Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflection

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This week’s photo challenge from dailypost.wordpress.com is “Reflection,” an interesting topic to be sure:

Reflect: to consider where we’ve been in life, where we are now, and where we’re going.

It was a busy week, so I don’t feel like I did this topic much credit, but here are a few shots that I’ve taken in the last 6 months or so.   I find them ‘reflective’ in the sense of an inner conversation that the bring to me, but that may not be obvious to you.

The most recent of the photos is this one:

madonna reflection


This caught my attention the other morning.  At Christmas I was collecting some pretty Christmas cards that I intend to frame someday.  This one of the Madonna and Child has been sitting on my breakfast table for months when I noticed it’s reflection in my camera’s display.  I thought it was interesting as a reflected image ON the camera, rather than one taken THROUGH the camera.    What do you think?

Here’s another one that I like.  It’s taken over the bay adjacent to St. Fidelis Seminary on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, where I taught.  I did my best to capture the beauty and mystery of the clouded full moon over the water, but I lacked a proper tripod to really do it justice.  Still, it’s an image that I can lose myself in, both with memories of the past  and questions of the future.





Vianney Day in Halopa – Videos

A few weeks ago I wrote about a hike by the students and staff of St. Fidelis Seminary into the mountains to the village of Halopa.  This was to honor the feast of St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of priests.  You can read that post here.

I promised then to post some video of that time with the villagers of Halopa.  I had to re-edit this after my first attempt to upload to Vimeo because I hit some size limit on the file.

I wanted to share as much of this as I could with you, to give you a sense of what it was like to be guests of the village and what the Mass, especially the music, was like.  I ended up splitting the video into two parts, which you will see embedded below.

Papua New Guineans are very proud of their culture, and the unique culture of their village.  You’ll see this expressed throughout.  Some people may roll their eyes at the dress of the people, and the processions during the Mass, but I’ve come to appreciate how important some of these things are to bridging the gap between very different cultures.

The hike up and down the mountain to Halopa was very tough, but the time spent in the village was really great. I’m happy to share it with you here.

Vianney Day – Halopa – Part 1


Vianney Day – Halopa – Part 1 from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.


Vianney Day – Halopa – Part 2

Vianney Day – Halopa – Part 2 from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Garamut – Call to Mass

Here’s a little bit of video that I wasn’t able to incorporate elsewhere.  I think you’ll find it interesting.

A garamut is a large slit-drum made from the trunk of a tree.  I think it’s used primarily in the coastal regions of PNG, but I’m not sure about that.   As I understand, these drums have traditionally played an important role in sending messages out to far flung villagers to announce important events, gatherings, rituals, etc.

Many of the churches use garamuts to call people to Mass, especially since church bells are hard to come by.  Some churches do have bells, brought in by missionaries, but the garamut is much more common.

In this short video, you can see how George, one of the seminarians at St. Fidelis, calls the students and staff to morning Mass.  The pattern he uses is unique to the area and the local villagers will recognize it and know that it’s for Mass at the seminary.

Other parishes that I’ve visited have their own unique patterns.  I’m also told that garamuts are used for other sorts of message, including announcing the death of local villagers.

With the ubiquitous presence of cell phones these days, I’m afraid that the use of the garamut is fading and being relegated to only ceremonial uses.  I hope they find a way to preserve this unique aspect of their culture.


Garamut from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Mango i go

Br. Jim and Br. Alois are back with another tree cutting job at St. Fidelis Seminary.  The friary’s cook, Marcus, started to be concerned about a large mango tree hovering over his family’s house.  Large trees, especially very old and very large mango trees, fall frequently and without warning in the thin soils along the PNG coast.

Br. Jim and Br. Alois decided to tackle the problem and to bring the tree down safely, before it fell down and caused real problems.

The tree, like almost every tree in PNG, was infested with my Formic nemeses – the infamous red/yellow coconut tree ants.  As Br. Alois put it, “There were millions and trillions and billions of ants.” He wasn’t too far off in my opinion.

And they were not happy when their towering demesne came crashing down.

Mango i go from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

esteban bai i go long as graun bilong em

Ahem, I have an announcement!

We wrapped up the second term here at St. Fidelis Seminary and, after a great deal of prayer and discernment, I have decided to return to Oklahoma.

At least for the next 6 months, perhaps permanently.  If you’ve read some of my early posts, you’ll understand why it’s been heavy on my heart to return to Tulsa and my responsibilities there.

It was a hard decision, and now that I’m just a couple of days away from leaving, I’m both filled with excitement of returning home, and feeling sad about leaving the friars and students of St. Fidelis.

It’s quite hard to put this all into words, but I know that I’m going where I’m being led.

The Capuchins, especially the friars at St. Fidelis, have become like an extended family.  They also could not be more understanding and supportive of my decision.  I’m welcome to come back to PNG and St. Fidelis next year if the situation at home is such.

I have no idea what the next few months will bring.  It’s time to start looking for work again and to see what doors God will open for me.  So, if you have any ideas ….  🙂

A consolation for me these last couple of weeks has been Thomas Merton’s “Prayer of the Unknowing”.  Perhaps you’ve read it:


My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.



OK, time for a lesson in Tok Pisin (i.e. Pidgin) before you go.  Parsing out the title of this post:

esteban bai i go long as graun bilong em

esteban (that’s me)

“i go” = goes

“bai” = future tense marker, so “bai i go” becomes “will go”, supposedly bai come from “by and by”

“long” = universal preposition the meaning of which comes from context.

“as graun” = we can thank the Australians for this one, literally meaning “ass ground” or “homeland”.  “home” would be written as “haus” (home or house).

“bilong em” = “that belongs to him/her/them”

So you can read this as “esteban will go to his homeland”

Thus endeth the lesson.

Coconut Conundrum

It’s pretty much an undisputed fact around here that coconut trees have a single, generally straight, trunk without any branches.

And yet, we found this specimen on our recent hike to Halopa.  Looking something like a saguaro cactus from Arizona, this has become a local tourist attraction with everyone around asking to show it to you.

Now, you’ve seen it too.

Hiking to Halopa – Vianney Day

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Last Sunday, August 4th, was quite the adventure for everyone at St. Fidelis!

The village of Halopa, south of the seminary and up in the nearby mountains, joins with the seminary each year to honor the memory of St. Jean Vianney – the patron saint of priests.  The village plays an important role in the life of the Archdiocese of Madang because it has the most active group of villagers who work and pray for priestly vocations.

Like the Serra Club in the US, the Immaculate Conception Parish in Halopa has a hard working group called “The Benefactors”.  They meet year-round to pray for vocations and raise funds to support the seminary.

Usually on Vianney Day, villagers will come to the seminary for Mass, a celebratory meal, and some “dramas” (i.e. skits) that portray vocations and the life of St. Jean Vianney in a good light.

This year, however, it was decided that the seminarians would hike to the village along a country road, a distance of about 7 miles each direction.

We set off at 6am Sunday morning to be sure we would reach the village in time for a 9am Mass.  For the students from the Highlands areas of PNG, this was no problem.  Flatlanders, like me, and people from the coastal areas of PNG are not as accustomed to this type of strenuous hike, one that gains several thousand feet in elevation.

We all made it, although a few like me, hitched a ride about halfway up.  I won’t lie, it was a blessing to ride the last thousand feet of elevation!

The village received us as honored guests, adorning us with flowers and greeting us in the traditional manner of their people – with a “singsing” procession of singers in traditional garb.

Mass was held in an outdoor shelter they constructed for the day, overlooking the sea coast below.  The seminarians provided the music for the Mass and led the entrance, Book of the Gospel, and Offertory Processions, also dressed in a semblance of their traditional garb.

The weather was perfect, the people could not have been more welcoming, and we all joined together for a feast of pork, smoked fish, local sausages, and loads of fruits and vegetables.

The hardest part of the day actually came at the end.  Hiking down the mountain to the coast and the seminary came during the hottest part of the day and there was little water to be found during the 3 hour descent.

Luckily, just in the nick of time, we passed the diocesan vocational school at Danip where we were able to fill our water bottles and down at least a liter of water each before hiking the last 2 miles to the school.

It was a great experience, a bonding time for both the students and the staff and a fine opportunity to experience village life.

The pictures attached to this post give a hint of the day.  I have some video that I will post when I next have access to reliable and high speed internet.


Afternoon Coffee? Inconceivable!

Something unheard of in my experience here in Papua New Guinea happened today.

The afternoon temperature barely hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  It felt chilly and I only changed shirt twice.

It felt so nice this afternoon, I actually enjoyed a -hot- cup of coffee, along with a walk along the sea line.

We hardly know what to do with ourselves.

7 Quick Takes – July Wrap Up

July is ending!?!  Where did it all go?

Here’s a 7 Quick Takes Wrap Up of the month.


John and matthew

1.  John and Matthew head back to the US from their visit to PNG by putting their fates into the hands of Air Niugini.  Prayers were said and they ultimately made it home with my deep gratitude.



2.  This is a gecko.  They are everywhere. They bark.  That’s the closest word that I have to describe the “tsk, tsk, tsk” sound that they make when they call to each other during the wee hours of the night.  They are so spry and furtive that’s been difficult to get a decent photo.  This one was between the layered fabrics of a window curtain.   It was really confused when I tickled its belly.


Computer lab

3.  This is the computer lab that time forgot.  This was a hopping place 10+ years ago when St. Fidelis also offered high school grades 11 and 12.  Now, it’s a fascinating archive of a dozen PCs that last had software updates in 2001.  Still chugging along, these machines run either Windows XP or Windows 2000.   And they still have working diskette drives.   And they have the most interesting collection of decade old computer viruses.

I’ve been doing maintenance on these machines, such as I can, but it’s impressive that they still power up.  These days, the Spiritual Year students get some basic lessons on how to use Microsoft Word, but most of the time they collect dust and slowly corrode in the sea air.  Most of the seminarians have never used a computer before coming to St. Fidelis, so we try to give them a little leg up for the work they’ll need to do when they move on to their philosophy studies.  It’s not much, but there’s little else we can do with these machines.  (Did I mention that we still don’t have internet?)


Kava cognac

4.  This is local “cognac” made from the root of the kava plant.  The parish at Alexishafen (St. Michael’s Church) had a 10 Kina/plate luncheon last Sunday to raise funds for some church renovations.  Being good neighbors, all the Capuchins came for the feast.

This “cognac” seems to be a drink made mainly for celebrations, so I was gifted with this cup of muddy looking stuff and reluctantly partook to avoid offending anyone.

What can I say?  It tastes a bit like dirt and celery mixed together.  It’s not alcoholic but is rather more anesthetic, making your mouth feel like you’ve just spritzed with Chloraseptic throat spray. I was queasy for the rest of the day wondering what other effects it might produce.


Moon shot

5.  Did you notice the full moon last week?  It was fantastic here as it rose over the water near Sek Island, just down the coast from the seminary.   This is the best of the shots I was able to make.  Really missing having a proper tripod, but I was happy with this effort.



6.  This Sunday morning I took a walk down the road that connects the seminary to the North Coast Highway and discovered a number of the students climbing coconut trees to collect “kulau” – the young coconuts that have the clear coconut water inside.  A great thing to eat on a hot day.

Some visitors (former students of St. Fidelis from the late 90’s) had stopped by on their way home to Wabag and asked for the kulau for their journey.

The coastal students are quite adept at scaling the coconut trees and it’s always fun to watch as they peel and open the fruit with very little effort.

It’s also fun to watch American visitors try to open them and have to rely on the locals to do it right.


Student dinner

7.  Say hi to some of the seminarians.  Each Wednesday night I eat dinner with the seminarians in the student dining hall.  It is invariably rice with a mixture of tinned fish (marlin or tuna), Maggi noodles (the same as Ramen in the US), tinned corned beef, bananas, cabbage, and/or green beans from the garden.  It’s not very appetizing but the students still turn to with gusto.


That’s about it as July comes to a close.  The next big event on campus will be a day-long hike to the town of Halopa to celebrate the Feast of St. Jean Vianney – the patron saint of priests.  After that the term will come to a quick end with the last round of exams.

Oh yeah, you can find other “7 Quick Takes” here.

Blessed Peter ToRot

On Monday, July 8th, St. Fidelis Seminary and other Catholic institutions and parishes around PNG celebrated the annual feast day of Blessed Peter To Rot (pronounced “toe rote”).  He is the first (and so far, only) person to be recognized as a possible native born saint of Papua New Guinea. (There were many others, mostly foreign-born missionaries, that were also martyred in PNG during the war.)


About Blessed Peter To Rot

Peter To Rot was born around 1912 near Rabual on the island of New Britain, now a part of Papua New Guinea.  His parents, converts to Catholicism, immersed Peter and his siblings in the life of the Church in their village.  At age 18, Peter entered the Cathechist School at Taliligap.

At age 21, Peter returned to his village and began his work teaching in the parish school, visiting the sick, and proving to the people that he practiced what he preached.

Peter married in 1936 and began raising a family. By 1942, he and his wife had two children, a boy, Andreas, and a girl, Rufina.

In January 1942, the Japanese invaded the island and imprisoned all the missionaries working there, including the pastor of Peter’s parish.  Peter was left in charge of the parish.

At first, the Japanese ignored the work of the parish, the prayer gatherings and social programs.  As the war turned against them, the Japanese authorities forbad the people from praying to their God against the Japanese.

The Japanese also tried to curry support among the island’s tribal leaders by legalizing polygamy.  Peter spoke out strongly against this, calling the people to adhere to the Church’s teaching on marriage and insisted that they come to him to have their marriages witnessed.

Eventually Peter was reported to the Japanese authorities.  He was arrested along with his two brothers.  Peter was initially sentenced to two months in jail for his activities but was not released when the time came.  He received many visits from family and friends while in jail.  He assured the people that he was ready to die for the faith and urged them to continue to follow its teachings.

One night, while the other prisoners were taken away from the jail, Peter ToRot was beaten and poisoned by a lethal injection.

He was beatified by Bl. Pope John Paul on January 17, 1995 during his visit to Papua New Guinea.


Feast Day Mass

St. Fidelis celebrated the feast day of Bl. Peter ToRot on July 8th, transferred from the Sunday before.  An outdoor Mass was held in the coconut grove between the friary and the school buildings.

It was a small affair, just students, staff and their families.  Gratefully, the weather was clear and cloudy which kept it from being too hot or muggy, a nice treat.


Celebratory Mumu

Later that day, Archbishop Stephen Reichert, OFM Cap and our friends from the Padre Pio Capuchin Formation House joined us for a mumu (the local variant of a luau) prepared by the students.  Steamed pork, greens, bananas, cabbage and rice were prepared by fired heated stones in a large pit.    Sisters Ofelia and Helen prepared some fish dishes and a rice cake dessert.

A good time was had by all, as they say.


As always, here are some photos from the day.  Enjoy!

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Here are a couple of links regarding Bl. Peter ToRot.  Some of the information above was synthesized from these sites.



John and Matthew on the Bismarck Sea

Last week I had the really great honor to welcome two of my very good friends to PNG for a visit.  Matthew Pepper and John White were two of the first students I met when I was introduced to the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa in August 1998.  They had a great impact on my decision to leave the corporate world and begin working as the campus minister there for the next 8 years.

During their time at the Newman Center and the volunteering they each did after college, we’ve had several opportunities to travel together over the years.  Now that they are both married and have children, those opportunities are more limited, but they were both eager to visit me in PNG and support my missionary effort here at St. Fidelis Seminary in Madang, PNG.

We can now add Papua New Guinea to the list of countries that we’ve seen together, which includes Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France,  Czech Republic, Guatemala, and Peru.  John and I also visited Greece and Turkey.

Their trip here started off in true PNG fashion – they were delayed overnight in Port Moresby when their flight to Madang was canceled for “operational necessity.”  Nonetheless, they arrived first thing on June 28th.

The highlight of their visit was the 2 1/2 days we spent on Karkar Island, a fairly large island off the north coast of PNG in the Bismarck Sea, across from the village of Megiar about an hour north of St. Fidelis.

The local parish priest is a diocesan missionary priest from Poland, Fr. Bogdan.  Another Polish priest, Fr. Adrian, pastor of the Holy Spirit Parish in nearby Alexishafen, suggested that I call Fr. Bogdan and invite ourselves over for a visit.  It seemed brazen to me, but I’ve learned that it’s the thing that expats do when they need a break.  Everyone loves visitors it seems.

Fr. Bogdan picked us up early Saturday morning, June 29th for what was one of the most harrowing road trips I’ve ever taken.  Flying up the North Coast Highway at breakneck speeds, barely braking for ravenous potholes and meandering villagers, somehow we made it to Megiar without any accidents.

There we met Fr. Bogdan’s boat for the 1 hour open sea trip over to Karkar.  It was a rainy day and the island was obscured by heavy clouds.  Taking off from the shoreline, it seemed like we were heading off to Jurassic Park, barely glimpsing the top of the island’s huge volcanic cone.

Fr. Bogdan’s parish, near the village of Tumel, is just a few yards from black sand beaches on the islands western side. Nestled amidst coconut groves and cocoa tree farms, the island is peaceful and idyllic.   Originally colonized by German Lutheran missionaries, there are now a fair amount of Catholics on the island for whom Fr. Bogdan is the only priest.

Although Fr. Bogdan’s living quarters are sparse, he did his best to host us, showing us around the island, taking us snorkeling, and spent time with us in the midst of his busy Sunday Mass schedule (three Masses in different parts of the island).

Fr. Bogdan introduced us to Paul and Barbara Goodyear, owners of several coconut and cocoa plantations on the island’s west side.  They very graciously welcomed us to their home, spent quite a bit of time showing us the plantations, the processing facilities for copra and cocoa, showed us great places for snorkeling, and fed us a scrumptious German dinner.  Barbara came to PNG from Germany as a volunteer, where she met Paul, a local who was educated in Australia.

I never thought I would travel to Karkar and be feasted with roast pork with mango chutney, sauerkraut, German dumplings, and several wonderful desserts including cherry cheesecake.

Paul and Barbara could not have been better hosts and it gave all of us a wonderful experience.

Returning to St. Fidelis on Monday afternoon, July 1st, Matthew and John were able to see some of the life at St. Fidelis.  Unfortunately, my winning streak during our nightly games of Hearts came to a crushing end that night.

John and Matthew felt so bad at beating me that they insisted in helping out with the never-ending grass cutting chore at the school.  I think they learned quickly how tough the grass is here and how the turf is fiercely defended by “the Formics.”    (Somehow they managed to avoid being bitted even once while in PNG.  I really don’t understand it).

That evening, their last night at St. Fidelis, we celebrated John’s 36th birthday with cake, mint chocolate ice cream, and a little “something” that they had picked up at the duty free shop on the way through Australia.

The last day of their adventure was spent at the Madang Lodge.  Matthew and John wanted to treat me to a night in a luxury resort (with air conditioning!) and relaxing with a wonderful ocean view.   We had a great time there, swimming in the fresh water pool, eating pizza for dinner, etc.   Earlier in the day, we met Fr. Adrian, another Polish priest, who is the pastor of the parish in Megiar.  He gave us a ride back to St. Fidelis after the return boat ride from Karkar.  Definitely not the usual life of a missionary, but I’ll take it!

John and Matthew have left PNG now and are working their way home today after a stopover in Melbourne.  It’s hard to express how lucky I feel to have friends that would travel more than 16,000 miles roundtrip to visit.    I can’t wait to return the favor someday.

I know that some people get bored looking at vacation photos, but here they are if you choose to view them.

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Formic Wars

I understand that an “Ender’s Game” movie is coming out, or perhaps has already come out (Entertainment news is a bit slow to reach us!).  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading the various Ender books, written by Orson Scott Card.  There’s been a string of them.

When I was home in May, I discovered that several prequel books to Ender’s Game were also in the works.   These stories deal with the history of the “First and Second Formic Wars,” which are alluded to but never fully explained in “Ender’s Game.”

I picked up the first one new book in this series, “Earth Unaware” for my trip back to PNG and since I’ve been a science fiction fan since the days of the original Star Trek TV series, I was captivated by the story and the imaginative lives of deep space mining families – the first to encounter the alien species known as the Formics.

“Earth Afire” continues the story of man’s first encounters with the Formics and the First Formic War.  (Ender’s Game is about the Third Formic War, so you know there’s a lot to tell in these prequel books)

I wish I knew what the next books in the Formic War series will be but I haven’t been able to find that information.  It would be just my luck if I have to wait years for the next episodes to be published.

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The alien race in the Ender stories are called “Formics”, a derivation of the Latin word for ants, which the aliens resemble.

You may have read in earlier posts that I’m fighting my own “Formic War” here at St. Fidelis.  The yellowish critters, sometimes called coconut tree ants, are quite formidable opponents.   During my latest invasion of their demesne to cut grass, I was bitten not less than 17 times.

I know that some of you are squeamish about the bug photos I post here, but you should see these suckers up close!  Have a look at the pinschers these mighty little creatures have and be thankful they are not four feet tall like they are in the Ender stories.


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I didn’t mention it here on the blog, but you might have picked up on the fact that I spent most of the month of May back home in Oklahoma.

St. Fidelis Seminary had a break between school terms and because of some family issues, I decided to spend that time in Tulsa.

My aunt, the only member of the older generation left in my immediate family, suffered a fall during Easter and has been recovering at a rehabilitation facility ever since.  My sister Stacey is currently the closest relative (100 miles away) and has been managing her care and financial issues pretty much by herself.

I decided to use my break time to come home and help out as much as I could.  I’m not sure how much good I really did, but I was able to visit with my aunt on a daily basis which I hope was a comfort to her.

My brother Kevin and his wife Maureen came to town one weekend too, which was awesome.  We don’t all three get together that often and it was unlikely to happen at all while I’m working in PNG.



My friends in Tulsa really took care of me while I was home.  It seemed like someone was always willing to have dinner,  go to a baseball game, throw the frisbee around, see a movie, or just hang out in a coffee shop for awhile.

I thought I might suffer from some reverse culture shock when I came home, but I don’t think I experienced anything of the sort.  Dropping into my home city, driving the familiar roads and visiting the familiar faces was just like putting on a glove.  Of course, I really hadn’t been gone all that long anyway.

What surprised me was how much bigger my friends’ children had grown in the past 5 months.  I should have expected it, I guess, but they’ve all grown up so much.  Cuter and more precocious too!



If you’ve read much of my blog, you won’t be surprised when I say that I have a strong attachment to my home state of Oklahoma.  I’m sure others feel the same way about their states, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s just something special about the people there.

I left Tulsa to return to PNG just after the terrible tornadoes struck Moore, Oklahoma.  It brought back memories of the devastating 1999 storms and actually surpassed them in destruction.  I knew people who lost their homes in 1999, and once again I learned that a college friend and his family lost their home this time.

Oklahoma, for all of its good attributes, does seem to attract more than its fair share of tragedy.  Storms, earthquakes, domestic terrorism, economic depressions, droughts, dust storms, wild fires, and flooding seem to happen with some regularity.

What I find interesting is that the people always seem to rise to the challenge.  It would be hard to find a more giving or more generous people, united by both the blessings and challenges of living there.

Sometimes so many people want to help their neighbors in need that organizers don’t know what to do with all of them. As I was heading to the airport, I heard a story on the radio about a Moore area church asking for volunteers to help clean up their property so they could have a memorial service.  Over a thousand people showed up to help on a Tuesday afternoon.  Incredible.

SinceI left Tulsa, there have been even more devastating storms.  One in Broken Arrow, a neighboring city to Tulsa, was only about 5 miles from my home.  The one in El Reno, west of Oklahoma City, killed 20 people, caused massive flooding after 11 inches of rain, and at one point was making a beeline for Stacey’s house in Edmond.

You would think that many people would be making a run for the border after so many storms in such a short time.  I’ve learned though that this only seems to endear Oklahoma to the people and just makes them roll up their sleeves and work all that much harder to repair the damage, try to learn something from the storms, and be just that much better prepared for the next one.

I know it sounds crazy, but being away from the mayhem is hard.  I’d rather be there in the thick of it, ready to help if I can.  I know there would be people to help me if I was the one needing it.

(Note:  the photo slideshow on this post is just some pasture shots that I took in Craig County near Grand Lake.  Nothing special but they do remind me of home and its wide open spaces.)

Box of Treasures


What a treat it was to receive a new Box of Treasures in the mail!

A load of new books from my good friend Pat Gohn covering a wide range of topics that will really come in handy with the students.  I was really glad to see a number of books on priesthood and women’s issues.

Pat also included her own new book, “Bold, Beautiful and Bodacious.”  I was hoping that she would include a copy as I’ve been wanting to read it.  I’ve just finished the Introduction and since I know Pat well, can read it with her own voice in my head.  A little weird, but comforting too.

My friend Brandon Vogt also included a few books in the shipment.  I don’t know how that came about, but he also included his book, “The Church and New Media,” a topic near to my heart and something that the Church in PNG needs to embrace more.

The library here at St. Fidelis has some excellent material in it, but it does lack some of the more modern publications by writers such as Scott Hahn, George Weigel, Pope Benedict XVI and others.  Fr. Cyril was particularly interested in seeing the second and third books in Pope Benedict’s Jesus series.

What a terrific gift to send to St. Fidelis!

Many thanks to Pat and Brandon for their contribution to the education of PNG’s budding seminarians!

A Trip to Rempi

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A couple of weeks ago, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands was having its annual meeting just down the road from St. Fidelis.

One Sunday morning, Nate Johnson and I were asked to drive Archbishop Douglas Young and Bishop Bill Fey to the village church at Rempi for Sunday Mass.

The villagers really turned out for the event!  A group of villagers was decked out in their traditional attire (“bilas”) and escorted the bishops in procession into the church.  The church itself was bilas’d as well, decorated with all manner of flowers and greenery.

As you can see from the photos, it was a great Mass to attend as both a spiritual and cultural event.  I’m so glad that I was able to experience this unique part of PNG culture.

Following Mass, a gathering on the nearby school parade grounds gave the parishioners a chance to formally welcome the bishops to their village and to give them some input on the challenges facing their community, families and youth.


St. Fidelis Day

On April 26th, the seminary had its annual St. Fidelis Day Celebration.  Not only did the students have the day off from classes, but they got to sleep in, spend the morning playing sports, celebrate the memorial of this first of Capuchin martyrs with all the Capuchins in the Madang area, and wow us with their “mumu” prowess.

What’s a mumu?  It’s the PNG version of what you might call a luau in Hawaii.  Basically, a whole pig, along with fruits and vegetables is steamed in a pit of heated rocks in a banana leaf lined pit.   It is an important cultural experience that often accompanies important events – weddings and such.

The Highland and Coastal versions of mumus vary somewhat and the various groups take great care and pride in their particular form of mumu.

Read more about St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen here and here, an important martyr in the Counter-Reformation and patron of our seminary.

Here’s a gallery of photos from our celebration.  (Note:  There are some photos of the butchered pig which you might find disturbing, so don’t look at those too closely  😉

We were very fortunate to have Archbishop Stephen Reichert, OFM Cap., along several other Madang area Capuchin priests, celebrate Mass for us while the mumu was cooking.  Also attending were all of the Capuchins from the Padre Pio Formation House which is just down the road from St. Fidelis Seminary.

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Work Parade

Here’s another short video, called “St. Fidelis Work Parade.”

Several times each week, the students divide themselves into various work groups and help with the care and maintenance of the school campus.

Groups include housekeeping, chapel crew, library crew, grass cutting, flower gardens, fruit gardens, vegetable gardens. (Word has it that the vegetable crew is the most popular since they get to eat the fruits of their labor.)

“Work Parade” seems to be a term used in many schools where the students are expected/asked to help with upkeep.

For the most part, I think the guys look forward to these work periods (even though some days are very hot).  It gets them out of the classroom and gives them time for one of their favorite activities – telling stories to each other.


Fidelis Work Parade from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Holy Week – The Rest of the Videos

I finally have some access to high speed internet again and was able to upload the rest of my long awaited Holy Week videos.  OK, may be not long awaited, but you may find them interesting.

I’m not real happy with the quality of the video or the editing.  It was difficult to shoot much video because we were in the middle of a 3-day power outage and I had to be judicious in what I shot in order to save battery for all the long liturgies.

Here are parts 2, 3, and 4 of Holy Week at St. Fidelis Seminary.  You can find Part 1 here.


Part 2 – Stations of the Cross, Good Friday


Holy Week – Part 2 from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Part 3 – Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) & Veneration of the Cross (Good Friday)


Holy Week – Part 3 from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Part 4 – Easter Vigil Mass

Holy Week – Part 4 from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Facts and Features


With four months in Papua New Guinea under my belt, I thought I would offer up some facts and features about life at St. Fidelis Seminary and some of the things that I’ve encountered here on the campus.  So here is St. Fidelis, by the numbers and such.


  • 3 Capuchin Friars:  Fr. Cyril, Br. Jim and Br. Alois
  • 2 Franciscan Sisters:  Sr. Ofelia and Sr. Helen (who hasn’t actually arrived yet, should be here in May)
  • 2 CapCorps Lay Missionary Teachers:  Nate and Steve
  • 1 PNG National Teacher:  Michael
  • 2 Cooks:  Marcus (friary) and Victor (students)
  • 1 Carpenter:  John
  • Family members of the staff:  12 (approximately)
  • Propaedeutic Seminarians: 23
  • Spiritual Year Seminarians: 10

Major Facilities

  • 1 Friary
  • 1 Convent
  • 1 Campus Chapel
  • 1 Student Dining Hall
  • 1 Student Kitchen
  • 2 Student Dormitories which also house the school offices, infirmary, assembly hall, computer lab, class rooms, library, and storerooms.
  • 2 Ablution Blocks (showers, toilets, sinks for the students)
  • 2 Classroom Buildings
  • 3 Workshop/Maintenance Buildings
  • 4 Staff Houses
  • 1 Basketball Court
  • 1 Volleyball Court
  • 1 Tennis Court
  • 1 Soccer/Rugby Field
  • Several vegetable and fruit gardens

Miscellaneous Campus Features

  • 3 Japanese anti-aircraft guns (WWII relics)
  • 14 Stations of the Cross made from WWII-era boat propellers. (Sadly, they are very neglected)
  • Several cisterns and tanks which collect rain water from the buildings – our main source of water.
  • 1 Marian shrine (Mary’s Point)
  • 1 St. Fidelis shrine (campus patron saint)
  • 1 wooden jetty along the seashore
  • 1 car, 1 pickup truck and 1 Dyna (a large flatbed truck with a canvas enclosure – used for hauling and carrying students)
  • 1 large farm tractor – used mainly for mowing
  • 4 lawn mowers of the usual type

Flora and Fauna

Since this is a tropical environment, there are many different types of plants and animals here.  I can’t identify too many of them, but here’s what I have seen on campus:

Trees:  coconut, betelnut, banana, papaya, mango, frangipani, and enormous rain trees.

Edible Plants:  bananas, pineapples, papaya, mango, cabbage, peppers, kaukau (local sweet potato), green beans, carrots, brocoli, tomatoes (some of these have been planted but not harvested yet).  There are also several different kinds of local fruits and vegetables that I just don’t know the names of.

There are also lots of flowering plants and bushes, including orchids.

Creatures:   Last week we saw a 7-foot snake, a brown constrictor of some type.  Other snakes include a black snake that got stuck chasing a mouse into the wall of a dormitory a few months ago, and a “lazy snake” that hides in the bushes looking like a stick.  None of these are poisonous.  I still don’t like them.

Other creatures include millions of red ants (they are very aggressive and bite), and several other small types of ants that invade the food pantry;  wasps, termites, spiders,  daytime mosquitos, night-time mosquitos (the malarial kinds), tree frogs, toads, wild pigs, random 3rd world dogs, small bats, large “flying fox” bats, sand crabs, brown eagles, willy wag tails (a black and white bird that has several really annoying sounds), and a wide assortment of barking geckos.   There are numerous types of birds around that we can always hear but never see.  They hide in the trees and brush and call loudly to each other.

Estimated # of Clergy That I’ve Met in PNG

  • Number of archbishops & bishops that I’ve met:  7
  • Number of Polish bishops/priests that I’ve met:  6
  • Number of American bishops/priests that I’ve met:  8
  • Number of American priests that I’ve met who have been in PNG for more than 30 years:  6
  • Number of Australian bishops/priests: 2
  • Number of PNG National bishops/priests:  5
  • Number of bishops/priests of other nationalities:  4

Estimated # of Religious That I’ve Met in PNG

  • Number of religious men (mostly Capuchins, but also SVDs and 1 Dominican): approx. 20
  • Number of religious women (various orders): 8  (there are quite a few here, but I have not met too many yet)

Miscellaneous Other Stuff

  • Average High Temperature:  96 degrees F
  • Average Low Temperature: 80 degrees F
  • Average High Temperature in My Room: 90 degrees F
  • Most Important Feature of My Room:  1 Ceiling Fan
  • Average number of rainfalls per week:  6
  • Average number of power outages per week: 4
  • Average number of hours of TV watched per week:  3
  • Number of TV channels available: 4  (2 from Australia Network, 1 BBC World News, 1 EWTN)
  • Total number of restaurant meals since arriving in PNG: 3 (BBC news and EWTN)
  • Total number of fast food meals since arriving in PNG:  0
  • Approximate number of mosquito or ant bites:  75
  • Approximate number of Masses attended:  117
  • Usual number of Digicel bars on my phone: 2 on a sunny day
  • Weight lost:  >25 lbs (if the scale here is to be believed, which I don’t)
  • Number of notches lower on my belt:  3
  • Number of times we’ve been swimming in the ocean: 4
  • Number of new popes since arriving in PNG: 1
  • Number of American football games watched: 1 (ND / Alabama)
  • Number of Aussie Rules football games watched: 1
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (Hardcover or Paperback): 3
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (Kindle iPad app): 14
  • Approximate Number of Books I’ve Read (iBooks iPad app): 22
  • Most read genre: Science Fiction
  • Best beer I’ve had in PNG:  SP (South Pacific).   It’s also the only beer I’ve had here.
  • Local name for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (made in Australia):  Rice Bubbles  (that makes me laugh)
  • Local name for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (also made in Australia):  Corn Flakes  (was that so hard?)
  • Best thing that our cook Marcus makes:  homemade bread  (It’s really good – much better than I make)
  • Biggest danger on campus:  Falling coconuts – seriously!  Once one lands near you and you realize it could have hit you in the head, you take notice where you stand.