Fr. Herman Emilio Manuel, SVD
Born in 1958 in the Philippines, Fr. Herman thought of becoming a priest as a young child. But when it came time to enter the high school seminary, his mother died. He and his father decided it was not the right time for him to pursue his vocation – he would do it later in life. Fr. Herman proceeded to follow in the footsteps of his parents. His mother was a pharmacist and his father a doctor. At 23, Fr. Herman began working in the Philippines as a registered pharmacist. Five years later, he immigrated to the United States where he began a pharmacist intern program while he simultaneously worked in a bank to support himself. By 1997, Fr. Herman was still considering the idea of the priesthood and entered seminary formation in the Associate Program at Divine Word College. He completed his required philosophy courses, professed first vows in 1999 after a year of novitiate, and began his theology studies. As required, Fr. Herman took time off from his studies to perform active ministry. He served as a physical education teacher at an elementary school in New Iberia, Louisiana, for one year before returning to his theology studies. Fr. Herman professed final vows as a Divine Word Missionary in September 2003 and was ordained to the priesthood in June of 2004. His first assignment is as an associate pastor in a parish in Oakland, California.
Community life is learning to live with others
Living with men from different cultures was the most important learning experience I had during my training at the Theologate. I gained insight about my brothers by observing their close family ties, their struggles, their origins, their inspiring vocation stories and their respect not only for their own people but for all peoples of the world.
At the Theologate, where there were forty-five of us who came from more than ten different cultures, I heard many different languages spoken. I appreciated more kinds of music and art and my choices of food greatly increased. I ate fufu from Ghana, borscht soup from Russia, chile relleño from Mexico and arroz valenciana from Spain. What an enriching cultural experience!
When I first came to the Society, I knew only two kinds of food: Filipino and American. Now that I have discovered the famous Vietnamese pho soup and the Chinese dumplings that I enjoy so much, I can’t seem to get enough of them. Whenever I visit my sister and her family in Los Angeles, they either bring me to some Vietnamese restaurants or to Chinatown.
It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (i.e., food). The first thing that usually comes to my mind is gratitude to our Lord that he has called me to be a missionary. It seems our Lord really loves me because he has nourished me with so many kinds of foods coming from different parts of the world.
Before I lived at the Theologate, when I was invited for dinner by someone who was not Filipino, I would think twice before going. But, now I know that Divine Word Missionaries never think twice about eating whatever food is cooked by our brothers from different cultural backgrounds. Seeing how eager my brothers have been to share what their cultures offer has enhanced my appreciation for my own Filipino cultural heritage and has increased my willingness to share it.
Another important aspect of our multicultural training was how we established friendly relationships with one another. We had social gatherings on Thursday nights, special celebrations like Lunar New Year and Filipino night. We observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. During these celebrations we shared stories from our homelands and in the process gained a better sense of our own identities. We listened to one another’s struggles and challenges in life. We reached out to help others who were doing papers for courses at Catholic Theological Union. We incorporated songs from various cultures in our liturgies. Through this extensive learning process we prepared for our lives as Divine Word Missionaries.
Being with men who were deeply rooted in other cultures challenged me to examine the history of the Philippines and other parts of the world to learn more about myself and about my brothers. No matter how widely our countries of origin were separated by vast bodies of water, mountain ranges or different time zones, I saw more similarities than differences in the human race. I realized that we all have our own ways of respecting our families, appreciating our countries’ wealth, celebrating transitions in our lives and relating to human suffering. At the Theologate we recognized one another as brothers belonging to one family—the Arnoldus Family. Though we had many different kinds of faces, we only had one heart as Divine Word Missionaries because according to St. Arnold Janssen, “Jesus’ life is our life, Jesus’ mission is our mission."