By Theresa Carson
On Aug. 6, nine young men professed religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. They are Derek Nguyen, Zachary Smith, Carl Gales, Theodore Nguyen, Hoc Mai, Luke Henkel, Luis Panuco-Carmona, Hai Pham and Jorge Zetino. Three of them have chosen the path of the brotherhood and will pursue higher education in the fall. The remaining six will enroll at Catholic Theological Union as seminarians preparing for the priesthood.
If you ask Jorge Zetino where he’s from, he’ll name a number of places. He is Guatemalan by birth and American by choice; he went to high school in Michigan, college in Iowa and now lives in Illinois.
However, that list barely begins to tell the story of where he has been. The first few lines of Jorge’s journey to the United States might sounds like a story heard before, but it’s not.
The youngest of his parents’ four sons, Jorge spent his formative years living on a farm in Guatemala, being raised by three strong women: his mother, aunt and grandmother. His father worked in the United States and Canada for much of the year, arriving home once in a while for a visit.
Life changed suddenly and dramatically for Jorge when he was 14. The father who had been physically absent for much of Jorge’s childhood, from whom he felt estranged, had a life-altering auto accident.
The elder Zetino remained in a coma for two months. Doctors gave him only a slim chance of surviving. Yet, through tears, prayers and Jorge’s mother’s formidable faith, his father lived. Now confined to a wheelchair and unable to be completely independent, Mr. Zetino needed his loved ones near, so the family pulled up stakes and moved to Wyoming, Mich., on the western side of the state.
Jorge transitioned through cultural changes, new family dynamics and life in an English-speaking environment. He excelled at Godwin Heights High School, a ten-minute walk from his home. There, he made a name for himself on the yearbook staff and in the National Honor Society.
During his senior year of high school, colleges and universities offered scholarships to him, but he had known since childhood that he wanted to be a missionary. He chose Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, where he double majored in philosophy and religious studies. Through the school, he did missionary work in Vietnam, Jamaica and Canada.
While in college, he took a class on Ignatian spirituality that changed him.
"I was touched to the very core when I researched the life of Ignatius of Loyola," he said. "Until then, I was not devoted to the saints. I am a Marian guy. Through Ignatius, I learned that all of us are called to be saints in our own way. This person, Ignatius, is very human in who he was and who he became. I can relate."
Through that discovery, Jorge’s spirituality shifted. "To be honest with myself and those guiding me, Ignatian spirituality and Ignatius of Loyola changed my life—the way I work, how I work with others, trying to do the best I can in everything," he said. "Here is someone whom I can use as my role model. He has been my companion."
Last year, Jorge completed his bachelor’s degree and began novitiate. At college, Jorge didn’t have access to nor was he in need of a car. Even if he did, he couldn’t have used it. He didn’t have a driver’s license.
After what happened to his father—and having been in two separate vehicle accidents—driving concerned Jorge. He promised himself that he would overcome that fear during his novitiate year. And he did.
"Once I overcame that fear, other fears melted away," said Jorge, who also lost more than 30 pounds and began writing for the Society of the Divine Word-Chicago Province blog.
At the novitiate, he found a place to "heal from past hurts and gain a deeper appreciation of the Divine Word Missionaries."
As one of his assigned ministries this year, he served as a tutor at the Life Learning Center, a resource center run by the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He worked with urban children, ages six to eight, some of whom could not read or write.
Before he started, he had doubts. "I grew up mostly interacting with people who are older than I am," he said. "I realized it’s a ministry I could do. I stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoy it."
He also worked alongside the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters at their thrift store, Little Mexico.
"We were getting rid of all the junk there, preparing it as another Life Learning Center," he said. When he told his mom about the project, she realized how much he must have enjoyed that ministry, too.
"I love letting go of things," he said. "One of the best things about being a Divine Word Missionary is having our sisters [Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters]. In them I see the sisters that I never had. They are strong women who are not afraid to speak their minds. I like and admire that."
He also expressed appreciation to his novice directors, Brother Rodney Bowers SVD and Father Bill Seifert SVD.
"They listened, understood, and tried to help and challenge me when I most needed it," he said. "I feel called to live in a community. It gives me a tremendous peace to know that there’s a beating heart next door."
Jorge’s journey continues this fall as he lives in the Divine Word Theologate and furthers his seminary studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
You can read more about Jorge’s story in his own words on the Society of the Divine Word-Chicago Province blog, Just Words and Divine Word Actions.