Glenmarian From Kenya Serving U.S. Missions
To reach the place where he is today, Glenmary Father Crispine Adongo made a long and challenging journey—from the days of his youth in rural Kenya to his first ministry as a priest in rural Tennessee and Kentucky.
As a boy growing up in a devout Catholic family, he admired the Comboni missionaries who left their native Italy to serve in Kenya. “I felt the call to priesthood when I was a young man,” he says. “And since the Combonis were my role models, I decided to be a missionary in another country, too.”
After much prayer, reflection and discussion, he decided to join Glenmary, left Kenya for the United States in August 2005, spent seven years in Glenmary formation, and dealt with all the cultural changes along the way.
He was ordained in May 2012 and soon received his first assignment: associate pastor of the Scottsville, Ky., and Lafayette and Celina, Tenn., missions in the Owensboro and Nashville dioceses. “I was so happy and excited!” says Father Cris. “I was longing to administer the sacraments and help the people in the mission areas.”
Father Cris and the rest of the pastoral team—longtime missioners Father Vic Subb, the pastor, and Brother Larry Johnson—arrived in Lafayette in September 2012. “They’ve helped and supported me a great deal by sharing their experience. Father Vic gives me valuable, practical advice about a priest’s ministry. And we all pray together.”
As a new priest from another culture, Father Cris was nervous about how he’d be received. But now, 18 months later, he says that “the work is challenging, but the Catholics and non-Catholics have welcomed me. The highlights for me have been the growing relationships and the increasing trust people have shown in sharing their lives and struggles with me.” He’s still getting to know and understand the people, but he gets more comfortable every week.
One thing he learned right away in the United States was that his unique life story would help him connect with people. “They always ask what it’s like in Kenya and why I came here,” he says. “I’ve told my story countless times and I’m humbled to share it. It helps us get to know one another and lets me evangelize about our faith.”
In a typical week, Father Cris drives up to 300 miles while dividing his time among the missions. “Sometimes I have to remind myself what state and diocese I’m in!” he says. His primary responsibility is serving the Scottsville community.
Sacramental ministry is a significant part of Father Cris’ work that makes him feel very blessed. “One of the most wonderful things about Glenmary’s presence here is that Masses are celebrated every week in the missions,” he says. He celebrates two of the four weekend Masses—English Mass at Scottsville and English or Spanish Mass at another mission. In addition, he says the weekly Wednesday English Mass and monthly Tuesday Spanish Mass in Scottsville.
He administers other sacraments in English and Spanish, as well as presiding at traditional Latino celebrations such as quinceañeras (for girls’ 15th birthdays). These experiences have already left him with some indelible memories. For instance, he reflects that “I’ll never forget my first baptism—when I realized I was baptizing this little human being with her whole family around us.”
In Scottsville he also assists with adult faith enrichment classes, while being present for and sometimes participating in children’s religious education. In addition, he attends youth ministry meetings and has worked with them on food collections for those in need—along with helping the parish in other outreach efforts such as distributing clothing and gifts at Christmastime.
Father Cris visits the homebound, hospitalized and nursing home residents in Scottsville and Lafayette, too. And every Friday he ministers at the county jail in Lafayette, celebrating Mass for male inmates and then leading a group discussion. “That experience has been great. The inmates are neglected, and I can reassure them that God loves them,” he says.
“I feel real fulfillment when I see how much all the people I’m serving appreciate my being present during crucial moments in their lives. And I’ve learned a lot from them.”
The three Glenmarians also belong to the ecumenical ministerial alliance groups in Lafayette and Scottsville. The missioners have continued building their own—and their mission communities’—relationships with other ministers and denominations, as they all work together to serve the larger communities. Father Cris attends interfaith prayer services, participates in other alliance outreach initiatives, and has accepted invitations to speak to Baptist church groups and public school classes.
He says he’s very grateful to be part of Glenmary—which he describes as “a group with great faith, strong wills and courageous hearts.”
And he’s very thankful to be part of the three mission counties. “It’s a joy to give back for what the missionaries did for people in my country,” he says. “I believe God called me to be here to share the love of Christ with others.”
This article first appeared in the March 2014 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.