Diocesan News

Transitional Deacon from Kenya Embraces Lessons to Help People Heal

Deacon Samuel Mwiwawi, who is from Kenya, has helped with pastoral duties at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Bergen Beach for nearly two years. His ordination to the priesthood is set for June 3. (Photo: DeSales Media)

BERGEN BEACH — When Deacon Samuel Mwiwawi calls his parents back home in Kenya, they ask if the parishioners at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish are still taking good care of him. 

His answer: Yes! 

“I usually call them on Sundays,” Deacon Mwiwawi said. “And they tell me, ‘Oh, we are really appreciative of how they’re taking good care of you.’

“They have made sure that I feel part of this community. A majority of them are Italian, so they have made me part of their culture. Deacon Frank D’Accordo, one of our permanent deacons in this parish, says that I’m becoming more Italian because I like their food!” 

Deacon Mwiwawi, 40, has helped with pastoral duties at the parish for nearly two years. June 3 is the date for his ordination to the priesthood with three other transitional deacons. They are Deacons Ernesto Alonso, Nnamdi Eusebius Eze, and Thimote Cherelus. 

Since his ordination as a transitional deacon in January, he has immersed himself in parish life. He has helped at Mass and with the administration of sacraments, such as baptism. He has also visited the homebound.

Parish youth received his teachings through the religious education program and regular visits to St. Bernard Catholic Academy. 

Deacon Mwiwawi said he learned a lot since January under the tutelage of Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, vicar general for the diocese and pastor of St. Bernard.

But, he noted, Father Michael Tedone, the parish’s parochial vicar, Deacon D’Accordo, and Deacon Chris Wagner taught valuable lessons, too. Their ministering to grieving parishioners has been especially illuminating, he said.

“I credit Deacon Frank and Deacon Chris for how they attend the wake services,” he said. “I learned from them that you need to be there with the people, showing that if you grieve with hope, you will heal. 

“The parish of St. Bernard also prays for them, and we remember their beloved ones. Also, that we are there to listen to them gives hope.” 

Deacon Mwiwawi said Father Tedone impressed him with a tenet that parishioners may not remember a homily, but they will “remember how we touched their hearts. Speaking with just kind words, welcoming, and making them feel at home. 

“And I remember back when I was in seminary, one of the teachers used to tell us to remember that most of the people who come to church are wounded,” he said. “They come to find healing at church. But how will they find healing if you do not show them the love of Christ?” 

Deacon Mwiwawi completed his studies at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, where priesthood candidates ages 30 and older pursue “second-career” or “delayed” vocations. 

He spent his childhood living all over Kenya, one of six children of Hendrick and Florence Lucy Mwiwawi. The family moved a lot to follow his father’s job postings for Nairobi-based National Cereals and Produce Board. 

The deacon speaks English and Swahili, adding that learning Spanish is “a work in progress.” He is also fluent in American Sign Language. He started learning it in Kenya to help teach the Gospel to hearing-impaired people there. 

Once he came to the U.S., he joined the Dominican Missionaries for the Apostolates of the Deaf and Disabled. Meanwhile, his sign-language skills improved during a summer-long “immersion” program at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. In 2018-2019, the Dominicans referred him to help interpret sign language for Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.  

About 400 people attended his ordination Mass as a transitional deacon in early January. 

They included friends from CCBQ and parishioners from the Deaf Apostolate at St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Brooklyn. Others came from the hearing-impaired community at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James. 

Deacon Mwiwawi’s family in Kenya watched via live streaming. They might have to do likewise on June 3 to view the ordinations at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph; their passport applications may not be approved in time for them to travel to see the service in person, he said. 

“I’m excited to get ordained,” he said, “and also, I will feel disappointed if my parents will not be able to attend.” 

He’s also worried about their safety. Political turmoil in Kenya has spurred violent protest demonstrations across the nation. Roman Catholic leaders in the country have decried the violence and appealed for a truce among the squabbling politicians and their supporters. 

“It affects my family directly because the more the demonstrations continue, there is violence,” he said. “Security becomes complicated for my family members in Nairobi.” So far, he said, his relatives are unhurt, but they have been affected by rising prices due to the strife.

Meanwhile, he awaits his first assignment as an ordained priest, eager to serve wherever Bishop Robert Brennan sends him. Still, he feels sure parishioners at St. Bernard will welcome his visits. 

“They have become like my parents, like my brothers and sisters, my grandparents,” he said. “May God bless them always.”