When Engelbertus Salmon was a child, his family of eight lived in a modest four-bedroom home in Indonesia. Each week, they attended Mass at a parish operated by The Society of the Divine Word.
When he was just five, Engelbertus recalls watching in awe as the bread was transformed into the body of Christ and the wine turned to His blood. In the Indonesian culture, parishioners serve impressive banquets when they host clergy for a meal in their homes, treating them with great respect. Engelbertus said he was sure that he wanted to a priest, so he was excited to share the big news.
“I told my parents but they didn’t care about it because they said ‘you are still a child and you don’t understand about being a priest,’” he said.
The desire in his heart was silenced.
As Engelbertus grew older, his dreams changed and so did his priorities. He pushed aside his thoughts about the priesthood and replaced them with aspirations to be a teacher, police officer, doctor or singer.
In the meantime, his father was looking for ways that the family could be of service to others, despite their limited financial means. He started offering temporary shelter to job seekers until they could secure employment.
Frt. Engelbertus' parents
“I was upset with my father because he allowed people I didn’t know to stay in our home. My father spent a lot of money to give them food and drinks,” Engelbertus recalls. “My father said to me, ‘it’s important because they need help. You’re upset with the situation but maybe in the future, there will be people who would do something like this for us.’”
His father’s words did little to change his mind at the time but a missionary seed was planted.
In junior high school, Engelbertus developed a close relationship with his school formator, an SVD priest who encouraged him to become an altar server. Standing at the front of church at each Mass, he witnessed the consecration up close.
The call to the priesthood tugged at his heart again but this time he kept his feelings to himself.
As his 2012 graduation approached, Engelbertus secretly took a seminary entrance exam for senior high school without telling his parents. Two weeks later the results arrived – he was accepted.
“On the first side, I was happy with it but on the other side, I worried how to tell my parents,” he said.
When he mustered the courage to tell them, he said they were surprised but reacted differently than when he shared his call with them as a five-year-old. This time, they told him that his future was his to choose, so they agreed to send him to the seminary and foot the bill.
Engelbertus started senior high school but three years later he says he lost his call to vocation. He didn’t want to become a priest anymore. With just one year left before his graduation, he revealed to his father that he had changed his mind.
Despite the expensive tuition, Engelbertus said his father encouraged him to stay at school and finish his education before making a final decision about his call to religious life. The reaction came as a huge surprise and relief.
In his final year at the school, Engelbertus focused on his studies by writing papers, completing assignments and taking exams. At the end of the academic year, students attended a one-week retreat to reflect on their call to vocation.
Each day, he prayed, meditated and spent an hour alone in adoration. He spoke with his spiritual director and looked deep within himself before deciding. What he found was that he still felt called by God to be a priest and the seed of mission his father planted many years earlier had grown into a desire to serve the poor around the world.
“I like the SVDs because of the interculturality and the attention to the poor,” he said. “I wrote a letter to the provincial of the SVDs asking to join the Society. Amazingly, I was approved to be a novice.”
In 2016, he entered novitiate. Each day, he spent more than an hour praying to God and reflecting on his vocation. One day when his father came to visit, he asked his son about the status of his vocation. Engelbertus felt offended that his own dad would question him like this but assured his father that he was certain he was in the right place.
Then in his second year, doubt began to creep into his mind again. Engelbertus started to wonder whether he was capable of making a decision and sticking with it. Again, he sought advice from his teachers, talking with the formators at novitiate and asking for their guidance. They encouraged him to reflect again on his call.
When he did, he was overwhelmed as he flashed back on the moments in his life that God reached out to him: the 5-year-old who was captivated by consecration, the 7-year-old who tried to suppress the calling to focus on other careers, the 11-year-old who felt proud to serve at the altar alongside an SVD priest. He felt that God was lifting him up in this difficult time and ultimately decided to continue his education.
In August 2018, Engelbertus took his First Vows.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” he said.
After that, he started studying at the Catholic Institute of Philosophy Ledalero in Indonesia where he earned good grades and worked for a magazine, tapping into his natural talent for writing. His achievements earned him a recommendation to study abroad at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa where he’d have an opportunity to expand his knowledge of the English language before continuing his studies in philosophy and theology. It was also an exciting chance to try his hand at living in a new culture.
“I like the SVDs because of the interculturality and the attention to the poor,”
Prepared to strike out on his first international trip, Engelbertus accepted and this winter he traveled to the United States to begin his studies at DWC. While he’s still adjusting to a new way of life and misses his friends and family back home, Engelbertus said he enjoys his classes and is forming new friendships. He’s also happy to report that he is confident in his vocation and looks forward to continuing his education.
“Most importantly, I hope to be ordained as an SVD priest so I can go work wherever God sends me through my provincial,” he said. “I want to work in every place in the world and encounter a lot of experiences in new places.”