This is the seventh in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2012. The last issue of HNP Today featured Edwin Robinson, OFM.
GOIAS, Brazil — Donald Chin, OFM, a friar who has spent his entire ministry in Brazil, is among this year’s group of men celebrating their 50th anniversary of profession.
First assigned to Brazil in 1968, Donald describes himself as identifying most with the poor. He also jokingly refers to himself as having an “identity crisis” regarding his melting pot background.
He is the son of Chinese parents who obtained a British passport in Hong Kong and immigrated to Jamaica. Donald was born and raised in the Caribbean, attending Catholic grammar school and a Jesuit high school in Jamaica. He first met the Franciscans through his schooling, and fondly recalls the late Clement Healy, OFM, who started a parish near his home.
“In 1959, I went to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., against my parents’ wishes. They thought Catholicism was a ‘white man’ religion,” Donald said. In 1967, he was ordained at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. “Then I ended up in Brazil. I still have an identity crisis — Chinese, British, or Brazilian?”
He is currently on sabbatical from his ministry in the rural Paroquia Sagrado Coraçao de Jesus in Pires do Rio, Goiás. With a population of more than 30,000, there are six rural chapels and nine chapels (communities) plus the main church within the urban area.
Love of Mission Work
Donald’s assignments have been centered around parish ministry, and he has been an assistant pastor or pastor of several churches, mostly middle-class parishes. From 2010 to 2011, he served as the guardian of the house of formation in Goiania, the state capital. The house had approximately 10 students in vows and was connected to a parish of about 40,000 people, within an urban context, he said. He was also the provincial secretary and treasurer in Anápolis, for three years, ending in 2000. In the late ‘80s, he took a yearlong sabbatical to study at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.
Donald said he has always had a heart for mission work. “I always had a leaning for the missions, beginning from the missions in Jamaica. The late Alban Maguire, OFM, had asked me to go to Bolivia and I accepted, but somehow I landed in Brazil because of the incentives of classmates, Charles Miller, OFM, Gerry Mudd, OFM, and others.”
After 40 years in Brazil, Donald has seen many changes. “I would say at the present moment, we live a lifestyle of a middle-class Brazilian: breakfast, lunch and supper on the table and a car at your deposition. Most of our parishes are middle-class parishes. In the early days, life was very different and very simple. There was no telephone, radio, running water, light and asphalt. I would say that today we enjoy all the benefits of the modern world, including cell phones, TVs, and most of the comforts of home.”
The state of Goiás, he said, has made a giant leap into the 20th century, especially in the areas of literacy, health, communication, transport, and culture.
“Mission work has changed radically since my arrival. The places where we are now have become very urbanized with all the sophistication of the First World. There are schools everywhere, medical care, transport and asphalt. However, the lot of the poor continues to be the same.”
Feeling of Usefulness and Belonging
While life is “good” in Brazil, he said working with the poor is still the most rewarding. ”I have built houses with volunteer workers, made campaign for food baskets, and being present in their midst. The saddest thing here in the Third World is the feeling of helplessness before human suffering and seeing the poor condemned to a life without hope. The feeling of being useful and being loved is a real driving force and the main reason I continue.”
Living outside the United States for more than 40 years has left Donald somewhat out of contact with most of the friars, but the sense of belonging continues. “All the patrimony, legacy and ideals we have come from the Province. Personally, I feel the spiritual support of Holy Name and feel oneness with the Province. I am most grateful for the love and acceptance of both provinces, here and in New York. I am what I am because of them.”
He has remained close to fellow jubilarians John McVean, OFM, and Charley Miller, and to the Brazilian friars, and says he visits the United States once a year.
He considers his health to be a blessing and is happy to report that he takes “no pills.” He said he would like to continue to be as active as he has been, but realistically knows he will have to learn to slow down with the grace of God. When he retires, he would like to do more gardening, reading, visiting with families, and “hanging around at the street corners.”
He would like to be remembered in this world “as a person who is very compassionate and human, independent of my office. In all the places I have worked, I have tried to identify myself with the poor.”
“After 50 years of religious life, I have many more reasons to be thankful. It has been a lot ups and downs but more ups. I consider myself a successful minister in all the places I have worked and in the jobs I have undertaken.”
Donald and the other members of his profession class will be honored by Holy Name Province at its annual jubilee celebration in June.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.