From the plains of Burma
to the plains of Kansas
welcomed by new priest
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
It just may be that nobody has ever heard the call to the priesthood earlier in his life than Father Firmin (pronounced “Feer-min”) Kyaw, the new pastoral administrator of Holy Rosary, Medicine Lodge, St. John the Apostle, Kiowa and St. Boniface, Sharon.
“The first born male in our family died after three or four months,” said the Burmese priest. “When Mother was pregnant with me, she went to a big Eucharistic feast in the capitol city of Burma -- far from home – and prayed for me. She said, ‘Lord, I offer you my son to the call of the priesthood.’” Father Firmin was born Dec. 11, 1956. Like Kansas, the land in which he was reared was blanketed in plains, and the primary economy was farming. His mother and father owned about five acres of land, which the couple farmed together, each “plowing and working the field” to support Firmin, his brother and two sisters.
There were 200 in his village -- Catholics, Buddhists and other Christians -- with whom he played soccer, basketball and volleyball (soccer being his main love). He and his friends occasionally also enjoyed a spirited game of pinball.
“Now that I’m older,” he said with a chuckle, “I play golf, sometimes.”
“Since I was young, my father pushed me a lot to be pious, to get up early and go be an altar boy,” he said.
At the tender age of 13, he entered a minor seminary about 100 miles from his home.
“Even though it was only 100 miles, in those days it took almost the whole day to reach the seminary,” Father Firmin explained. “You had to get up early, at 3 a.m. -- sometimes at midnight. There was no car. You had to hire some kind of bicycle to ride the seven to 10 miles to the train station. After the train, you would have to take a bus for 30 minutes.”
After he passed his high school exam, he entered two years of study designed to prepare him for the entrance exam to the major seminary.
Father Firmin was ordained in 1983. He served for four years in a parish in Burma, then from 1988-1991 he studied at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, NY, where he obtained a graduate degree in theology, following which he returned to his native country.
For many years he worked as an education director. While he enjoyed the work, he said he felt a “longing for pastoral work. Training teachers, looking after children – it is also worth doing. Yet, sometimes I felt empty. I longed to be a pastor; I want to give my life to a parish.”
Terri Deokaran, pastoral minister for the Barber County parishes, has worked with Father Firmin for about a month now.
“I believe he’s a source of empowerment and joy for the people,” she said. “That’s certainly true for many priests, but that’s really what I see in him. He seems like a good, gentle soul.”
“I feel happy to be here,” he said. “I’m quite content with the present situation.”
When told what his pastoral minister said about him, he laughed a hearty laugh and responded, “Terry will get to know me and my human weaknesses.”
Father Firmin admitted that along his journey to the priesthood, there were times when he had doubts as to his calling. Then, one day, he attended a retreat with other seminarians.
“The preacher who was hosting the retreat said that if you are called by God to be a priest, and you leave the seminary and go out into the world, you won’t be happy. Once your vocation is true, you’ll be happy always.
“So, now as a priest, I am very happy.”
When asked for any closing comments, Father Firmin responded, “When I was young -- as a young man, especially – I prayed to Our Lady to become a priest. But as a priest, my prayer changed. I now pray to die as a priest.”