As I have loved you… love one another.
Fr. Sam's background
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35)
Thanks for your interest in finding out who I am. I welcome you to take some time and read the articles I have written below. I hope they will shed some light on who I am and what I am about. At the heart of my identity and ministry is loving as Christ loves me. I remind myself every day the measure of my love is not how much people love me but how much Christ loves me.
My name is Samson Ngatia Mukundi. I prefer to be called Sam or Fr. Sam. I was born in Kenya (East Africa) Aug. 22nd 1974. I prefer to be identified as a Kenyan rather than an African. I'm the fourth born in a family of fifteen, eight girls and seven boys. I was brought up in the countryside (farm) and worked in the farm as a young boy. Most of my young life I worked in the farm as a shepherd taking care of sheep, goats and cows. I did help my parents with farming crops like corn, potatoes, colored greens and beans. It was a very demanding job but I loved it a lot. It's during my high school years I left home and went to the city to study at a boarding school. I moved to the USA in July of 1999 and went to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary. For me this was a new beginning and a huge change. I was welcomed to new country, culture, family and friends. I have learned a lot through experience and embracing change as well as through making mistakes.
On the 24th of May, 2003, I was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Chicago. This was a new beginning to another way of life. Of all the changes I had experienced, this was the most radical and mysterious. It’s through it I have learned who I am and what God is continually blessing and calling me to become. Through the ministry of serving the people of God at St. Joseph in Homewood, Saint Benedict the African West, Saint Lawrence O'Toole in Matteson, Pondo parish in Kenya and St. Gilbert in Grayslake, I have realized what God is calling me to do - love the people he entrusts to me as he loves me. I do not choose to whom the Lord sends me to; some are poor, rich, gay, straight, old, young, and a variety of ethnicities. I thank the Lord for trusting me to love them as he loves me. This is my lifetime calling and blessing.
In Kenya, English is the official language; everybody is expected to speak English starting in kindergarten. Kiswahili is the national language; it's the uniting local language of my people. There are more than 35 tribes in Kenya, which means 35 tribal languages. In the world, Kenya is known for its long distance runners, coffee and animals (Safari). However, what is not always shown and sometimes lost is the rich culture and traditions of the people of Kenya. I hope my presence here will give you an opportunity to learn more about Kenyan people.
I'm very grateful to God for calling me to be your priest at this time here at St Gilbert. I love being a priest. I hope my passion and love for this calling will bring blessings to you and your family. Learning has been my way of life since I became a priest. I hope to learn your culture, ways of worship, traditions and values. I hope you will have an open mind to learn mine as well. We come from different continents and have lots to learn and share with each other. More important, I hope we shall grow closer to God together. We believe that in God's family there is no nationality, tribe or race, but one family bonded by love. “This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” I’m blessed and excited to be here and I will serve you with all my heart and love.
For entertainment, I have a passion for sports. I love playing and watching golf. When the weather turns cold, I like bowling, going to the movies, watching baseball (Cubs and White Sox), football (Bears) and basketball (Bulls) and ice hockey (Blackhawks); you can tell I am a Chicago Fan! I love cooking when I have time. Most of the time I cook food that I saw my mom cooking when I was a young boy. I love to eat pizza, chicken, pork, lamb, colored greens and lots of fruits. However, I do not eat fish or any seafood. I do not drink or eat food cooked with alcohol. I love listening, watching, singing and playing music. I like being around people. I love it when different families invite me to their homes. I hope you will invite me to your family events and celebrations. You are my primary family now.
Finally, at a personal level, I do not like to be distanced. I grew up being afraid of getting close to priests and I hope this does not happen between you and me. Please get close to me, make fun of me and ask me any question. I love working with children and teenagers. I hope your children will get a chance to learn from me. May God bless you all. With love in Christ Jesus.
The last time I was home was about four and a half years ago. This journey was special because it was the longest time I had lived without seeing my parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. The flight was long as I expected from Chicago to Georgia, Amsterdam, and Nairobi, Kenya. When I arrived in Nairobi, my priest friend was waiting for me with a big smile and a big hug. And the first word that came out from his mouth was “You got small.” I looked at myself and said to him, “ No, I’m big.” Then I remembered that I was in Kenya and losing weight is not a good thing in Kenya because it’s a sign of depression. I told him I was okay and felt healthier this way. I slept in Nairobi and left the next day in the evening. I could hardly sleep at night because of the time difference. Kenya is eight hours ahead of U.S. It took me three days to get used to the time difference. I had some business to take care of the next day, and then I headed home.
It was three hours of driving from Nairobi to Nyahururu. My dad kept calling me every thirty minutes asking where I was. I arrived home, and my dad, my mom, my brothers, and my sisters those who were home came out and everyone wanted to give me a hug at the same time. It was so beautiful. I felt so good. I went around all of them calling each of them by name. And I found that there was one lady I did not know. She looked very different, so I thought she was a guest. I asked her, “Who are you?” And my sister gave me that look asking, “You do not know me?” So I looked at my other sister thinking she was her friend and asked, “Who is she? Is she visiting you?” Everybody didn’t say a word. They just looked at me with wonder. Finally, my mom said, “. Did you forget your sis, Lucy?” The last time I had seen her was when she was in 4th grade and now she’s in 9th grade. I was very apologetic to my sister and gave her a big hug. Then we went to the sitting room, opened the gifts I had brought for them. Starting with my parents, everyone was very happy.
Everyone waited for the gift. However, I immediately noticed that I had bought the wrong sizes of shoes for my sisters except for one. The girl I didn’t know at first, Lucy was the only girl who was able to wear 3 out of 5 pairs of shoes, and she was very happy. Then they asked me about U.S., people, snow, and animals. They wanted to know about everything. But most of all, they wanted to know about the parish. I had all these wonderful stories about you. Then I wanted to know about them. My mom had cooked chicken with , potatoes, and colored greens, Chapati made out of wheat like tortilla, because that’s my favorite food at home. We all ate together after four and a half years. You can tell how good that felt. After eating, we played some games. Someone from U.S. had given me this game called Sequence. My family was so good. They could hardly stop playing it. The next day, my dad took me to the farm and I saw how much cabbages he had farmed. He told me the stories about the rain and all the other problems of farmers facing this year, such as lack of rain and elephants visiting at night looking for food. I took my parents out for lunch, so I could spend some time with them. The next day I wanted more time with my sisters, so we went out to the city and spent the whole day together. It was a lot of fun. I did the same to my brothers. I had to take them out at a different time because they couldn’t fit all in my car at the same time. For those who do not know, I have 8 sisters and 6 brothers. We can make every ball team.
I discovered that I was not able to make a phone call to U.S. because the phone system in Kenya is different from U.S. I had a difficult time even getting to a place to write an email because the place where my parents live is in the farm. There is neither electricity nor running water. They use all sorts of natural resources to live. It felt different not taking a shower every day. On the weekend, I went to see the parish place that was eagerly waiting for me. My priest friend welcomed me to the parish, which was 15 minutes away from my home driving. He asked me to help him serve mass in 3 out of 7 churches. In Kenya, the parish is made up more than 1 church, which is called outstation. Pondo Parish (my home parish) has 7 local churches 45 minutes between 1 out station to the next. I accepted his offer and I was so happy driving from one outstation to the next. People were late for mass and they were very surprised even to see me there. I went to one outstation and I only met two people waiting and they were not expecting a priest. Before the end of the homily, the church was full. By the end of the sermon, 40% of the people left the church and moved to the next outstation to wait for me there because they had missed the most beginning part of the mass.
I have a lot of stories to share about the churches I have visited. I hope that I get a chance to share with you upcoming years. I did enjoy visiting the schools, talking with the children, and helping some of them who are in great needs. I was amazed to find out some of the kids didn’t have uniforms, shoes, and food. (Every student must wear a uniform in Kenya.) Thanks to the money that St. Gilbert children that had given me to help the kids in Kenya and I used the most of it to help these children.
Let me now share with you some of the fun things I did for entertainment. For the first time in my life, I was able to play golf in Kenya. It felt so good. The Knights of Columbus had paid for my golf clubs to travel all the way to Kenya to make sure I play golf at home. Thanks knights. I played golf with my friends who do not know how to play it. They just wanted to watch me playing; they went to the golf course for first time in their lives. The fun part of it, each shop was perfect for them. Meeting my high school, college and even youth group friends and doing some fun things together, mostly sharing our stories was lots of fun. Driving around and seeing animals of every type, please do not ask of their names because I’m very bad at names, but it was so beautiful. I visited an orphan school for girls where some of the kids’ parents died of AIDS. I did spend some time with those children and shared with them the love of the children from St. Gilbert. I plan to work more closely with that school project in the near future because those kids do not have parents except those people who volunteer to work and live with them. It was very humbling to be with them. I played soccer with them.
There are several pictures I have put up on the website. I hope these pictures will help you have a taste of Kenya. I also hope that some of you will visit my country and see for yourself what kind of place I come from. My parents, parish, and people of Kenya send the greetings to you.
It was in the afternoon on August 22, 1974 when I came to this world. My mom (Margaret Wambui) and dad (Patrick Mukundi) lived in a grass thatched house and mud built wall. This was the place I was born. After birth I was named Ngatia, which means a lion. According to our tradition I had to take my uncle’s name. I was baptized four years later and named Samson. My aunt chose this name for me so that I can strong like Samson in the Old Testament. I am the fourth child of my parents who have 15 children. By then we lived in Kimuri, a small village of about 1000 families. Kimuri is located in Eldoret, Rift Valley province, Kenya. Yes, I’m a Kenyan by nationality, kikuyu by tribe. There are more than 30 tribes in Kenya which means there are more than 30 languages. Kenya was colonized by the British for many years and hence English has been our official language. We learn English from kindergarten all way through college. Kiswahili is the language that unites us as a nation and is required to be studied as well from kindergarten to high school. Every Kenyan speaks three languages at least: mother tongue (tribal language), English (official language) and Kiswahili (national language).
I took my primary education in Kimuri primary school for seven years. Most if not all the kids were kikuyu. Then in 8th grade I went to Ochemina Primary school where my uncle whom I’m named after was a teacher. Most kids there were Nandi by tribe and I had to learn some of the Nandi language and culture as well. In both of these places 90% of the people were farmers. My primary responsibility was taking care of the cattle of my parents. If I was not in school I had to take the animals to the field (cows, goats and sheep) and graze them. My parents had 20 cows, 35 sheep and goats. We had two dogs which we used for hunting for the protection of our animals and house at night from bad people. Dogs are not expected to be inside the house. We had two cats which lived inside the house mostly to hunt the rats. I kept some rabbits and chickens which I sold once in a while to get some money.
My dad had a big music system and neighbors used to come home on the weekend, play music and dance. If you danced very well my dad would give you a gift. This was how we had fun on the weekend, dancing in people’s houses; we did not have a dance club in my village or any where near. TV was history in my village; no one had a TV when I was growing up as a boy. I had not seen a movie theater until I came to United States. Radio was the only means of communication by then.
My parents expected all us to participated in their farm life and enjoy every bit of it. Before going to school every day my brothers and I had to milk five cows or more by hand and on my way to school carry the milk in a big container with a wheelbarrow to the milk collection center, and then head to school. After school I had to make sure I fetched enough water from the well for family use, animals and sometimes even for the plants, in case it was very dry. One of the most fun times was working in the farm during harvesting period. Neighbors moved from one farm to the other helping each other to harvest corn. We were always singing and competing to see who will out harvest the others. For this reason I knew everybody in the village because we were very close together. Whether in marriage, funerals or any community event the whole village was involved.
When I moved to Ochemina Primary the distance from the place I lived and where the school was, was about five miles. I had to run to school every morning, run back home for lunch break, which was an hour, and make sure I was back to school for afternoon classes, and then walk home in the evening. I did a lot of running. During my primary school time I participated mostly in games. I loved playing soccer. We used to make soccer balls from poly bags by folding them together. We played soccer in school during soccer season, in the streets or open areas if we were not in school. We also had an athletic season for running. We had to run cross country races around the village for practice every evening. Then competition between schools was held up to the national level. We had music festival season (music, drama and dance competition). Different music in all languages as well traditional dance competition took place. My favorite seasons were soccer and music festival. At the end of Primary education all students in 8th grade took a national examination and only those students who pass the exam made it to high school. If you don’t pass the exam you either drop out or repeat the 8th grade. I did very well in the national exam and I was on my way to high school.
However, before heading there I had to go through a cultural rite called circumcision. It’s a very important right of passage for my tribe. I was in seclusion for a month, healing the wound, learning the most sacred traditions of my people which can never be told to strangers, and being advised of how to be responsible as a father in case I get married and, more importantly how to relate with women, mostly your wife. I had to memorize everything because taking notes was not acceptable. At the end the elders (those gone through the rite before you) gather in the house and ask questions to see if you understood everything they taught you. Then you take an oath to keep sacred our traditions and never to reveal to strangers all that I was taught. This rite of passage makes one be regarded as an adult. I was only 14years old when I went through this rite.
The high school I went to was located down town in Eldoret. It is a minor seminary, namely Mother of Apostles Seminary. It was and still remains one of the best high schools in the nation, but is very expensive. This was not the high school of my choice, but my dad was trying to give me the best education available. I was sure by then that Catholicism was not the religion of my choice. I had been led to believe that Catholics don’t get “saved”, they worship Mary and Idols. Catholic liturgies were very boring to me. I was more attracted to the Protestant spirit of worship (music and very nice homilies from pastors). I didn’t want at all to be in that high school but my dad forced me there. At school we had Mass every day in the morning, rosary in the evening and very intense studies. I was very curious about very many Catholic doctrines and during the first year I took a lot of time reading and asking questions of Catholic faith to Irish priests and Nuns who ran the school. After one year of being in high school I fell in love with Catholicism.
In high school I loved playing games very much and music. I played soccer, handball and, acted in drama. We formed a small choir for contemporary music, traditional and liturgical dances among the students. Our school did very well in the drama competition in the nation and several times I acted as a major character in a school drama. I enjoyed being an actor. Our handball team did not go beyond the provincial level but I enjoyed playing that game more than soccer. We did well in the district but we never tested national competition. Most of my success came with music and academics. Every year our choir went to the national competition in traditional dancing as well in composing music. In some of those dances I was the soloist of the song being danced. I loved it and gave it my all. In my 3rd year in high school the school president appointed me to be in charge of the music in the seminary. The school choir sung for the English Mass every Sunday morning in the parish connected to the seminary (John XX111 Parish). This mass was mostly attended by students because other people preferred to attend Kiswahili mass. We created a liturgical dance group and incorporated some of our cultural oriented tunes and dance into Christian songs. I believed then and I still believe now that music takes us into a very high level of worship, very close to God. Music should move our thoughts, emotions and passion to the next level of seeing and feeling God’s presence. When I sing I pray better, worship even deeper. With time the English Mass which used to be for students became the best attended Mass in the parish. The Church was parked every Sunday. Music played a big role then and it has always done in my life. I pray with music, dance with music and breathe musically.
At the end of High School in Kenya the students take a national examination. You have to pass this exam with a B or better grade to go to college. I did well but chose a different path in life rather than going to Government College. I chose to pursue priesthood. I will write about this journey in a different article. Hope you have enjoyed the dance so far.
In Christ Jesus,