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Franciscan Faces
Divine Blueprint Converts Architect into Friar

Henri Djojo, OFM, used his drawing skills at the face-painting table at a parish event.

From the moment he won a LEGO competition at age 7, Henri Djojo, OFM, crafted the blueprint on his future – his sights set on becoming an architect and designing hotels and skyscrapers in major cities around the world. Big dreams for the youngster of a devout Buddhist family from Borneo whose parents, migrants from China, sent him to live with his paternal grandmother and an aunt in Jakarta, Indonesia, when he was just 4-years-old to attend a K-through-12th-grade Catholic school renowned for its world-class education. But not impossible dreams for a youngster who learned to speak Chinese at age 3, and who exceled in art, math, physics

and biology by the time he reached middle school at the Van Lith School run by Dutch Jesuit priests.

Henri’s imprint can be seen on skylines here and abroad – Boston’s Prudential Tower, the Hong Kong Ritz Carlton and Mandarin Oriental, to name a few – but his more than decade-long success story in architecture changed course when God had other designs. Not to say the divine blueprint was a total surprise for Henri, who says he sporadically felt the call to religious life after he converted to Catholicism at age 12, a decision supported by his parents and grandmother, who encouraged him to pursue the religion he was learning in school.

“The more I learned at Sunday school classes in preparation for my conversion, the greater my hunger for the Catholic faith. It became so much more than wanting to be an altar boy like my classmates. I was attracted to the similarities to Buddhism – the spirituality, the sacred rituals and celebrations. That’s when I started to feel the inclination to religious vocation,” explained Henri, who has been assigned since last August to St. Barbara Parish at the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara in California, where he serves in pastoral and sacramental ministry as associate pastor and visits the sick at a local hospital.

The voice whispering religious vocation was silenced by his pursuit of a career in architecture and desire to travel the world. He came to the U.S. for undergraduate studies at the Jesuits’ Boston College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art and information systems. After completing his master’s in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2001, he went on to work 

Henri Djojo, OFM, joyfully put his culinary talent to work at a Franciscan soup kitchen.

for international firms, compiling an impressive resume of designing hospitality, commercial, retail and residential  properties for some of the most demanding clients – including the architectural design of seven theme restaurants for Disney Shanghai.

Henri Djojo, OFM, in his days as an architect.

In between his studies and work, there were dinners with Jesuits-in-residence at Boston College, and during graduate school, he met the Franciscans at their chapel near his architecture studio in Providence, Rhode Island. When his father died in 2001, Henri was grateful to the friars for allowing him to pray in the chapel after hours.

“The welcome and compassion of the friars always stuck with me,” said Henri, who continued to connect with the Franciscans when he took his first job in downtown Boston and began his workdays with Mass at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street. Then Singapore, not vocation, came calling when Henri relocated after accepting a dream job with an international firm specializing in hotel and hospitality architectural design.

With immigration regulations dictating his return to the U.S. after three years in Singapore, he crashed for 16 months on the sofa of college

friends in San Francisco while working in retail and volunteering at a local church as an altar server and sacristan. He witnessed Franciscan hospitality and care when he met a friar stricken with a muscular disease. 

“Despite his limitations and frailty, he was one of the most joyful and welcoming people I’ve ever met – going out of his way to help people, especially migrants who had nowhere to stay. Franciscan life and ministry were very appealing to me,” said Henri.

Henri left his friends’ sofa and got an apartment of his own when he took the job for the Disney project. But three years later, vocation beckoned once again. This time, Henri couldn’t ignore the call.

“It was the same exuberance I felt when I converted to Catholicism. I couldn’t wait to be a friar,” said Henri, who joined the Franciscans in 2014, professed first vows two years later, made his solemn profession in 2021, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2023.

Henri’s ministry has been as diverse as the architectural career he left behind – serving the poor and homeless at the St. Anthony Foundation dining room in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District; 

A volunteer at the St. Anthony Foundation dining room in San Francisco and Henri Djojo, OFM, during a break before dinner guests arrived.

parish ministry and working with adults converting to Catholicism in San Luis Rey; ministering to the large Indonesian population in San Diego, and more recently, serving in vocation ministry as western region vocation director – sharing the twists and turns of his own vocation journey with men contemplating friar life.

Henri Djojo, OFM, in his office at one of the firms where he worked before becoming a Franciscan friar.

“I love being a Franciscan friar because I can be myself. I love the brotherhood and caring for the people who are ignored by society and sometimes by their own families. That’s what attracted me to the Catholic faith – this community of sisters and brothers,” said Henri, who continues to use his architectural gifts in ministry – for example, working with parishioners to design accessible entry for physically challenged worshippers, and creating designs to incorporate the Tabernacle into the altar wall at the Old Mission Church, as well as drafting design concepts for the Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters and friary of the Franciscan province.

He has also turned architecture into a hobby, as Henri takes stock of his surroundings whenever he travels, exploring and admiring the designs of hotels, hospitality venues, and other structures. Henri delights in sharing his culture with the friars, especially the cuisine – he cooks, too!

“The friars enjoy my specialty – chicken satay with peanut sauce,” he said.

About that LEGO competition that got it all started when he won first prize as a 7-year-old child, it was a high-rise hotel. 

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

Photos courtesy of Henri Djojo, OFM

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