Friends and family prepared home-cooked East African cuisine at the party in St. Helens, which complemented the American-style catering.
Clarice Keating Of the Catholic Sentinel
They grew up in the same town in East Africa and played together in the schoolyard as children. They studied together at seminary as young men. They entered the priesthood on the same day — July 3, 1988, in Moshi, a city in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
And now, half a world away from where they grew up, the two men remain friends as they serve Catholics in two small parishes in Oregon.
This year, Father Joseph Barita, pastor of St. Frederic Parish in St. Helens, and Father Nicholas Nilema, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Seaside, celebrate their 25th ordination anniversary as Apostolic Life Community priests.
Parishioners at the two parishes, and the other Oregon locations they have served, love these East African priests not only for their holiness, but also their abiding good humor, warmth and friendliness.
“Every day, without fail, Father brings a smile to the office,” said Gail Weiber, office manager at St. Helens.
During several celebrations, the men’s banter had party-goers in stitches.
At a St. Helens party, Father Barita pointed to his friend Father Nilema, and said to parishioners and friends, “I am always a good boy, although my brother here is a trouble maker.”
Father Barita was also quick to point out during a toast that he was ordained first by three minutes. To that comment friends and family roared with laughter during a dinner in Seaside.
Father Nilema’s friends Mike and Mary Davies ordered roasted goat, a traditional meal served during important Tanzanian celebrations. As with a cake in the United States, the person of honor serves the first slice of meat, and then shares with other guests.
With exaggerated slapstick humor, Father Nilema peered into the large pockets of his shirt as if he would try to take the entire goat home for himself. Then he laughed heartily and assured everyone, “No, I will share with you, my friends.”
Other ALCP priests who are serving in Portland attended the silver jubilee celebrations, as well as the Holy Spirit Sisters, who hail from the same area of Africa. Among the colleagues, friends and family was ALCP Father Peter Siamoo, who is Father Nilema’s cousin.
Archbishop William Levada (now a retired cardinal who served in Rome as Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith) first invited the ALCP priests to come to Oregon in the early 1990s. Since then they have served throughout the archdiocese with heart, vigor and have brought a missionary spirit that others have come to appreciate and admire.
Before coming to Oregon in 2004, Father Barita served at parishes in Tanzania, Kenya and Los Angeles. He spent several years at St. Birgitta and then was transferred to St. Frederic in 2010.
While Father Barita was assigned to a diocese in Kenya early in his years of priesthood, he became aware of God’s call to a second vocation — to care for abandoned and disabled children. He set up a home for orphaned children, which now houses 28 youths, and Father Barita still supports them as much as he can.
Though he has served in the United States since 2000, Father Barita remembers and cares for the people in his hometown. He has helped organize volunteers from Oregon to build wells in Moshi, to provide access to clean water.
Father Nilema studied in Kenya and Tanzania before coming to the Archdiocese of Portland in 1992. He first served at St. Therese Church in Portland, and was transferred to Seaside in 1997.
During his 17 years on the North Coast, Father Nilema has worked hard to build and nurture what he considers his American family, Catholics in both Seaside and at the mission he serves at Arch Cape.
In addition to his many church duties and responsibilities, Father Nilema can be found regularly in many of the local nursing homes, hospitals, and care centers, sharing a quiet moment, providing comfort and blessing, or flashing his brilliant smile.
The two priests will travel home in the winter to celebrate first with the other ALCP priests and then with their entire home Diocese of Mango. Oregon parishioners and friends will travel with them.