Glenmary seminarian Charles Aketch, 36, and fellow student Richard Toboso renewed their Glenmary Oaths for the first time in May 2016 during a special service at Cincinnati headquarters, after completing their second year of theology studies at St. Meinrad (Ind.) Seminary.
In the summer of 2016, Charles has been involved in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at a hospital in Atlanta, Ga. The CPE program is part of every future missioner’s preparation for pastoral ministry in the Glenmary home missions. And in the fall of 2016, he will return to the seminary for his third year of theology studies.
Charles says he has been focused on meeting the challenge of his seminary studies, gaining ministry experience on mission assignments and in his CPE program, always learning more about the new culture, and preparing to serve God as a Glenmary home missioner. "This is my dream and what I am looking forward to," he says.
As he grew up in Kisumu, Kenya, Charles learned to value community life from living with his parents and seven siblings, who were later very supportive of his vocation call. He attended Mass regularly with his grandmother. And his pastor mentored him, paid his high school fees, and eventually—by his example—inspired Charles to enter the seminary. "He was always present for the people, and he loved and identified with them," he says.
After primary and secondary school, he trained as an insurance salesman and worked briefly in this field. "But in 2003, I felt strongly called to serve God as a Catholic priest," says Charles. He joined the Consolata Missionaries, started his discernment in the seminary, and continued his education and preparation for several years before deciding to leave the program and further discern his call to priesthood.
He soon became very involved in work with the pastor at his local parish church, where his efforts included giving catechism instruction to adults and to students at the parish girls' school, visiting the sick, working with the youth, conducting the Liturgy of the Word and parish office work when his pastor was not present, evangelizing to others, and more. He also worked as a community development facilitator.
"This pastoral work really helped me to further identify with the life and needs in the rural area where my parish was located, as well to understand the challenges of this work and how to meet them," Charles says. "And it reminded me how much I like the peace and beauty of rural life."
He first learned about Glenmary from a Consolata priest in 2006. The talk made a major impact on him because of what he learned about Glenmary's work, mission areas, and spirituality, and he eventually left Consolata in 2011 to discern with Glenmary. He learned much more at the 2013 Glenmary retreat by meeting, talking to, and praying with Glenmarians in person, before deciding the religious society was the answer to his vocation call.
"I began feeling at home (at the retreat). I admire the way Glenmary makes present the love of God and the Catholic faith in the rural areas and small towns of the United States, and the way it identifies with and serves the marginalized and the poor in those areas. I longed to work outside my own country the way the first missionaries did. And I longed to be a member of Glenmary."
"It's hard to leave one's homeland," Charles says. “But I thank the Glenmarians who came to Kenya to give the retreat I attended, and who visited my home to assure my parents I would be safe and in good hands. I was worried about the cultural differences, too. But they helped me gain courage and later prepared me psychologically for meeting and responding to the changes. Everyone's prayers have helped a lot, too. I feel very comfortable with Glenmary's rural ministry and with being part of their work."
He came to America in 2013 to answer God’s call to be a Glenmary missioner. And he began attending St. Meinrad (Ind.) Seminary that fall while living at Glenmary’s nearby House of Studies. “Father Bruce Brylinski, the house director, and the American seminarians really helped me adapt to American education and culture,” he says.
In the summer of 2014, prior to the start of the yearlong novitiate program, Charles went on a three-week mission placement to then-Camp Glenmary in northeast Mississippi, which he found to be a very good experience. He said that the two weeks of the Camp Friendship portion—the camp for children of all races from low-income household and foster homes—"opened up my eyes to how Glenmary does ministry." And the one-week Catholic Camp with teenagers from the area's Catholic minority "helped me reflect on the future of the Church."
Then Charles and Richard began their one-year novitiate program in the fall of 2014 leading up to their First Oaths. “For me, the novitiate was about entering into Glenmarians’ way of life and ministry to enable me to understand them well,” Charles says.
The two-month first phase introduced the students to the spirituality and charism of the society. In the process, says Charles, "I learnt a lot about the community from interviews with and presentations by Glenmarians." He also learned more about U.S. culture and volunteered once a week with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
In the five-month second phase, Charles was on a placement at Glenmary’s Maynardville and Rutledge, Tenn., missions—where he learned more about the importance of Glenmary community, the traits of good missioners, U.S. and Southern culture, and the growing ministry to the Latino community. He was involved in a wide range of ministries with the Glenmary team there. “I learned to be really present to the people I served,” he says. “In Pope Francis’ words, I needed to ‘smell like the sheep.’”
The third phase in the spring of 2015 consisted mostly of study and contemplation, focused on apostolic life and the Glenmary Oath, in preparation for his own First Oath. Finally, Charles and Richard professed their First Glenmary Oaths in May 2015 during a special Mass in Cincinnati. In doing so, they became members of Glenmary Home Missioners.
After another two-month assignment at the Maynardville and Rutledge missions in the summer of 2015, Charles returned to the seminary in the fall of 2015 for his second year of theology studies there, prior to his Oath renewal in May 2016.