Brother Levis Kuwa
On May 24, 2013, Brother Levis Kuwa of ol'Kalou, Kenya, renewed his Glenmary Oath for the third time, still another step in a three-year period of temporary profession that will culminate in his Final Oath.
He then spent the summer in Boston for a clinical pastoral education (CPE) placement 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." Now in the 2013-14 academic year, he is continuing his studies toward a bachelor of nursing degree at the University of Cincinnati, with the ultimate goal of becoming a missionary nurse.
In reflecting on his continuing nursing studies, he says that "starting in January 2014, the program will get intense, but I am ready and believe God will keep guiding me towards my goal. I will receive a conditional bachelor's degree followed after 1½ years by a master's degree (MSN), earning the title of nurse practitioner."
When he becomes a registered nurse and nurse practitioner for Glenmary, he hopes to work in a mission-area free clinic for the poor. "I could help people a lot," he says. He adds that he has received encouraging responses to his ideas.
Levis, 30, 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 another mission placement at the Lafayette, Tenn., and Scottsville, Ky., missions, prior to his third Oath renewal in May.
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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