ALLOUEZ — Bishop Tomás Alejo of the Diocese of San Juan de La Maguana, Dominican Republic, delivered a simple, heartfelt message at the close of Mass on Sept. 30 in St. Joseph Chapel on the Diocese of Green Bay campus. Through Fr. Mike Seis, who served as his interpreter, Bishop Alejo expressed his gratitude for a nearly 60-year friendship: It was 1963 when the Diocese of Green Bay began operation of a mission in the province of Elías Piña in the Dominican Republic.
“I’m very grateful for that relationship and Bishop (David) Ricken’s enthusiasm for the mission,” said Bishop Alejo in an interview with The Compass following the liturgy. “I’m very happy that Bishop Ricken expressed that he wants to continue the relationship between the two dioceses.”
Bishop Alejo, who was ordained a bishop on Jan. 16, 2021, and Fr. Seis, who has directed the diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic for nearly 26 years, traveled to Wisconsin to mark the 40-year anniversary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s mission in the San Juan Diocese. An anniversary Mass was celebrated on Oct. 5 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee.
Bishop Ricken plans to travel to Elías Piña in 2023. Mission trips to the Dominican Republic have been postponed until 2023 due to the pandemic, including a group from the Diocese of Green Bay that initially intended to build a chapel in 2021. Twenty concrete block chapels have been built for the mission by diocesan volunteers, including eight by deacon-led groups.
“There are a few more chapels to do, but that part of it will be coming to an end eventually,” said Fr. Seis, who serves as vicar general for the Diocese of San Juan and is pastor of two parishes, Santa Teresa in Elías Piña and San Ysidro in El Llano.
The Dominican Republic is making progress in the fight against COVID-19, Fr. Seis added.
“They have done pretty well with vaccinations,” he said. “More than half of the population has been (fully) vaccinated.”
“The church helped support that and (educate) people about the vaccine,” said Bishop Alejo, who has previously made visits to the United States, including to Boston, New Jersey, New York, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Elías Piña borders Haiti, which was struck by an earthquake in August. Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in June.
“The border is open and normal trade on Mondays and Fridays is open,” said Fr. Seis. “The relationship between the two governments is actually pretty good. At first, after the assassination, there was more control on the border. With the earthquake, the Dominican Catholic Church did a national collection. All the parishes in the country did a collection for Haiti.”
Fr. Seis ministers to an estimated 90,000 people in approximately 90 settlements throughout the province. Bishop Alejo, who succeeded Bishop Emeritus José Grullón, described the mission area as “poor spiritually and economically.”
“A lot of it has to start with formation, a process of formation,” he said about helping people grow in faith. “We need to look at catechesis and evangelization, the basics.”
Bishop Alejo said he hopes to start a Catholic university in the Diocese of San Juan. He also wants to build a center for formation.
“There is really no good place to bring people together for formation,” said Fr. Seis. “There is no conference center.”
A nursing home is another need in the Diocese of San Juan. There are currently no facilities to serve the elderly.
“If you don’t have family, it’s rough,” said Fr. Seis.
“It’s a big problem,” said Bishop Alejo. “We have 7,400 square kilometers (2,857 square miles), so it’s an extensive area. It’s a major need.”
Fr. Seis provided an update on mission projects.
“We have done more water projects. The (aquaduct) pump will be solar-powered,” he said. “We are still finishing up our construction of nine classrooms,” he continued, which are at the polytechnical high school. It serves 765 students and offers programs in agriculture, administration, logistics and nursing. The elementary school in Elías Piña has 500 students. The children attend either morning or afternoon sessions.
A recreational sports court, donated by and named for Bishop Emeritus Robert Banks, received some recent care, said Fr. Seis. It is located on the Santa Teresa Church property.
“They fixed it up again. They painted it up,” he said.
Fr. Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep and Fr. Tom Reynebeau, who both served in the Dominican Republic, concelebrated at the Sept. 30 Mass.
“Our diocese really started with American missionaries. They were Redemptorist priests,” said Bishop Alejo. “I’m so grateful to the Diocese of Green Bay for its support and the priests (who have served the mission).”
Fr. Seis said that his future serving in the Diocese of San Juan is “in God’s hands.”
“(Fr. Seis) has that missionary spirit,” said Bishop Alejo.
“He’s my counselor,” he added in reference to Fr. Seis’ role as vicar general.
The new bishop of the Diocese of San Juan emphasized that Fr. Seis precisely interpreted his closing statement, word for word, for The Compass.
“Fr. Mike is a very special priest and all the priests love him down there,” he said.
To support the Diocese of Green Bay mission in the Dominican Republic, make checks payable to CF-World Missions. In the memo line, write “Project Book” page number and project number (see below). Mail donations to: World Mission Services, P.O. Box 22128, Green Bay WI 54305-2128. For credit card donations, visit catholicfoundationgb.org/give.
Information and photos for the solar water project, home repairs and the latrine project are featured on page 3 of the new 2022-2024 World Mission Services Projects Booklet. To view the booklet, visit catholicfoundationgb.org/projects or contact Cindy St. Aubin at [email protected] or (920) 272-8192 to request a copy.