Father Damien Wee is thankful he grew up in a Catholic family. He grew up in Singapore where nearly a third of the population practices Buddhism and where multiple other religions — including Taoism, Islam and Christianity — are practiced by significant numbers of people.
His family was largely involved in the church, Wee said, and he's felt a calling to be a priest for much of his life.
"When I was young, in about second grade, I wanted to be a priest," he said.
Wee began as the new administrator at St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church in Blair on May 20, and he said he hopes to remain in town for a long time.
"Our focus is Jesus, first of all," he said of his goals with the church. "The ultimate goal is to lead parishioners to salvation, which means getting them to heaven."
Wee also said he wants to listen to people, bringing them not only closer to Christ, but closer to each other.
"Unity in Christ and as a community of worshippers," he said. "I'm trying to listen to the people and hear them out … I take what they have said and bring it to prayer, and then listen to what I feel God is leading me to."
Wee said he's open to talking to parishioners at St. Francis Borgia about anything, from Christ to hobbies. Nature photography, visiting national parks and soccer are some of his favorite past-times, as well as cooking cuisine from home.
"There's four distinct groups (in Singapore), so each group brings their own cuisine," Wee said. "There's a lot of different dishes and all that."
Table-tennis, or ping-pong, has been a hobby since childhood, too. At his previous church, Wee said he led a ping-pong club that had about a dozen students during the last year. He said he'd be interested in starting one at St. Francis Borgia if the community has interest.
"We need to get some tables," he said. "We do have one, but we could get a few more if there's interest."
Before coming to Blair, Wee was a priest for eight years at St. Rose of Lima Church in Hooper and St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Scribner. During his last year at St. Rose and St. Lawrence, Wee also served part-time at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Fremont and was chaplain at Archbishop Bergen Elementary School.
But his path to priesthood began years before in Singapore.
"When I became a teenager, as all teenagers, I became distracted and thought about a lot of options," Wee said.
One option was journalism, which he became interested in when he was 15. When he was 20 years old, after serving two years compulsory service in the Singapore Army, Wee decided to come to the United States, pursuing a mass communications degree at Bethany College in West Virginia. But the option of becoming a priest remained.
After a year at Bethany College, Wee found himself in Omaha where he met the Archdiocese of Omaha's vocation director.
"Coming all the way from Singapore, I was comfortable in West Virginia," Wee said. "I had friends there. I did not really want to move again and start anew."
But the vocation director made a lot of sense, he said.
"He said, 'It's better that you find out now, once and for all, whether God's calling you to be a priest, then go through your whole life wondering about it later,'" Wee said. "I went back home to Singapore, spoke about it with my parents, prayed about it for a month then I put my trust in God and jumped in."
He decided to attend the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, where he could finish his journalism degree, and where he could attend St. John Vianney College Seminary. After a couple years, with a bachelor's degree in print journalism in hand, Wee found his calling was the Catholic Church.
"I'm thankful I grew up in a Catholic family," he said.