vows in 1977. He worked at the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, for six years before professing perpetual vows as a Divine Word Missionary. Bro. Dennis served for five years as Treasurer for St. Augustine Seminary in Mississippi and eleven years at Divine Word College in Iowa as Business Manager and National Vocation Director. He is currently Director of the Mission Office at the SVD Motherhouse in Techny, Illinois.
Following His Heart, Not the Rules
By Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD
Brother Paul Bongcaras, SVD, was already a bit unusual. In the early 1970s, when most Brothers did not have a college education, he was an academic. He got a reputation for being rebellious by moving out of the mission house and ministering in his spare time to the very poor in the slums of Cebu City, Philippines.
Bro. Paul’s first foray into the streets was to a home for street children run by the Peace Corps. When his provincial superior learned of this, he called Bro. Paul to his office and told him he had to stop. He was afraid Paul was putting his health and even his vocation at risk. Paul thought he was just “brothering.”
In 1977, Bro. Paul was missioned to Papua New Guinea. His heart and vocation soon led him to work among the “rascals,” the Papua New Guinea term for juvenile delinquents. Paul “brothered” there for fifteen years, until he was asked to return to the Philippines.
Back in the Philippines, Bro. Paul was given “respectable” work as a professor at Divine Word University in Tacloban City. Later he became the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and eventually the vice president for Academic Affairs. Bro. Paul was a pioneer. Few Divine Word Missionary Brothers had his academic background or were working at that level of educational management. Still, his heart drew him to be present to the poorest of the poor. His evenings were often spent in the streets, befriending addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless.
Every six years, the superior general for the Divine Word Missionaries in Rome sends a visitator to each Divine Word province throughout the world. The visitator examines the ministries and community life of the province and makes a report back to the superior general. In 2003, the Southern Philippine Province welcomed Father Leo Kleden, SVD, the general visitator. Much to Bro. Paul’s surprise, Fr. Kleden accompanied Paul on two evenings to see firsthand what he was up to.
When Fr. Kleden wrote his official report, he commended Paul for his work among the poor. He called it an important aspect of missionary activity. Bro. Paul’s silent ministry was officially “baptized.” The project became known as “Friends of the Poor and Marginalized.”
Today, Bro. Paul continues his work among the poor. Last year the ministry supported the
educational needs of 175 street and poor kids in elementary and secondary school. Many young people were rescued from a life of trafficking and prostitution and were given a chance to
learn a skill.
Bro. Paul’s “brothering” activities help hundreds of children who are society’s throwaways; he also inspires many young Brothers who feel called to serve the poor.