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Archives Far from home diocese, Father Ojuok still serves

Sept. 29, 2021

By Darcy Fargo
Editor

NAIROBI – When immigration issues forced Father John K. Ojuok to return to Africa shortly after his ordination, it wasn’t how he envisioned starting his priesthood.

“I miss my ministry there,” Father Ojuok said of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, participating in a video interview from Nairobi. “I didn’t know what was coming when I left the United States. God planned everything before me. Everything came together and was so successful so fast. All is going well. Bishop (Terry R.) LaValley and (diocesan Vicar for Clergy) Father Chris (C. Carrara) helped make things very easy for me with their support, and our Lady, my patron, has really helped take care of things. I’m grateful, and I’m happy.”

What “came together” was an opportunity to serve as chaplain for the Little Sisters of St. Joseph, a community of sisters that previously didn’t have a priest or regular opportunity for Mass. In addition to formation centers for women joining the community, the sisters run a retreat center, Father Ojuok said.

“I celebrate Masses daily for the sisters,” he said. “And I provide the sacraments and recollections at the retreat houses. There’s also a parish that has Masses in the evening, and I’ve been helping there.”

While he hasn’t been there long, Father Ojuok says the sisters have welcomed him warmly.

“They are so nice,” he said. “I do really have a good experience with them. I hear confessions weekly, and we share breakfast after morning Mass. They say it’s a blessing to them. It’s also a blessing for me.”

Prior to Father Ojuok’s arrival, the sisters could not afford expenses related to having a resident chaplain. Because Father Ojuok remains under the care of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, he’s able to minister to their needs without the community incurring a significant expense.

Father Ojuok joined the sisters permanently after spending nearly a month at home in Kenya.

“I was able to celebrate a Mass where I was baptized and where I was raised one week apart,” he said. “And I was invited to celebrate Masses around the diocese. It was truly a blessing, and it overwhelmed me to see the many people who came to the Mass and the many priests joining and organizing. It was really a blessing.”

After his first Mass, a traditional ceremony was held installing him as an elder in the community.

“They bring traditional things – a shield, a spear and a stool,” Father Ojuok explained. “I sat in the stool, holding the spear and shield. It’s a sending out as a priest and as an elder. When counseling and listening to people, it’s sitting in the stool. When enemies come, you fight with this spear and protect with the shield.”

After the ceremony, it is customary that the individual is referred to by a special term that means elder or leader.

“Even your mom calls you that,” Father Ojuok said, laughing. “That was weird for me, though.”

Speaking of his mother, Father Ojuok noted he is happy to be able to see her, despite living nearly seven hours away from her home in Kenya.

“She hopes I will see her every month,” he said. “I hope to get home every two to three months.”

Father Ojuok also looks forward to returning to his new home in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

“I made a home there,” he said of the diocese. “I hear from some of my brother priests, and I miss the people I know there. I hold everyone in my heart, in my Masses and in my prayers. I do miss them a lot. I miss the seasons, too. We don’t have the changes here like we do there. We get a little winter in June, July and the middle of August. It’s chilly, but there’s no snow. There’s no fall. There’s very little spring. I miss that.”

While the exact timing of his return to the diocese has yet to be determined, Father Ojuok said he’s trusting God and looking forward to that time.

“Things will work out, and I will come back,” he said. “I can’t wait!”

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