Steve DeWitt Describes Ministry in South America as ‘Extremely Fulfilling’

Rebecca Doel Friar News

As part of the formation process, prior to his solemn profession of vows, each Holy Name friar completes a yearlong internship, immersed in a Province ministry. This is the second in a series of profiles of those student friars currently in their internship year. The first, about Daniel Horan, OFM, appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of HNP Today

LIMA, Peru — “My internship year has been a little unusual,” said Stephen DeWitt, OFM, who has been serving at Parroquia Santa Ana, or St. Anne’s Parish, since December.

Unlike his fellow interns — Daniel Horan, Frank Critch, OFM, and Dwayne Fernandes, OFM — who arrived at their ministry sites at the start of the summer, Stephen spent the first six months in Cochabamba, Bolivia, strengthening his grasp of the Spanish language.

Learning at the Maryknoll Language Institute
“A typical day started at 6:45 a.m. with an hour of Morning Prayer and meditation with the friars I lived with. After that, I would head to Maryknoll for four hours of classes. Then, I would spend my afternoons back at the friary, studying and exploring the city.” His evenings were a mix of community time at the friary and lectures or activities at the language institute. It is his second time at the institute, as he and Dan spent their 2008 summer assignment there.

“I was able to work with the local chapter of Franciscans International and HNP alumnus Ignatius Harding, OFM, and make some minor contributions to the ecology work they were doing.”

Steve acknowledged there are some difficulties that come with living in a country where you must communicate in a second language. “The biggest challenge is how tiring it can be,” he said. “I often find that by the end of the day, I am exhausted and following a conversation in Spanish becomes increasingly difficult.”

However, he says the good outweighs the bad. “Despite these challenges, I have found this experience to be extremely fulfilling and personally affirming.”

Serving at Parroquia Santa Ana
Aside from a brief time away from the parish for the Province’s Chapter in January, Steve, a St. Bonaventure University graduate who will turn 29 next month, has been immersed in church ministry since December. “My work here is varied and usually pretty interesting,” he said.

He already feels the internship has allowed him to “get to know the people I am working with and for” so he has a better sense of their lives. This close involvement in a parish community, although temporary, has made Steve “look forward to a time when I will have the opportunity to spend years in a place being part of people’s lives and being able to develop ministries.”

So what has the Buffalo, N.Y., native noticed about life in South America? “In both Bolivia and Peru, I have found Franciscan life to be simpler,” he said, adding: “I think this is a reflection on the culture. In my experience, Franciscan life tends to mirror the communities in which we live.”

He has also noticed that St. Anne’s, where Anthony Wilson, OFM, is pastor, does not encounter the typical summer slow-down many U.S. parishes experience. “Then though I arrived in the middle of summer down here — the seasons are the reverse of what they are in the United States — Santa Ana is a very active place, and I enjoy the opportunity to be part of many different activities.”

Writing ‘A Franciscan Abroad’
Shortly before he departed for Bolivia, Steve created his blog, “A Franciscan Abroad.”

“My original intention was to write and reflect on my time in Bolivia and Peru. However, in the interim between the beginning of my internship and when I launched the blog, I began writing about social justice issues that interested me,” he said.

Steve believes social media — like blogs, Facebook and Twitter — “are all fruitful areas for evangelization and places where friars should be involved.” But he cautions: “We need to be realistic about what social media is and is not. Services like Facebook and Twitter are wonderful ways to communicate, organize, brainstorm and share information. They are not, however, a substitute for physical community and action in the world. Our ultimate goal is to create physical communities dedicated to worshipping God and building his kingdom here on earth.”

Although he has several months left before completing his time in Peru, Steve said he feels “blessed to have the opportunity to be down here, to study Spanish and to work in and experience a different culture.” It is an experience he would recommend to any considering spending time in South America, and it is one he hopes will continue following his solemn profession — which he will make this summer — and ordination.

“I am doing a lot of interesting things here, but the real need is for ordained ministers,” he said. “I have come to know and love the community and found that life in the missions agrees with me. I feel I could do some necessary and personally fulfilling pastoral work in Peru as a Franciscan priest.”

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.