Fr. Donald Thieman, CPPS

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Fr. Donald Thieman, CPPS 2016-10-12T11:02:43+00:00

Project Description

Profile of a Missionary: Fr. Donald Thieman, CPPS
Cincinnati Province
By Jean Giesige

 

Fr. Don Thieman, CPPS, says that he has no ear for Spanish. Yet Fr. Don chose to make Chile his home for 53 years.

“Even after all these years, my accent is horrible,” Fr. Don says. “Nobody has any doubts that I am a gringo.”

Before his ordination in 1953, Fr. Don said the Congregation’s superiors asked the seminarians to fill out a questionnaire about what ministries they might consider when ordained: pastor, teacher, hospital chaplain, military chaplain, missionary to a foreign country, etc.  Young Don Thieman, filled with zeal for his anticipated priesthood, checked every box.

He remembered that checkmark five years later, when he was asked if he was still interested in serving in the Missionaries’ young mission in Chile. Then 31, he was happy in his assignment as an assistant pastor at St. Augustine Church in Minster, Ohio. In truth, he had no burning desire to go to Chile. But in 1958, he went.

There he found a completely different life, with completely different people, but still loving and serving the same God.

“I knew absolutely nothing about the language except ‘no’ and ‘si,’” he said. “I came down to Chile with Fr. Milton Ballor, and we went to work, learning as we went, just by doing and asking. For me, the language was the hardest part.”

The easiest part was being with the people, he said. Throughout his ministry in Chile, he found himself drawn to parishes where people struggled economically. With other Missionaries, he helped organize mission trips into the rural Chilean countryside, usually camping in areas without electricity or running water. As Chilean towns where he was serving grew into cities, he helped parishes open smaller chapels where the people could feel more connected with their faith community. When the Chilean mission needed a director, he stepped forward to take on the role.

And as he aged in his adopted country, he felt the needs of impoverished senior citizens. Fr. Thieman founded a senior citizens program in Santiago that provides meals and fellowship.

The years flew by. At the age 84, Fr. Don made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He said goodbye to Chile and returned to the United States in May 2012 to make his home at St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio. While his health is good, he does not ever want to become a burden to the C.PP.S. in Chile, grown from a mission into a vicariate. “I had to face it, even though it was been very emotional for me,” he said. “In many ways, it’s harder to come back than it is to leave.”