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Optimism and humor drew others to educator who became provincial superior

 
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Father Joseph Detig, two-time provincial superior of the Western Province (USA) and an educator in Taiwan and the Philippines, died Feb.12 at Techny, Ill.

The son of an immigrant, Father Detig, 85, had a gift for assimilating into the cultures in which he was assigned.

“His joyful personality radiated happiness. He demonstrated a welcoming hospitality to all who came and a willingness to serve and help wherever needed,” said Father Raymond Lennon SVD, provincial superior from 1982 to 1990 and rector of Divine Word’s Bordentown (New Jersey) Community when Father Detig lived there.

“I admire his spirit of openness, trust and willingness to see God in his life and in his religious superiors who gave him a variety of assignments in his missionary life,” Father Lennon said. “I admire how he put all of his heart and enthusiasm into meeting any demands made of him and how he kept a positive outlook in all that he did.

“He could laugh and move on if there were some difficult situations,” Father Lennon continued. “What you saw in him was who he was. And for that reason, many who knew him found God, perhaps not so much through what he said but simply for being the person he was. He was that light that gave people the chance to find God and peace.”

Joseph Detig was born in Cheektowaga, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo in 1935, the elder of Anne (nee Doucette) and Edward Detig’s two children.

He entered the Society of the Divine Word at Girard, Penn., in 1949 and professed religious vows in 1955, discerning his vocation while reading the works of Divine Word Missionaries like Father Edward Edwards.

As a seminarian, he volunteered for an academic exchange and finished his final four years of theology at St. Augustin in Siegburg, Germany, his father’s homeland. In 1962, he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Augustin with his father’s eight siblings present.

After completing a master’s degree in English literature at Catholic University of Washington, D.C., Father Detig went to Taiwan, where he served as an administrator and English professor at Fu Jen Catholic University.

A year later, he was assigned to the Philippines—first to work at San Carlos University in Cebu and then Divine Word University of Tacloban in Tacloban City, Leyte. Again, he juggled more than one role. The Divine Word University of Tacloban had 5,000 college students in programs that included nursing and engineer and an additional 2,000 in elementary and high school. While there, Father Detig served as English professor and dean of Arts and Sciences.

In 1977, he returned to the United States and was assigned as a vocation director at Divine Word Seminary at Miramar in Duxbury, Mass. During the 1970s, enrollment at high school seminaries declined, so Father Detig inaugurated the Home Seminary Program, which gave high schools students an opportunity to consider the priestly vocation while continuing to live at home with their parents.

In 1979, duty once again called. To his surprise and that of his Eastern Province provincial, Divine Word Missionaries in the Western Province elected Father Detig to lead them as rector of the order’s Riverside Community in California.

“They had met him at a Divine Word vocation meeting. Many were impressed with his down-to-earth sincerity, spontaneity, goodness and evident leadership qualities,” Father Lennon said. “They sensed he was the kind of a person they wanted to live with in community. Three years later, others in the Western Province also got to know him and saw how he treated confreres—their problems and concerns—with a personal interest and respect that put one at ease, so they elected him their provincial superior for two terms.”

As provincial superior of the Western Province, Father Detig oversaw the administration of missionaries who served in the dioceses of Oakland and San Bernardino and in the archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco. He also made the decision to move the headquarters of the Western Province from Los Angeles to Riverside, Calif.

In 1987, after many years in administrative work, Father Detig longed to be a parish priest. He was transferred to the Southern Province and served as pastor of St. Anthony in Lafayette, La., for nine years and Our Lady of the Rosary in Jeanerette, La., for six years.

When Father Detig was transferred to the Chicago Province for retirement, he became a member of the Divine Word Community at Bordentown. In 2014, for health reasons, he moved to Techny.

Father Detig is survived by his sister, Marguerite Groves; niece Christine Cronin; and nephews Erich, David and Mark Groves.

His wake will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, followed by the Mass of the Resurrection at 10:30 a.m. in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny. Due to COVID-19 protocol, attendance will be limited. The funeral will be livestreamed at: https://youtu.be/peovYrMruB0.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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