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Fr. Alex Ojacor
I am the third born in a family of seven children. My faith journey began with my grandparents who in 1928 were the first in my village to convert to Catholicism. They had to walk a journey of three days to the mission station (a distance of about 70 miles) through forests, rivers, swamps, etc. in order to go for their catechism where the missionaries had established the first Church in our diocese. According to my grandmother, on the Easter of 1930, they were overjoyed to receive nearly every sacrament (baptism, reconciliation, first communion, confirmation, marriage and anointing of the sick) all at one go before returning on the treacherous long journey to our village.
When they returned to the village, my grandfather ipso facto became the catechist although he had no formal education. The villagers would gather under a big tree in their compound where now stands a small outstation Church led by my cousin who is also a catechist after our grandfather’s footsteps. My Dad together with his seven siblings grew up knowing how to pray. When the missionaries arrived almost ten years later into our region and opened up a parish, a school and a hospital, my Dad and his siblings enrolled in the school although eventually it was my Dad who proceeded with his education and became a grade school teacher. He learned a lot from the missionaries who run the school and he taught us the faith right from the very beginning. We would always recite the rosary every evening as a family.
When I was doing my preparation for First Holy Communion, I began to think about becoming a priest. I really did not know much about priesthood. One of our field trips was to visit a nearby Seminary and I was instantly attracted to join the Seminary because I met really fine young men who seemed so happy with what they were doing. I was surprised when our Principal called me one morning and told me that he had two forms for young men who wanted to join the Seminary and he thought I would be suitable candidate if I was interested. I had never expressed that desire to him. I felt it was the hand of God at work. I filled the forms and two days later we were on our way to do the interviews. I passed the interviews and I joined the Junior Seminary at the age of 13. I was ordained a priest at the age of 29.
I have served in different capacities back home in Uganda: teaching in the Junior High School Seminary, secretary to the Bishop’s Board of Consultors, Spiritual Director to the Charismatic Renewal Movement in Uganda, formator and professor of theology in the Theological Seminary, member of the Theological Commission of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, etc.
In 2013, I came to St Leonard Church for my sabbatical year. I was warmly welcomed and I felt so much at home. I have loved my ministry here and because of the mutual feeling, I was asked to stay on. Three years ago, I began to sense that the Lord was calling me to serve in the Archdiocese for the rest of my life. I began the process of discernment and consultation and right now as I write this, I am in the final stages of being incardinated into the Archdiocese of Chicago.
I cannot but say this over and over again:
“God is good, all the time! And all the time, God is good! And that is his nature, wow!”
Raised in a devout Catholic family, faith was the air we breathed. Catholic grade school and high school education served to extend that atmosphere beyond the home…
College was a time when I came to my own personal embrace of my Catholic faith. The Newman Center on the Campus of NIU was where I felt the first nudges of Jesus calling me to a concern for those in need, and a commitment to peace and justice.
I felt Jesus calling me to combine my love of the Spanish language, desire to serve in the context of faith, and restless spirit, and sent me, through a series of people and connections, to a parish in Hartford, Connecticut to work with a Puerto Rican community. At the end of my time there I reflected upon how this community of faith was “my first love”.
In 1990 I returned to Chicago, pastoral degree in hand, to find many parishes serving the Hispanic community being merged or closing. I said, “Lord, you have brought me this far, please, find me a place to serve.” The response was a small parish in Waukegan, of all places. Again I found a warm, welcoming, faith-filled community.
My experience of ministry in the Church has solidified my belief in the power of, and need for, participating with a concrete faith community, a parish. These ministry experiences, and the relationships with others on the journey, have strengthened and deepened my faith. Fellow parishioners sharing their testimonies of God working in their lives reinforces my belief in God’s love and providential care of God’s people.
How I landed at St. Leonard is part of the wonderful path Jesus has lead me on; a confluence of people I knew in the past who facilitated our move to Berwyn, and others who invited me to join the pastoral team here at St. Leonard. I am blessed and humbled to be able to serve in ministry with this community of faith-filled believers, and their witness of faith helps to bring me closer to the Lord.