Largest Catholic missionary order names new provincial leader

Ascheman Father Tom new provincial Feb 25 2011
Fr. Thomas J. Ascheman, SVD
February 28, 2011

Contact: Theresa Carson, (847) 412-1606

Rev. Thomas J. Ascheman, SVD, has been named provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province, the missionary order’s largest administrative unit in the Western Hemisphere.

For decades, Father Ascheman, 56, has been a voice for people who live in poverty and at the margins of society. He has worked on the grassroots level in the barrios of Mexico, as well as in the highest administrative body of the Society of the Divine Word in Rome.

For 12 years, Father Ascheman served as Generalate Mission Secretary. As mission secretary, he worked closely with the superior general (the worldwide leader of the religious order) and his council to plan and coordinate the Society of the Divine Word’s missionary endeavors in 71 countries. Those efforts address the needs of communities in which the 6,000-plus Divine Word Missionaries live and serve.

They provide services that range from pastoral care in remote areas to building schools and medical clinics to developing social programs that provide food, clothing and shelter.

For the past three years, while serving as a parish priest at St. Patrick Church in Fort Wayne, Father Ascheman has helped to raise the awareness of the daily struggles that immigrants face in Indiana. St. Patrick, a large Hispanic, Vietnamese and Anglo parish, sponsors a food bank, a free clinic, and many educational and cultural programs to help people live a fuller life.

Upon returning to the United States in late 2006, Father Ascheman took a one-year sabbatical at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. During that time, he gave talks, wrote and worked with the Hispanic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

The Des Moines, Iowa, native holds dual bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and mathematics, two master’s degrees and a doctorate. He has been a member of the Society of the Divine Word since 1977, studied at Nanzan University in Japan, received his theological education at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and fulfilled his cross-cultural training program in Mexico. In 1982, he was ordained to the priesthood by Most Rev. Joseph Francis, SVD.

For his first assignment, Father Ascheman taught theology at Divine Word College in Epworth before going to Washington, D.C., to pursue his doctorate. Father Ascheman earned his Ph.D. in religion and culture from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. While working on his doctorate, he also served as a pastor in a Spanish-speaking parish and as North American inter-province coordinator for justice and peace.

In 1991, the Society of the Divine Word again assigned him to Mexico, where he taught and lived for four years with theological students in one of the outlying, economically challenged neighborhoods of Mexico City. From Mexico, he was called to Rome.

Father Ascheman will succeed Rev. Mark Weber, who served two terms as provincial superior. Under Father Weber’s leadership, the Chicago Province became accredited by Praesidium, an independent national organization that maintains standards for protecting children from abuse.

During Father Weber’s six years as provincial superior, Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center was renovated and the Techny Land Corporation—which oversees the development and use of hundreds of acres that are owned by the religious order—saw the successful development of its largest land parcel, Willow Festival, a popular collection of more than 25 retail stores and restaurants.

Father Ascheman’s three-year term will begin on June 1, 2011. As provincial superior, he will oversee activities of the Society of the Divine Word from Nebraska to Massachusetts and from Montréal to Montserrat. For more information, call Theresa Carson at (847) 412-1606.