On May 23, 2015, Brother Levis Kuwa of Ol'Kalou, Kenya, and Brother Jason Muhlenkamp professed their Final Oaths to Glenmary Home Missioners at a special Mass. In doing so, each made a lifelong commitment—after several years in formation—to serve the neglected people in Glenmary's home mission areas.
Brother Levis, 31, had spent the last year focused on his nursing studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is on the road to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing by 2017. Reflecting on his future, he said that "I believe God will keep guiding me towards my goals. I will continue to gain health care experience as I complete my degree work and become a registered nurse and nurse practitioner."
When he reaches these objectives, he hopes to work as a missionary nurse practitioner in a mission-area clinic for the poor. "I could help people a lot," he says. He adds that he has received encouraging responses to his ideas.
Throughout his formation program, he served people and gained experience in a range of ministries during mission placements—including health care-related work that helped confirm his vocation.
Levis was raised in a close-knit Catholic family and community in Kenya—a country where Catholicism is the largest religious denomination (33 percent of population). As an altar boy, he admired the dedicated Italian missionary priests who had left their native country to serve his parish.
For high school, Levis attended Catholic boarding school. "That's when I started thinking seriously about a religious vocation," he says. He eventually decided to join the Augustinian order. Although he completed his degree in philosophy at their seminary, he decided the lifestyle wasn't right for him. But during an Internet search, he found Glenmary's Web site and was intrigued: "Ministry to people who are forgotten is what God wants me to do," he says.
He was also drawn to the rural aspect of Glenmary's ministry; to the challenges of serving where Catholics are a minority and ministering to both Catholics and non-Catholics; and to the idea of going where he could focus on his vocation. "If I worked at home I'd have distractions. Here in the United States I can give the whole of me," he says. "And being a Catholic missioner from Kenya has two other advantages: I represent the universal Church. And I get people's attention, which gives me a chance to evangelize."
He discerned a vocation with Glenmary for two years while continuing to live in Kenya, spending one year as a volunteer chaplain at Nairobi's largest hospital, which serves the poor. "That work had a big impact on me and was a humbling experience. It's also one factor that led me to pursue health care ministry with Glenmary," he says.
After those years, he came to the United States and began his Glenmary formation with a one-year prenovitiate program in Hartford, Ky. The program combined adjustment to a new culture, academics and some outreach ministry.
The next year was his first novitiate year, which calls for students to focus primarily on solitary prayer and reflection. Levis says that "it helped me slow down and pray about my vocation." He also enjoyed learning more about Glenmary and its founder.
Prior to his First Oath, Levis spent a second, very busy novitiate year at Glenmary's former mission in Idabel, Okla., with then-pastor Father Chet Artysiewicz. His ministry included visiting nursing home residents, working at a Native-American history museum, teaching CCD and coaching a soccer team.
An unexpected challenge arose when Father Chet needed surgery and asked Levis to lead the mission for five weeks. "It made me discover some gifts in myself," he says. He even led some Word and Communion services and gave homilies, some in Spanish that he wrote out and read, since he was not yet fluent in the language. "The tremendous support I received from parishioners strengthened my vocation. In some ways it was hard to leave, because they welcomed me and I became part of the Idabel family."
In 2010 he took his First Oath, became a member of Glenmary, and became Brother Levis. It was a major step on his vocation journey after several years of discernment and formation, during which he moved to a new continent and started a new life.
Afterwards, he completed a one-year assignment at Glenmary's Waldron, Ark., mission, prior to renewing his Oath for the first time in May 2011. Then he began his nursing studies at the University of Cincinnati.
In May 2012, Brother Levis renewed his Glenmary Oath a second time while continuing his studies. And from January to May 2013, he completed a mission placement at the Lafayette and Scottsville missions. His health care-related experiences in the spring of 2013 became a turning point for him, as he volunteered at the Macon County (Tenn.) Hospital four days a week.
"It was the first time I worked for an extended period in my field," he says. "I volunteered in the emergency room and did whatever work they assigned me—from triage, to talking to families, to cleaning beds and pushing wheelchairs. The experience reinforced the fact that health care is the right vocation for me, and gave me new motivation for my future studies." At the conclusion of that mission placement, he renewed his Oath for the third time in May 2013.
He then spent the summer of 2013 in a clinical pastoral education (CPE) program at a Boston hospital. "It pushed me out of my comfort zone," says Levis, "and armed me with the skills I need to form and work with a team of complete strangers, as well as to establish professional relationships and trust with people of diverse traditions to whom I'm ministering." That fall, he resumed his nursing studies.
In 2014, he renewed his Glenmary Oath for the fourth time as he moved closer to his Final Oath in May 2015. He completed this Oath renewal at the Holy Family mission in Lafayette, Tenn., after completing a mission placement primarily in that area—and also at the Celina, Tenn., and Scottsville, Ky., missions—from January through April. He participated in a variety of ministries, such as working at the Macon County Hospital two to three times weekly to build on his health care experiences of the previous spring; assisting a local volunteer—a Vietnam war veteran—in completing home repairs and building access ramps for a number of local people in need; assisting with programs for the parish youth group; and more.
The Oath renewal was held at the mission partly so that parishioners could attend. "It meant a lot to me that people from all three of the area missions came, prayed for me, and celebrated the event," he says. Afterwards, he headed back to the University of Cincinnati to continue his nursing studies for the 2014-15 academic year, leading up to his Final Oath.
Jesus' parable of the lost sheep often comes to Brother Levis' mind when he thinks about his future. "It always encourages me to seek to touch a heart, heal a soul or body, or bring a person to God," which is what he believes Glenmary's work is all about.
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