After Making First Oath, Brother Levis Envisions Future
On May 29, 2010, Levis Kuwa of ol'Kalou, Kenya, and Michael Chidi Onuoha of Enugu, Nigeria, became members of Glenmary Home Missioners as they professed their First Oaths during a Mass at St. Matthias Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now the men have begun a three-year period of temporary profession that will culminate with their Final Oaths.
And Levis has become Brother Levis. The First Oath 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.
In early June, before heading for his new assignment at Glenmary's Waldron, Ark., mission, Brother Levis said, "In other places I've been a participant and observer. In Waldron, for the first time, I'm going to be a Glenmarian. I've been waiting for this, and it's very exciting."
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 leading 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—the first novitiate year—calls for students to focus primarily on solitary prayer and reflection, which Levis says "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 the Idabel, Okla., mission with 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's 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."
As he settles in Waldron, Brother Levis says he's not sure what his work will entail, but he's eager to find out. "I'll have to see what's needed and what talents I can use," he says. "My first assignment is to help with summer Bible school."
In the meantime, he has already talked to Glenmary superiors about his vision for the future: He'd like to return to school to become a registered nurse, with the goals of working three days a week in a mission-area free clinic for the poor; working two days a week in a paid hospital position; and doing pastoral mission work every weekend. "I could help people a lot," he says. He adds that he has received encouraging responses to his ideas.
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.
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter