Fr. Matheus Bitin Ro, SVD
“Mission does not have to be going off to distant lands to evangelize. Rather, most of the time, it is right where you are living.”
Fr. Matheus Ro, SVD, was born in Maubesi, a small town on Timor Island in Indonesia, one of 13 children. He came to the United States in 1996 and arrived at Divine Word College in Epworth the following year, graduating in December, 2001. Fr. Matheus spent his Cross-cultural Training Program in McDowell County, West Virginia, working in four parishes. He was ordained in Betun, Timor, on October 18, 2007. He now serves as the pastor of three parishes in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia: St. Thomas in Gassaway, Risen Lord in Clay and St. Ann in Webster Springs.
“The seed of missionary calling was planted in me during my years of serving and being with Fr. Paul Gootee, SVD,” says Fr. Matheus Ro, SVD, who was in middle school at the time. “I went on to spend four years in the high school seminary at Lalian, near Atambua. I decided then that I wanted to be a missionary – to travel the world and bring the Gospel to others.”
The 11th of 13 children, Fr. Matheus grew up in the small farming and fishing town of Kaubele, in Timor, Indonesia, where his father was a teacher and principal of the elementary school. Fr. Matheus worked with his brothers and sisters on the rice farm after school to help support their large family. Because the town’s main road was unpaved, the family also raised horses for transportation. “Riding horses was more practical and preferred by local people,” he says. “We used our horses for carrying our goods to market or transporting rice from the field to our home.” When they weren’t working, he adds, “My brothers and I would bring our horses to the dry sandy river bottom or beach for horse races.” Herding the family’s cows was another one of his childhood chores. Fr. Matheus remembers that “the experience of shepherding was particularly joyous and educational for me – teaching me to be responsible, loving and patient.”
After graduating from the high school seminary in 1993, Fr. Matheus entered the novitiate at Ruteng, Flores. But a series of unfortunate circumstances, including a bout with hepatitis B, resulted in his withdrawal from the novitiate. He felt he had lost his desire to become a missionary. During this time, in 1996, one of his brothers was in the United States studying at the University of Kentucky and invited Fr. Matheus to stay with him. “With courage and eagerness, I came to the U.S., thinking I would study and then go back to Indonesia and live a normal life,” he says. “I thought the call of priesthood and missionary life was over for me. I had applied to schools and even got a scholarship from a radio and TV broadcasting college in town. But God’s way is not our way.”
During this time of doubt and self-searching, Fr. Matheus was taking English courses at the University of Kentucky. One day while browsing the internet, he found the SVD logo and Divine Word College web link. “My heart was pounding,” he remembers. Curious, he clicked on the link and wrote down the toll-free number and Br. Dennis Newton’s name. “I felt like the prophet Jonah, who tried to run away from Yahweh. And like Jonah, I realized that I could not hide from God’s presence and His call.” After several social meetings with Br. Dennis, Fr. Matheus visited Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. “I knew then that I wanted to go back to the seminary and rediscover my missionary call,” he says.
After their long drive from Kentucky to DWC, his brother looked around and exclaimed to Fr. Matheus, “You traveled all the way from a rice farm village in Indonesia to come here? To a college surrounded by cornfields and cows?” Fr. Matheus remained silent amidst the laughter of his family. “Later,” he says, “I sent them a postcard depicting an Iowa farm scene.” On that postcard, he wrote, “God does not care where you study about Him and His mission – rice farm or cornfield – He has a way to teach us how to find His presence.”
Fr. Matheus graduated from DWC in 2002, and was ordained as an SVD missionary priest in Betun, Indonesia, on October 18, 2007. His mother passed away during the time he was preparing for his final vows and ordination. His father, now in his eighties, is retired. Fr. Matheus arrived in Gassaway, West Virginia, in November of 2007 to begin his first assignment as associate pastor of St. Thomas, St. Ann and Risen Lord parishes, all located in the Appalachians of West Virginia. In August of 2008, he became pastor of all three parishes.
Keeping busy with masses, religion classes, bible study and visits to the sick and homebound, Fr. Matheus says, “This is what I prepared for in those years at Epworth – to envision an idea of mission that is realistic and right at the center of God’s people.” He feels gratified by the warm welcome and acceptance of the Appalachian people. “It wipes away any difficulties,” he says. “It reminds me of my childhood, when the old American missionaries came to visit us. It gives me a good feeling that now – 20 years later – I can do the same for others.”