On Aug. 8, seven young men professed first vows at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. They come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Togo, the United States and Vietnam. During their novitiate year together, they prayed, reflected and discerned God’s call. Today, we’d like you to make the acquaintance of Fransiskus Santoso.
Frater Fransiskus Santoso took a bite out of the Big Apple and learned valuable life lessons in return
By Theresa Carson
Fransiskus Santoso left his Indonesian home at age 25 and arrived in New York City with $500 in his pocket, the phone number of a pen pal he’d never met, and determination.
The date was Nov. 5, 2001. He arrived in the middle of a national crisis. “The city was still in a lot of chaos after 9/11,” he said. Nonetheless, he built a life in the midst of that chaos and uncertainty.
Life in New York was not easy. On his first day in the Big Apple, he walked 24 blocks in search of a job. In a Manhattan floral shop, he talked the owner into giving him a chance as a deliveryman. Since he had no experience and limited knowledge of the English language, they agreed that his employment would be determined on a daily basis.
In Indonesia, his family had a housekeeper. He never had to do household chores, but New York was completely different. “If I was still in Indonesia, I’d be spoiled,” said the man who learned to do laundry by going to a laundromat and watching others. “I would never have learned about anything—taking a subway or bus, cooking, doing laundry. New York gave me a lot, made me a stronger person, and taught me how to depend upon God.”
With the $500 he took to New York, he put money down on part of a tiny apartment—$250 for the housing deposit and $250 for the first month’s rent. Literally penniless, he borrowed $20 from his pen pal for food for the week and survived on bread and sugar.
After a week of working in the flower shop, the owner hired him. Three months later, she closed the shop. She gave him a month’s salary as severance to help him survive in the big city. It tided him over until he found a job with a dry cleaner, the drop-off kind. “I had to input information into a computer and learn all the terms for the clothes,” he said. Not an easy task for someone who was still learning English.
For the next seven years, Fransiskus worked his way up through retail and service industry jobs until he had a steady union position with Gramercy Park Hotel.
Born in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Fransiskus is one of three children and his parents’ only son. His family practices Buddhism, but as youths, he and his sisters attended a Catholic school in Semarang, Central Java, operated by the Sisters of Providence from Munster, Germany. Impressed with a Jesuit missionary, Fransiskus decided to become Catholic.
“Jesus is the only one who says I’m the way of life,” he said. “I was attracted [to Catholicism] because of the kindness of the sisters. I felt at home at the Catholic school. They never preached to us but showed their faith by example–like Pope Francis.”
At first his mother said, no, but later agreed as long as he did not become a priest. She wanted her only son to carry on the family name.
At age 16, Fransiskus became baptized and chose to study hotel management, a tract that served him well in the United States. For nearly a decade in America, he tried to save money so he could send it to his mom.
He took a second job at a banquet hall called Cipriani. There, he met the likes of Denzel Washington, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama. The banquet hall had a policy of no autographs, no photographs, but Fransiskus didn’t mind.
“When I have my picture taken with someone, I want it to be a mutual relationship,” he said.
In addition to work at Cipriani and Gramercy Park Hotel, he was a dog walker. For eight years, he worked one job from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then the next from 6 to 11 p.m. In between, he attended daily Mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan at 4:30 p.m.
“As a New Yorker, you can sleep anywhere,” he said. “I slept on the subway, standing. I prayed that I would wake up before my station.”
By 2008, he knew that the religious life was still calling him. “This is the time I need to quit my job and pursue my vocation,” he said. “I worked and made money, but I felt empty. It was hard to leave a good job, an easy job where I made a lot of money without having a higher education.”
Through discernment and prayer, he came to the Society of the Divine Word and felt that it was the right fit. Leaving his steady union jobs with their regular salary increases was difficult. It reminded him of his first night in New York City, he said, “Scary, filled with the unknown.”
In 2009, he bravely took the first step towards religious life. He went to the Trappist monastery in Conyers, Ga., to prayer about his decision. “My spiritual director said, ‘If you give your life to God, He will never abandon you.’”
Later, Fransiskus met Divine Word Father Lukas Batmomolin and enrolled in Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. He graduated from the college in 2014 and began his year in novitiate.
As a novice, he had time to discern his vocation, focus on spiritual reading, take part in workshops with novices from other religious orders, and spend holidays with Divine Word communities. Reflecting upon four Christmases with Divine Word Father Vincent Alexius and the people of St. Paul the Apostle parish in Baton Rouge, he said, “St. Paul is the best place to fall in love with Jesus.”
For his ministry as a novice, Fransiskus spent time with the retired members of the Society of the Divine Word and their female counterparts, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.
“My mom was afraid that no one will take care of me when I’m old, but if I give my life to Jesus, Jesus will take care of me,” he said. “My mom loves me but did not agree with my decisions until now. What a joy it is for me to be a Divine Word Missionary.”
Today, at age 39, he is the eldest of seven men who professed vows on Aug. 8. He finds the date of the ceremony meaningful because it is the feast of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. This fall, his journey continues as he begins classes at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Article posted: August 15, 2015