Ordination of Father John Siyumbu marks a new era as Maryknoll welcomes seminarians from mission countries
John Siyumbu, born in East Africa, has become the first Maryknoll priest ordained from overseas local churches since the mission society officially opened up to foreign vocations.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (see story, p. 15) was the ordaining prelate at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Chapel in Ossining, New York. The ordination Mass was celebrated on Friday, June 3, the Feast of the Uganda Martyrs.
In his homily, Cardinal Tagle advised Father Siyumbu to always remember how Jesus the Good Shepherd had sent him many people throughout his life, beginning with his family, teachers and Maryknoll missionaries who inspired him in Kenya.
“Remember, even if they call you ‘Father,’ they call you all of these titles, remain a sheep under the care of Jesus. For only by receiving Jesus’ pastoral care of you will you be able to do as he does,” Cardinal Tagle said. “So, like him, wherever you are assigned consider the people entrusted to your care as your own. For them you will give everything — your life even — because that is how the true shepherd takes care of the flock.”
Deacon John Siyumbu lies prostrate before the altar. (Octavio Durán/U.S.)
Closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, the intimate ceremony was celebrated with Maryknoll priests and brothers, a small group of Maryknoll sisters and limited guests present. Father Siyumbu’s family — unable to receive visas from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi to be present at the Mass — joined the ordination via live streaming, as did friends from East Africa, the United States and Bolivia, where he served during his Overseas Training Program.
“We are grateful to Almighty God for the gift of vocation,” said Father Lance Nadeau, Maryknoll superior general and concelebrant of the Mass. “This happy day also has its deep sadness for us, especially for John, because his family is not with us.” He addressed Siyumbu’s family members in the Swahili and Luhya languages, thanking them for their encouragement of John’s vocation.
“You have opened a new page in our Maryknoll mission,” Father Nadeau said to Father Siyumbu. “Welcome into Maryknoll, and fly the flag of Good News and the mercy of Christ to all people.”
Father Siyumbu poses with presider Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Mass concelebrants and missioners. (Octavio Duran/U.S.)
Father Siyumbu, 36, said the highlight during the ordination rite was when he lay prostrate before the altar. “I felt like Jesus Christ on the Cross. Time seemed to stop,” he said. “I felt the grace of God, the spirit of God poured out on me through the people around me, all my family, ancestors and friends.” He continued, “I felt a deep joy, and a closeness to everyone in the chapel, and also to all of those accompanying from Bolivia, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Americas and all the people who watched me that moment. I felt a union with them. That will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Cardinal Tagle, who is from the Philippines, told Father Siyumbu that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to build up the human family in our diversity and to let creation sing in a symphony of joy.
“I hope you as a collaborator of Jesus, the head of the Church, will be a sign and an instrument of this welcome of people of different nations, tongues, traditions, cultures, diverse gifts coming together for the common good,” Cardinal Tagle said. “Coming together to build up the one community, a Christian family, to strengthen the common home, that is the desire of Jesus. And I hope wherever you are sent, you will be a living sign of the calling of Jesus to everyone; may they hear the voice of Jesus through you.”
During their sending ceremony, Maryknoll Father John Siyumbu was called to mission in Latin America and Maryknoll Sister Faithmary Munyeki to Brazil. Following custom, the missioners each received a missionary cross. (Gregory A. Shemitz/U.S.)
Present to congratulate the new priest was Siyumbu’s close childhood friend Stephen Rotich, who now lives in North Carolina. The two were classmates at Mumias Primary School in Kenya. Rotich remembered how growing up, everyone looked to Siyumbu for guidance because he always did the right thing. “You are a sign of hope for our community,” Rotich said to his friend. “Just be strong like you have always been and bless our community.”
Father Siyumbu’s mother, Eunice, his father, Michael, and sisters Nelly and Jessy said in a WhatsApp interview later that his family members and representatives of small Christian communities in Kenya watched the ordination. His mother thanked all the Maryknollers for having prepared her son to be a priest.
“When Father Nadeau spoke in our languages it was emotional for us. He represented us as a family,” his mother said. “To choose this Feast Day of the Uganda Martyrs for the ordination of my son is very historical. … It is a very special day for us.”
Following the ordination Mass, Father Siyumbu gave first blessings in English, Spanish and Swahili to Cardinal Tagle, Maryknoll missioners and guests. Among those blessed were Patrick and Karen Holland. The Holland family of Erie, Pennsylvania, met Father Siyumbu when he came to their home for Thanksgiving with their daughter Grace, who met him through a Maryknoll lay missioner who served in Bolivia. Father Siyumbu asked the Hollands to represent his parents at the celebration.
Maryknoll Superior General Father Lance Nadeau blesses the candidate. (Octavio Durán/U.S.)
“I felt overwhelmed with love and being part of this,” Patrick Holland said. “He is a blessing from God. He will be a great role model for all to follow.”
Later that day, Father Siyumbu and Maryknoll Sister Faithmary Munyeki received their mission crosses in a sending ceremony. Following Maryknoll custom, missioners already serving in a country or region addressed the new missioners, inviting them to join them. Sister Munyeki was called to serve in Brazil by Maryknoll Sister Anastasia Lee.
Maryknoll Father Michael Briggs, regional superior elect of Latin America, called forth Father Siyumbu to serve in Latin America. “We are very happy that he is coming to Latin America,” Father Briggs said at the sending. Since the time of the ceremony, Father Siyumbu has been assigned to Peru.
“He is going to be an amazing priest no matter where he goes to serve,” Karen Holland said.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin, multimedia associate editor, contributed to this article.
Featured Image: On the day of his ordination Mass, Maryknoll Father John Siyumbu stands before Maryknoll missioners and a small group of guests on June 3, 2022, at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Chapel in Ossining, New York. (Octavio Duran/U.S.)