One man’s search for “the American Dream” led him to become a Mercedarian Friar

Br. James Chia, O. de M. came to America searching for the American Dream, but he found that he had a vocation to one of the most ancient Orders in the Church. Here is his story:

Br James will make his Solemn vows June 29th.

Praise to Jesus Christ – now & forever!  I come from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA, & from a family of 17 children.  My father & mother had a total of 11 children – eight boys & three girls.  My father had 6 children – three boys & three girls from his first marriage.  Growing up as a young boy, God has been gracious to my family.  I grew up in a family that has its ups & downs – like any other family.  However, we always look out for the others – always putting others ahead of our own individual needs.  My late aunt (†1996) who was my mother’s younger sister was Sr. Mary Catherine in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) in Kota Kinabalu.  Another of my aunt who is my mother’s oldest sister is Sr. Mary Therese of the Child Jesus in the Discalced Carmelite Order in Kota Kinabalu.  Praised be to Jesus, this May also marks my aunt’s Diamond Jubilee as a Discalced Carmelite Nun!  Then, there is one of my older brothers who is a Brother of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians (FMMA) in Singapore.  Being the youngest is not easy since nothing you can do that the brothers & sisters do not know!  They have been there & done that, so to speak!  In addition to providing me with many holy Religious as role models, God has provided me with many holy Priests while in Kota Kinabalu especially the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) that left their home for an unknown place called Sabah where they heard of rumors that people in this place lived on trees & that there were headhunters everywhere!  Yet, these MHMs said “Yes Lord, send me!”  Then, there is my former Pastor, Fr. Peter Ma, at Stella Maris Parish in Kota Kinabalu who was a patient & caring Priest.  Fr. Peter Ma is now retired staying at St. Mary’s Church in New York City.  He was the former Pastor of Transfiguration Church located at Mott Street in New York Chinatown.  So, Religious & Priestly Life is not new to me when I heard God calling me to serve Him as a Religious & Priest.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said: “I heard God calling me & I am here to check it out!”  I continue to hear God calling me & God continues to call me.

In December 1989, I came to Philadelphia to further my study in Electrical Engineering Technology at Temple University.  My family chose Philadelphia because I have two elder sisters in Philadelphia & they did not want me to be too far from the watchful eyes.  When I finished my studies in 1994 I returned to Kota Kinabalu & worked there until 2001.  In 2000, my application for US Immigrant Visa was approved & I “immigrated” to US in 2001 in search of my American Dream!  All I wanted was to marry a beautiful girl & have many children since I come from a large family.  I stayed with my elder sister & her family in Yardley, PA, as I did while studying at Temple University.  I got involved with my “new” Parish named St. Ignatius of Antioch & was quite active.  God surrounded me with a group of good Catholic friends – men & women.  They encouraged me to look into vocation together with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Louis Kolenkiewicz.  Fr. Kolenkiewicz asked me once: “James, if God is to call you, what will you say & do?”  I replied that I would say “Yes” & check it out (i.e., make the first step forward).  I looked into the Congregation of Mission (i.e., the Vincentians) & the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (i.e., The Mercedarians).  Some time later, I still hear God calling me & I am here to check it out!  At this point, I can truly say that I am discovering the American Dream that God has in store for me!  May the Most Holy Trinity be served with greater fidelity & be praised always in His Church!

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