Fr. Kyle Shinseki, SJ, celebrated his first public Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Lihue, Kauai, on June 17. (Anna Weaver)
Newly Ordained Jesuit Father Kyle Shinseki Returns Home to Hawaii for First Mass

Father Shinseki will spend part of the summer in the islands celebrating Masses in Spanish

By Anna Weaver
Republished with permission from Hawaii Catholic Herald

July 2, 2018 — Tourists who attended the 9:30 a.m. Mass on June 17 at Immaculate Conception Church in Lihue might have wondered if the parish usually had such colorful Sunday liturgies.

At this particular Mass, which lasted close to two hours, five priests and two deacons concelebrated. The Sign of the Cross was in Hawaiian, the first reading in Spanish, and the second reading in Tagalog. The homilist threw in some pidgin, and the prayers of the faithful were recited in different languages. At the offertory, gift bearers wearing cultural dress brought up festive gift baskets.

Mark and Patrice Toyota bring up the offertory gifts. Mark is Fr. Shinseki’s cousin. (Anna Weaver)

After communion, children processed up with roses to lay in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was then crowned with a pikake haku. And there was Hawaiian sacred gesture and no less than four blessings (including for fathers on Father’s Day and for children) offered.

But this of course wasn’t an ordinary Mass. It was the first public Mass or Mass of Thanksgiving for Jesuit Father Kyle Shinseki. He was ordained at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee on June 9, as a member of the Jesuits’ USA Midwest Province.

Father Shinseki, who was born in Honolulu and raised in Lihue (his uncle is retired Gen. Eric Shinseki), celebrated his vocation with family, friends, and complete strangers.

With input from Immaculate Conception, he planned a multicultural Mass that reflects his belief that the Catholic Church should work to blend cultural communities better together.

“At least growing up in Hawaii, [being intercultural] seems more natural,” he said. But he thinks the church at large has “a great need” for building bridges between ethnic communities.

“That’s something that I’d like to do, whether it’s on a college level in campus ministry or at a parish.”

The ‘mysterious church’

In his homily, Fr. Shinseki recalled how as a kid he remembered regularly looking at a “mysterious church” on Kauai. He didn’t know at the time that the church was Immaculate Conception.

That’s because Fr. Shinseki was not raised Catholic. His mother is Christian and his father Buddhist, but Fr. Shinseki didn’t practice either faith regularly.

A search for religion that started in high school led him to become Catholic as a college junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned a bachelor’s in urban studies and planning. Next he got a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.

After his master’s he spent six years working for the National Council of La Raza in Washington, D.C., doing community development and fundraising. There he got involved in Agrupación Católica Universitaria, a mostly Spanish-speaking, Jesuit-based, Christian community, and began considering joining the Jesuits.

But he also struggled with wanting a more typical life with a family, and at that point decided to return to school for an MBA from Northwestern University.

“I’m going to get an MBA, settle down, not worry about this whole vocation thing,” he thought to himself.

After Northwestern, he worked in marketing for Procter & Gamble for two years in Puerto Rico and two years in Cincinnati, but continued to feel called to the priesthood. Finally, he decided to enter the Jesuits in 2009.

Father Shinseki’s mother, Carol, shared how her son came home on a visit and asked his parents whether they minded his becoming a priest.

“Of course not, it’s up to you,” she recalled saying. “It’s your life. We will just support you, so just do whatever you want.”

She glanced with pride at her only child giving first blessings to a long line of people after Mass. “He’s happy, so I’m happy.”

During his Jesuit formation over the last decade, he worked in a range of ministries in the U.S. including in El Paso, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Chicago. He also served, studied or traveled in Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Japan, Italy, and India.

As a Jesuit, he added a master of divinity from Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley and will finish a licentiate in sacred theology, the certification to teach in an ecclesial setting.

First Mass

After communion, Fr. Shinseki gave a special blessing to his parents, Carol and Paul. He hadn’t been sure his father would attend the service as he hasn’t been in good health.

“I was extremely grateful to have him there,” Fr. Shinseki said.

The new priest also gave his mother the hand cloth, or manutergium, he used to wipe the chrism oil off his hands after being ordained. Tradition says when a priest’s mother is buried with the cloth, she can present it at the gates of heaven declaring she gave her son to the church as a priest.

Father Shinseki also gave a post-communion blessing to his cousin, Mark Toyota, and Mark’s wife, Patrice, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary the next day.

While most of Fr. Shinseki’s family is not Catholic, Patrice is. It was at the Toyotas’ wedding that Fr. Shinseki attended his first Catholic Mass.

“I said (to Mark), ‘Who would think that the first priest in our family would come from your side?’” said Patrice laughing. The couple has raised their two sons Catholic.

A parish family

Speaking of family, Fr. Shinseki is grateful that Immaculate Conception parishioners have adopted him as one of their own.

“Even though I didn’t grow up Catholic, I feel you offer me a spiritual home whenever I come back,” he said to the congregation at his Mass of Thanksgiving.

Anabel Portugal, an Immaculate Conception parishioner, has become close friends with Fr. Shinseki. She considers him one of her “son priests.”

Other parish supporters helped host a post-Mass lunch that included ethnic dishes and karaoke. Among those attending were Kauai-born Diocese of Honolulu priests Fr. Anthony Rapozo and Fr. EJ Resinto, the latter of whom flew over from Oahu to celebrate with Fr. Shinseki.

Father Resinto pointed out that he, Fr. Shinseki and Fr. Rapozo all graduated from Kauai High School. He described Fr. Shinseki as a “very humble guy, very quiet, soft spoken.”

He also commended the new priest on his homily, which was sprinkled with “Kauai twang” or pidgin.

Father Shinseki compared the tending of someone’s faith to gardening. Once we plant the “divine seeds in our lives” we should do neither “too little or too much in caring for them,” he said.

Father Shinseki will spend most of the summer in Hawaii, spending time with his parents and traveling between islands celebrating Spanish-language Masses at different parishes.

“I’m actually more comfortable at the Mass in Spanish to some degree,” he said, since it was Spanish-speaking friends in college that first introduced him to Catholicism, and he often attended Spanish Masses. “I probably know more of it by heart than I do in English just from hearing it over the years.”

In the fall, he heads back to California, where he will finish his last year of licentiate training at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

Reprinted with permision from Hawaii Catholic Herald.

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