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 Boromeo Shwe Pyi Soe.
Growing up in Kayah, Myanmar, near the border with Thailand, Boromeo Shwe Pyi Soe and his friends played games like other boys in the world’s rural areas. They spent time in the local creeks, capturing ants and frogs and making their own toys, fashioning animal figures out of clay and spitball guns from bamboo branches.
Although the population of Myanmar is 80 percent Buddhist, the State of Kayah is predominantly Catholic. It is the smallest and least developed state in his country. When missionaries visited Boromeo’s village generations ago, they earned the respect of the chief.
“Our culture is oriented in communal living,” said Boromeo. “We have a chief and do things communally not individually, so when the chief decided maybe we should try that religion, all the villagers agreed and were baptized on the same day.”
Boromeo is a fourth-generation Catholic. He became active in his church community at an early age. A desire to be an altar server stirred in him as he prepared for First Communion, and when he reached the require height of three feet tall, he fulfilled that calling.
Boromeo admits that his family pampered him as a child. He has six older sisters and a younger brother.
“I felt so lucky to grow up with a lot of sisters because they took good care of their younger brothers,” he said with a radiant smile. “I saw the world as a joyful place. I really didn’t have to take care of myself. My sisters took care of food and laundry.”
He describes his parents as loving, devoted people who attended Mass regularly. They raised their children in the faith and sent all of them to school.
“When all of my sisters went to school, I felt lonely,” said Boromeo, now age 24. “I started to go with them, to sit in their class with them. The president of the school suggested to my dad that he enroll me in the kindergarten, too.”
Boromeo grew up speaking his village’s native language, so the first two years of school were difficult because he did not know the Burmese language. In time, he learned. His desire to learn also grew, but his village did not have a secondary school. When he finished middle school, Boromeo asked to attend St. John the Baptist Seminary, a boarding school in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah. Despite initial loneliness, Boromeo felt a strong calling to the priesthood.
With time, he realized that some of his fellow classmates felt the disconnection from family that he did. Instead of expecting others to reach out to him, he extended an invitation to fellowship with them.
Boromeo continues to approach new experiences with open-mindedness and enthusiasm. In 2014, his bishop chose him and fellow seminarian Roger Kyaw Thu to study in the United States. They graduated from Divine Word College in 2018.
Boromeo relished new experiences—from meeting people from other lands to trying exotic foods, such as jalapeno ranch dressing and buffalo hot sauce. He said that being in the United States has opened his eyes. When he left Myanmar, the country had not yet established a widespread infrastructure for the internet. Boromeo had access to a computer at an internet café at which customers paid by the hour, but he did not have one at home or school.
“In my country, I never used a computer for school,” he said. “It was something that I couldn’t imagine.”
In the fall, Boromeo’s faith journey goes on as he enrolls in Catholic Theological Union and continues his priestly studies.