A Priest I Will Never Forget
A True Story
on Nov 21, 2020
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic; I just had to because both of my parents were, and still are, Catholics. As a boy growing up in the '90s, I attended mass every Sunday at my hometown Catholic Church where I interacted with nuns, priests, seminarians as well as fellow Christians, old and young alike. Among the priests I interacted with, and one I will never forget, was Fr. Deogratias Rwegasira. Or Fr. Deo in short.
A native of Tanzania, Fr. Deo was posted in the '90s to serve as a chaplain in Kiserian Junior Seminary, a high school that is next to my hometown Catholic Church where I attended mass every Sunday. It was during his tenure in the junior seminary that I got to know him, for he would often come to our church to preach and teach songs to our church choir. He had a passion for music which was evident in the way he owned an amplifier and a piano keyboard on which he had inscribed his name.
When I began accompanying our church choir on the piano in 1998, I loved to hear the choir sing alongside a piano keyboard hooked up to Fr. Deo's amplifier. So I would at times take the initiative of fetching the amplifier from Kiserian Junior Seminary and bring it to our church. I can still picture myself as a boy strutting on an aisle of a fully-packed church, with the bulky amplifier in my hands.
Back in the '90s, I once overheard a friend make fun of Fr. Deo that he knew how to play only one Catholic hymn on the piano. I think the friend was right, for I once observed Fr. Deo connect a piano keyboard to an electrical socket and then test it by playing the only Catholic hymn he was purported to know.
Though he was probably proficient in playing only one hymn on the piano, Fr. Deo was superbly gifted in music. He composed a number of songs that he taught our church choir. And wow! His songs were so tuneful and beautifully crafted that they stuck in my memory like glue on paper. To this day, I find myself crooning them as I got about my daily business.
Besides his musical talent, the other traits of Fr. Deo that endeared him to me were his compassion and kindness. I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon in the late '90s as some of my friends and I were swapping stories outside our church, we spotted Fr. Deo approaching from a distance. On seeing him, we quickly and cleverly agreed amongst ourselves to yawn as Fr. Deo was passing by to show him we were hungry and arouse his sympathy. The ploy worked because when Fr. Deo saw us yawning, he had compassion on us. He dug into one of his pockets, took out a Ksh. 100 note and gave it to us for buying something to eat.
Excited to receive the money, my friends and I went to our hometown of Kiserian where we bought from a food cafe a type of mandazi we used to call "half-cakes". The half-cakes we purchased were hot and fresh from the kitchen. I started eating my share with gusto but after several bites, the half-cake began to cloy due to too much fat.
Talking of his kindness, Fr. Deo once gently refused to give me a copy of the cassettes that our church choir produced in 1998. I kept nagging him to bestow me with the cassette to an extent of following him to wherever he went. Despite my persistent nagging, he never lost his cool. With kindness and consideration, he kept turning down my request to give me a cassette until I finally gave up pestering him. He truly practised the biblical virtues of kindness and gentleness that I have seen missing in some of the Christians I have interacted with over the years.
Because of his musical talent as well as his compassion, Fr. Deo was a charismatic and well-liked priest. Some church congregants enjoyed listening to his sermons so much that I noticed how they would smile whenever he was preaching as if they were also listening with their teeth. He delivered his sermons with a passion that rooted from his firm belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.
Why lie, I also liked Fr. Deo. Unfortunately, I got out of touch with him after he left Kiserian Junior Seminary in the late '90s or early 2000s (I can't recall the exact year he left). Sometime in 2014 after someone shared with me his email address, I sent him a message, hoping to reconnect with him. For some reasons I can't tell, he never replied to the two emails I sent him. Last year when I googled his name, I gathered he was posted to a church in the United States where he was eventually granted American citizenship. So America must now be benefiting from his enormous talent and extensive experience as a chaplain.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on a priest I will never forget, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometime in 2018 on "The Day I Visited My Mentors". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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How Drug Abuse Can Ruin
A True Story
on Nov 16, 2020
There is a music skill that I missed learning when I was being taught piano in the late '90s by a brilliant seminarian named Br. Peter Assenga. That was how to compose songs with a counterpoint harmony. It's a skill that my immediate elder Paddy acquired with admirable proficiency. (If you don't know what a counterpoint harmony is, don't worry; neither did I back in the '90s.)
When I was in Starehe Institute in 2006, I developed a desire to know how to compose songs with a counterpoint harmony. So I approached a guy by the name Kamau to teach me. He readily agreed to tutor me. And soon afterwards, on a warm Sunday afternoon, he sat me down in an empty church for a lesson in music theory.
As Kamau began to teach me that Sunday afternoon, I expected words to flow from his mouth with fluidity - the way Br. Assenga used to speak while teaching us music theory in the late '90s. But guess what! After Kamau uttered his first two or three sentences, he was totally clueless on what to say next. He had to cut the music lesson short. And never again did he sit me down for another music lesson.
Kamau was a fairly gifted pianist. I had known him since the late '90s when he was in high school at Kiserian Junior Seminary. Some time in the year 2000 when I met him on a street in our hometown of Kiserian, I enthusiastically greeted him by his name. I don't know in what tone I greeted him because before I was able to say anything else to him, he pinched me on my face and instructed me to address him with respect. He embarrassed me by pinching me in front of passers-by but I took his reproach in my stride.
After Kamau finished his high school career at Kiserian Junior Seminary, he was admitted at the Apostles of Jesus Major Seminary in Nairobi to pursue priesthood studies. I once heard that he was inspired to become a priest after he narrowly missed being trampled by a moving bus on a highway in Nairobi - a story I have never corroborated whether it was true.
While studying for priesthood, Kamau began messing up with drugs. The drugs altered his behaviour to a point of making him fall out with a certain priest called Fr. Charles Nyamiti who used to offer music lessons to seminarians at the Apostles of Jesus Major Seminary. Fr. Nyamiti was so perturbed by Kamau's behavior that when my friends and I visited him on one Sunday evening, he cajoled us to stay away from drugs so that we wouldn't end up being like Kamau.
With such kind of substance abuse and behavior change, it's no wonder that Kamau eventually dropped out of his priesthood studies. After dropping out, he landed an opportunity to fly to the United States - the so-called land of freedom and opportunity. I gathered that it was his sister who organized for him to live in America where she resided. And I don't know what happened to Kamau in America because after a while, he was back in Kiserian. My brother Bob Njinju informed me that he was deported to Kenya for messing up with drugs - a side of the story which I tend to believe is true.
On settling back in Kenya, Kamau opened a music school in Kiserian. But the school never flourished either because he was too much into drugs or folks in Kiserian weren't just interested in learning music.
Due to his continued substance abuse, Kamau started exhibiting strange behaviour in my hometown Catholic church - the kind of behaviour that would leave any normal person reeling with guilt. Because I have long since ceased attending mass in the Catholic church, I don't know how the church authorities dealt with Kamau's antics.
One Sunday morning in 2013 or 2014 when I dropped by Kiserian Catholic Church to catch up with old friends, I found Kamau playing a piano keyboard just before a mass was about to begin. I approached him and struck up a conversation with him, in the course of which we had a discourse on drugs. He strongly advised me never to indulge in drugs, especially bhang. And from the way he was speaking with feeling, I could tell he was talking from experience. I took his advice to heart.
Over the past several years, I have been meeting with Kamau in Kiserian every now and then. What I find impressive about him is the way he always greets me warmly, sometimes by my name. He seems to have given up the pride and arrogance that made him pinch me sometime in 2000 as I have narrated to you. Once when I met him walking to Kiserian, I asked him how he found California when he was living in America. "It's very beautiful!" he replied in Kikuyu.
Sometime in 2017 or 2018, I observed Kamau eke out a living by hawking sweets in Kiserian. On one or two occasions, he has begged me for money. Earlier on this year, I spotted him carrying a pile of firewood on his shoulders. And then last Saturday, I saw him talking to himself while throwing his arms in the air as if he was fighting an invisible ghost. Judging by such kind of behaviour, you didn't need to be a genius to figure out that all was not okay with his head.
Kamau is now a walking example of how drugs and substance abuse can ruin our lives. Wonderful opportunities came his way (learning to play the piano, getting admitted at a respected seminary, being granted a visa to live in America) but drugs spoilt him. What a pity!
By the way, I have never learnt how to compose songs with a counterpoint harmony, but I am now content with not possessing the skill since I don't compose music for choir. My focus now is on coming up with songs for solo singing.
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