May 3, 2023 at 5:32 p.m.
Parishes on the Prairie welcomes Kenya delegation
Circumstances may have delayed the event by a few years, but Sauk Centre’s Catholic churches of St. Paul’s and Our Lady of the Angels have finally had a visit by a delegation from St. Joseph’s Parish, their partner Catholic parish in Migori, Kenya. The delegation – consisting of the Rev. Aloys Okumu Mwai and Salome Ayugi Okuku – have been touring Sauk Centre and the surrounding area, learning about the local culture and giving their thanks for the ongoing partnership.
“It feels good,” Aloys said. “It feels like we are at home, in spite of the cold and the snow.”
He will be a priest for 20 years this August, and St. Joseph’s Parish is the fourth parish he has served. Salome has been a teacher since 1982, teaching in Kenyan elementary schools. Now retired, she continues to teach at Holy Family School in St. Joseph’s Parish.
Sauk Centre’s parishes and St. Joseph’s Parish alternate in sending a delegation every year and a half. The program dates back to the earliest days of the parishes’ partnership in the early 2000s. Salome, for instance, met Kathy Knoblach, the current Centre for Christ director of faith formation, when the latter was part of a delegation to Kenya in 2007.
“One of our aims is to see the culture, and they also come and see our culture,” Salome said.
Aloys, Salome and another parishioner were supposed to come to Sauk Centre in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic put the program on hold. The Sauk Centre parishes continued to support St. Joseph’s Parish through their orphan project, an initiative started in 2009 to support children in Migori. A school year in Kenya normally involves three months on and one month off; the inter-parish project would provide food for that month off, as well as school T-shirts, uniforms, shoes, backpacks, mosquito nets, health insurance and a social worker to help individual students.
“During COVID, children were sent home, and all of a sudden, there was a food issue,” Knoblach said. “Even though they didn’t have school fees, they didn’t have enough food at home … so we were still sending money to help the children through COVID, and the committee was still working with the children through that time.”
Communication between the parishes was ongoing, and when the threat of the coronavirus pandemic subsided, St. Joseph’s Parish acquired a former hospital building and converted it into their own school, funded by the students’ parents.
Then, the delegation program resumed.
Aloys and Salome arrived in Sauk Centre April 14, just in time for the snow to fall over the weekend and then later on April 20. The weather was not a problem for them, though.
“I’ve never walked in snow,” Aloys said. “That was my first time; we had snowballs and so on.”
When he saw the Masses at the Sauk Centre churches of St. Paul’s and Our Lady of Angels, he was impressed by the order with which they were celebrated.
“The servers are organized, (and) the ushers know what they do,” Aloys said. “Here, it’s only money that’s given (in the collection), but in my country, they give plenty of things. They give chickens, cows, goats, sheep, eggs and grains, so they’ll always bring farm products to the offertory. We share with the poor and the sisters who stay with us, then we share with the prisons (and) the hospital.”
Salome and Aloys have seen several Masses for the students of Holy Family School in Sauk Centre, and they were also struck by the students’ respect of and knowledge of the Mass. There were also the students who voluntarily attended the HFS rise and shine prayer time.
“I was there in the morning with the children,” Salome said. “I was so impressed.”
Aloys also liked the perpetual adoration chapel in St. Paul’s Church, particularly how it is organized with adorers scheduled for certain hours.
“You are very sure people are there praying,” Aloys said. “You know people are coming to pray because they’re signed.”
The chapel’s system is one Aloys is interested in taking back to St. Joseph’s Parish, but the biggest hurdle that system would have is that the majority of the parishioners cannot read or write.
The delegation’s tour throughout the community included the Sauk Centre fire and police departments, Sauk Centre City Hall, Getty Street Assisted Living, Fairway Pines Assisted Living, Sauk Centre Public Schools, CentraCare-Sauk Centre Hospital, Tutti Fruitti Restaurant and Market Farm, the 510 Art Lab and more. They also got to experience more of Minnesota with trips to Camphill Village, West Union, Padua, Alexandria, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Staples, Rice, Duluth and the Twin Cities. For their accommodations, they stayed with Sauk Centre families, and Aloys mostly stayed at St. Paul’s Church rectory with the other priests.
“When we go to Africa or when they come here, they’re welcomed into the community,” Knoblach said. “The whole time you’re there, you’re like a special guest. It’s completely different. They’re staying in American homes, experiencing our customs – not from a hotel room but from inside the church, the rectory (and) the school. You see it in a way you’d never see it in any other way.”
The delegation also had a meet and greet after the 10:30 a.m. Mass April 30, serving African donuts and African chai and displaying letters from children in the orphan project as well as crafts.
Salome and Aloys will be flying out of Minneapolis Friday, May 5, as they return to Kenya. In the meantime, Knoblach and Sauk Centre’s Catholic churches are glad to host the delegation, a sign of the ongoing strength of the international parishes’ relationship.
“It’s a blessing when the delegates come to you because then your whole community gets excited about the partnership,” Knoblach said. “It brings excitement and an awareness to the partnership that you can’t do if you don’t have delegations. It’s the same thing when we go there. It makes it real to the people.”