Chicago native lands key post in largest Catholic missionary order
(POSTED: 7/9/12) The Rev. Robert Kisala, a Chicago native and expert on religion in Japan, has been elected to the second highest post within the Society of the Divine Word, the world’s largest order of Roman Catholic missionary priests and brothers.
As vice superior general, Kisala will help lead the 6,000-plus men who are serving in more than 70 countries for the Divine Word, which has a Chicago Province based in north suburban Techny and is otherwise headquartered in Rome.
Kisala, 55, has held various leadership positions for the order, including provincial superior and, most recently, admonitor of the general council in Rome. He also spent more than 20 years in Japan where he earned a doctorate in religious studies from the University of Tokyo and served as a missionary, associate professor and author.
Hailing from Chicago, Kisala grew up in the Humboldt Park area. His father was a Polish immigrant who came to the U.S. after World War II and ended up in Chicago working in maintenance, first at St. Anne’s Hospital and later at Loretto Hospital. His mother, who was born in Chicago to Irish parents, took care of Kisala and his two brothers.
Being “Polish on one side and Irish on the other, we were very Catholic,” Kisala, who currently lives in Rome, wrote in an email to ChicagoCatholicNews.com. His family attended Mass every Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi parish, where Kisala used to serve as an altar boy. He and his brothers also went to grade school at St. Francis of Assisi and participated in daily Mass.
“The sisters were strict, but also kind and helpful. The priests were a somewhat distant reality,” Kisala said. “Religion was just a normal part of everyday life at home and in the neighborhood.”
At age 14, Kisala left the area to attend Divine Word High School, a minor seminary in Wisconsin. He went on to study at Divine Word College in Iowa and later at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
In 1981, Kisala became a Divine Word missionary and four years later he was ordained to the priesthood at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny.
Kisala said the example set by the priests and sisters he met as a boy played a role in his initial interest in the priesthood.
“Of course there were many times in high school and later in college, even in theology, when I questioned whether this was really what I should be doing, but the interest grew and matured, with the help of the Divine Word Missionaries I met from high school on,” he said.
Since moving to Rome in 2006, Kisala said he has learned more about the group’s missionary work in Africa, Latin America and Europe, and hopes through his new post to bring more people together from various cultural backgrounds.
“Wherever we are, we purposely try to have members from different cultures working together, as a witness to the diversity in the Church, a diversity that we think is part of God’s plan for the world,” he said.
By Katie Drews, for ChicagoCatholicNews.com