By Theresa Carson
On Aug. 3, six young men professed religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. One has chosen the path of brotherhood formation. The other five are seminarians. All six will begin coursework at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in the fall. Today, we introduce you to Roger Kyaw Thu.
Roger is not a common name in Myanmar. In fact, Divine Word seminarian Roger Kyaw Thu met only one other Burmese man named Roger, and the story only begins there.
When Roger, now 27, was baptized his father was away for work, and his mother was at a loss as to what to name her son, so she asked the resident pastor. He said name him Roger, and so she did.
Years later, when the young man happened to meet the priest again, he asked the meaning behind his name. The priest told him that he had named him after his favorite actor who played Agent 007, Roger Moore. Roger suspects the priest named the other Roger, too.
Roger grew up in a rural area in a mountainous region. He is his parent’s second child and eldest son of seven children. Much was expected of him. Instead of being carefree like some of the other children in his village, he had many afterschool chores. His family’s farm is located outside their village. He fed the pigs, tended to chickens, cooked rice and harvested corn and onions.
“My world was very small,” he said of his village of about 200 houses. “We were very isolated. We didn’t really know the outside world. We thought everyone was Catholic.”
Later in life, he had an opportunity to travel and realize how large the world is. When he was a child, his parents expressed their desire for him to become a priest, but like many children, he took the suggestion lightly.
“In my country, it’s popular for kids to go to a boarding school,” he said of his school of about 60 students. “We have only two rooms. One room is a dormitory; one is a classroom.”
At the boarding school, the pastor inspired him by his piety and example. Roger wanted to follow in the priest’s footsteps. Since Roger was shy, he did not talk to the priest but instead silently prayed at a Marian shrine.
However, recognizing Roger’s potential, the priest approached the young man and asked him if he was interested in attending the minor seminary. He jumped at the opportunity.
While at school, Roger stayed connected with his family. Although his village was ten miles away, Roger would walk home. When he graduated to intermediate seminary, he moved up to a bicycle. Once a month on a Sunday, he biked four hours roundtrip to visit his family.
When the local bishop chose Roger to attend school in the United States, the young man’s first thought turned to his family. He admits that the first couple years away from his family proved difficult. When he began studying in the United States in 2014, Myanmar did not yet have wi-fi that allowed internet access by cellphones. But he found ways to keep in touch. Last year, he completed a degree at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa.
In the novitiate, he ministered to homebound parishioners of St. Norbert in Northbrook, Ill. He appreciates the hospitality of those he served.
“I came in the name of God, so they accepted me. When people learn that I am a seminarian, they are very welcoming. They want to talk with me and they invite me to their homes,” he said. “It changed everything. Sometimes, I’m amazed that while I left my family behind, when I came here, I had many families that treat me as part of their family. It is a blessing.”
Roger will continue his path to the priesthood by continuing his studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.