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Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Soon-to-be priests couldn't ignore call"

From Connecticut Post
by Amanda Cuda

When he was a child, Sam Kachuba made a serious decision. Kachuba, now 24, of Stratford, was an altar boy at St. Mark Church in that town. During services, there was one priest who constantly sang off-key. Even as a kid, Kachuba was sort of embarrassed for him. This led to an epiphany.

"I remember thinking 'Wow, I will never be a priest — you have to sing in front of people,'" Kachuba said.

Eventually, Kachuba became more comfortable with the idea of singing in public. He became a cantor and joined the church choir. But he still thought he couldn't join the priesthood, despite numerous hints to the contrary.

His classmates at St. James Elementary School even voted him "Most Likely to Become a Priest."

"I thought they were making fun of me," Kachuba said.

Now that he's an adult, Kachuba's no longer laughing. He's one of two men who will be ordained this week as priests for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. The other new recruit is Ian Jeremiah, 44, a native of Malaysia.

Bishop William E. Lori will ordain both men in a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport. The Archdiocese of Hartford also will ordain a new priest Saturday morning. Collins Anaeche, 28, of Nigeria, will join the priesthood during a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.

The three men are among nearly 400 expected to be ordained nationwide this year. Though the media has reported for some time that there is a shortage of men looking

to join the priesthood, there's still an interest in this way of life, said the Rev. Peter Lynch, director of vocations for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

"God has not stopped calling," said Lynch, who works out of St. John Fisher Seminary Residence in Stamford. "Men are still being called — they're probably just not hearing it."

Both Jeremiah and Kachuba said they resisted the call at first, though Jeremiah resisted it longer.

He first sensed he was being called when he was a teenager in Ipoh, Malaysia. "I had a friend who was a priest," he said. "I saw what he did, and decided I could do that."

But, while a student at the National University of Malaysia, he questioned his call, and decided to pursue a more traditional career instead. He received a degree in accounting, then, at the age of 25, he came to New York, where he worked as an accountant at the nonprofit organization Daytop Inc.

Jeremiah's new life didn't feel right, so he decided to become a financial analyst. He went to Columbia University and received an MBA, but then decided the world of finance wasn't for him either.

"Everything I was pursuing I thought would make me happy, but I felt something missing," he said.

Acknowledging that "God is persistent," Jeremiah finally gave in to his teenage yearnings to join the priesthood. At age 38, he entered the St. John Fisher Seminary Residence, and began studying at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland. During his training, Jeremiah held positions at several churches in the state, including St. Joseph Parish in Shelton and St. Joseph Parish in Danbury.

Jeremiah said he's looking forward to his new life, and has numerous relatives traveling here from Malaysia for the ordination ceremony. His goals for the future are somewhat simple, he said: "Serve God. Serve his people."

Lynch said a lot of men, like Jeremiah, wait to heed God's call. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the average age of men slated for ordination this year is 36 for diocesan priests and 39 for ordained men in religious orders such as the Jesuits or Dominicans.

But there are indications that the tide is turning. Lynch said he's now hearing from boys who are still in high school and are interested in pursuing the priesthood. "A lot of the youth now are really getting into their faith," he said.

Count Kachuba among that group. Despite his initial reservations, Kachuba was thinking more seriously about a religious vocation by the time he was a student at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull. Eventually, he realized it was his destiny to become a priest.

"The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like God was really calling me," he said.

He entered St. John Fisher after graduating high school. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Fordham University in 2004, then obtained his bachelor of sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

While training, Kachuba served at several local parishes, including St. Ann Parish in Bridgeport and St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield.

In addition to his religious studies, Kachuba has also long been interested in music. He's played the violin for years, and even joined an Irish band at St. John Fisher.

Once he becomes a priest, Kachuba said, he expects that he'll be asked to work with youth because of his age. However, he said he'll serve in whatever way the diocese asks. "There's so many ways that God is needed in people's lives," he said.

Both Kachuba and Jeremiah will learn today which parishes they're assigned to, and Lynch said they would be assets wherever they go.

Lynch said he knows Kachuba particularly well, as he was a chaplain at St. Joseph when Kachuba was a student there. However, he's been impressed with both men.

"These two men are awesome," he said.

1 comment:

greg said...

Is Ian Jeremiah from Ipoh (OMPH) parish? Sure would be nice to say hello to him if this is indeed the same Jeremiah I knew a long time ago.
Seems like the correct age....
Greg Tan