Francis Budenholzer, SVD
Fr. Frank Budenholzer, SVD is originally from Chicago. He professed First Vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1966 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1972. Fr. Frank is Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. He is also the current Provincial Superior for the China Province of the Society of the Divine Word.
Divine Word Missionaries operates six universities, all in the Asia-Pacific zone of our international community: Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan; Fu Jen University, Taipei, Taiwan; San Carlos University, Cebu, Philippines; Holy Name University, Bohol, Philippines; Widya Mandira Catholic University, Kupang, Timor, Indonesia; and Divine Word University, Madang, Papua New Guinea. In several of the countries, Divine Word Missionaries sponsors junior colleges and, in India, sponsors high-level research institutes, particularly in fields related to anthropology and missiology.
There are wide differences in these five institutions, reflecting the very different economic, technological, and educational situations of the populations they serve. All of the universities had their beginnings as Divine Word Missionary institutions after the closure of Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing as a Catholic institution in 1952. In the beginning, the institutions focused on their contributions to the developing countries where they were situated. Quality tertiary education was a scarce resource and the Divine Word Missionaries provided high-quality university education to many who, without our contribution, would not have had the opportunity. Another special characteristic of these institutions in the early years was the large number of Divine Word Missionary priests and Brothers, Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, and priests and religious from other congregations who taught and administered the universities.
Already in the 1970s, a gradual shift was taking place in international higher education. This is sometimes referred to as the “massification” of higher education. Beginning first in the United States but then spreading to Europe and much of the rest of the world, the opportunities for tertiary education increased dramatically. In some countries, this has been accompanied by a decrease in population growth, leading to what some would consider an oversupply of university resources.
For Divine Word Missionary universities, this shift has brought challenges, financial and otherwise. But challenges are often also opportunities. Catholic universities around the world were forced to ask what made them special as Catholic institutions. As put in a recent Divine Word publication “SVD Education Ministry as Mission of Dialogue” (SVD Generalate 2010): “Students in our schools—can they be recognized as products of an SVD institution?” It is a question being asking around the world in Catholic schools: What makes Catholic schools special? Are graduates of Catholic schools any different than graduates of other colleges and universities?
Another important event was the publication in August 1990 of the apostolic constitution on Catholic
universities by Pope John Paul II, often known by its Latin name Ex Corde Ecclessia
(From the Heart of the Church).
The document forced Catholic educators to ask what it meant for their college or university to be known as a Catholic college or university. Its Catholic character should permeate the institution in its teaching, research, service, and its institutional standing. Catholic character is not something confined to the chaplain’s office or to departments of theology.
Another challenge has been the decreasing numbers of religious and priests available for work in the Divine Word universities. Forty years ago, many teachers and most department chairpersons, deans, and presidents were religious or priests. Now, most are lay persons. But as with other challenges, this change is also an opportunity. All Christians are called by their baptismal promises to share their faith, not just religious and priests. Lay faculty and administrators are the partners
with Divine Word Missionaries and Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters in the field of education.
Divine Word Missionaries has added another dimension to the conversation on our particular role in education with the publication “SVD Education Ministry as Mission of Dialogue.” Prophetic dialogue has become the key concept for understanding our missionary apostolate. Dialogue implies a respectful listening to the other. In Asia and Oceania, this dialogue takes place between those of different religious traditions, different economic situations, different ethnic groups, and different nationalities. Universities and colleges are preeminent venues for such dialogue. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, and the various folk religious traditions are all represented among our students and faculty. In some of our universities, interreligious dialogue is carried out through high-level conferences and course offerings. In all of our universities, there is the “dialogue of life” where believers from various religious traditions share their life as a community of faculty, administrators, and students.
But dialogue does not mean we Divine Word Missionaries can forget our own faith commitment. Thus we speak of prophetic dialogue. In interreligious dialogue, we share our own faith in Jesus with others. Our faith commitment is not somehow “watered down.” Nor do we expect anything less of our dialogue partners. Our commitment to social justice and environmental stewardship must be maintained. Classes in topics such as professional ethics and activities to help the poor and disadvantaged are central to our university apostolate.
In facing these new challenges, Divine Word Missionary universities and colleges of Asia-Pacific cannot forget their roots. Quality education is central. Students must be helped to think independently and critically. They must also be provided with the education they need to serve society in whatever career they have chosen. Society needs good engineers, good lawyers, good teachers, good managers, and good scientists. But as graduates of a Catholic, Divine Word Missionary institution, we hope there is something more, namely, a commitment to caring for all people, a commitment to social justice and the integrity of creation. In many of our schools, very few of our students are Christian. For some, their university experience has led them to embrace the Christian faith. For other graduates, it is our hope that they leave our colleges and universities with a deep respect and better understanding of the Catholic tradition and an enhanced respect for all religious traditions.