Saturday, September 3, 2011

MIZZOU STUDENT -- AND CATHOLIC PRIEST: Heartwarming story describes unusual route to Ph.D.

Fr. Rene Tacastacas
From a small town in the Philippines, Father Rene Tacastacas leaves Mizzou with a Ph.D. and applause
COLUMBIA, 9/3/11  (Beat Byte) --  Mizzou graduate student Rene Tacastacas went to class -- and celebrated mass, as he pursued a doctoral degree in rural sociology while organizing Catholic communities in remote Missouri towns "where he became well-loved," reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

Parishioners in Brunswick, Missouri, where Tacastacas served as a priest, even contributed funds for the ministry to which he is now returning:  service to small farmers in the Philippines. 
Awarded the 2011 Outstanding Graduate Student Service Award in May, Fr. Tacastacas -- a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest -- was honored for his "participation and commitment to activities outside the classroom that advanced the interests of the University of Missouri and/or the broader community." 
His doctoral dissertation explored ways to link small Philippino vegetable growers with global fast-food chains, to help the farmers provide sustainable livelihoods. 
Once the parish priest in a remote Philippines town -- Titay, in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay -- Tacastacas came to Mizzou after his Jesuit superiors sent him to the U.S.  Though he already had a master’s degree in sociology and a management engineering degree "I needed the know-how to pursue rural development, especially involving work with small farmers in the countryside," he told the Daily Inquirer.   
Shortly after his arrival at the University of Missouri in 2005, Tacastacas praised the school's International Center in the Columbia Missourian.  "Everything is set for us," he said, after the first part of a daylong orientation. "The orientation worked great for me." 
His goal at the University of Missouri was to learn new things he could take back to help Filipino farmers.   But after Fr. Tacastacas started to get homesick and lonely, he contacted the vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Jefferson City and volunteered his services as a substitute priest.
Like physicians, Catholic priests are in short supply, so the gesture was both meaningful and pragmatic.  Sent to small Missouri towns,  Tacastacas "gained first-hand experience in American farming," the Daily Inquirer reported.   He also celebrated mass for members of Columbia's Filipino community, telling jokes during his sermons about first-time American encounters, such as the bagel he thought was a hard, stale donut. 
"Studying away from your home country is never easy," Tacastacas said, adding that mid-Missouri's Filipino community gave him support and companionship.  Student life also blended well with the priesthood.  "There was no disconnect between my priesthood and my being a student," he explained.

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