This is the first in a series of articles introducing you to the six men scheduled to be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year. Ordination will be Saturday, May 17, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.

Deacon Gideon Buya’s life in Kenya revolved around the church. Sundays meant praise-filled worship, Sunday school, energetic preaching and music.

Deacon Gideon Buya credits his parents’ deep Pentecostal faith for his own religious vocation. He will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on May 17. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

His home life focused around prayer, faith and his father’s duties as an elder in the church.

Since faith was the center of his life, it should come as little surprise that Deacon Gideon Buya, 30,  will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on May 17.

Yet, no one could have predicted this vocation for Deacon Buya, for at the center of his faith upbringing was the Pentecostal church.

Deacon Buya’s father, Ezra, was Pentecostal, and, once he married his formerly Catholic wife, Pauline, she following Kenyan tradition, and adopted the faith of her husband. 

They raised their eight children in the Pentecostal religion and Deacon Buya believes the seed of his religious vocation was rooted in his parents’ Pentecostal faith.

“My parents take their faith very seriously,” he said of the couple from Mombasa, Kenya, a coastal region in East Africa. “My dad is a prayerful person and until this day, remains very committed in his faith and that has been one of the greatest gifts he passed on not only to me, but to my brothers and sisters. A gift of faith, the whole tradition of faith, is pretty much the foundation of my future vocation, I can say.”

Although he was raised Pentecostal, Deacon Buya was familiar with the Catholic Church since it was located a block from his home in Mombasa, while his own Pentecostal church was about 15 minutes away. As a teenager, Deacon Buya would occasionally accompany friends and relatives on his mother’s side to the Catholic Church.

He was curious to learn more about the Catholic liturgy, he said, and as time passed, Deacon Buya became more involved at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, in the Malindi Diocese. He eventually was received into the church at age 19.

In spite of his father’s devout Pentecostal faith, Deacon Buya said his dad was not upset with his son for leaving that faith.

“My dad never minded for he knows the Catholic Church’s approach. He believes the church is pretty much an instrument and you can be Pentecostal, or Methodist, but the end is to be united with Christ,” said Deacon Buya during a recent interview with the Catholic Herald at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis. “He’s flexible like that, seeing the church as a valid instrument to reach Christ.”

Through St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Deacon Buya was introduced to the Community of St. Paul, an association of the faithful, comprised of priests and laypeople from around the world.

At the time Deacon Buya was finishing high school, a member of the Community of St. Paul, Fr. Esteban Redolad, was ministering in Kenya as pastor of St. Joseph.

Perhaps recognizing a future vocation in Deacon Buya, Fr. Redolad, now administrator of La Sagrada Familia Church in the Dominican Republic, invited him to learn more about the community and its members.

At that point in his life, Deacon Buya thought he might go into accounting, and envisioned his future as a married man with a family.

“I was seeing myself that way,” he said, adding, “that was always part of the plan, but God’s plans were different.”

Deacon Buya found he was drawn to the Community of St. Paul and the fact they were “radically committed to emulate Christ through their constant practice of compassion.

“The intensity of their compassion, especially for those in need, struck me,” he said, explaining, it reminded him of a passage in Matthew’s Gospel which spoke of the need for compassion.

“It was within this context that I began to discern that Christ was inviting me toward a deeper commitment, a commitment to be expressed in priesthood; I began to see that as a priest, I was to be his instrument of compassion.”

At the invitation of Fr. Redolad, Deacon Buya spent two years in the Dominican Republic serving La Sagrada Familia Parish by working with different social projects in the community. The experience allowed him to not only become fluent in Spanish, but it deepened his desire to be of service to others.

“Over time, I came to realize that by surrendering my life to Christ and, subsequently, by being his instrument of compassion to those people whose lives intersect my own life path, brings me an experience of deep consolation, peace and fulfillment,” he said, describing how his next step was to continue his journey by joining Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

He arrived in Milwaukee in 2006 at age 22 and for six years lived in Racine with the Community of St. Paul, studying at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, and traveling the United States giving mission appeals for the community.

About two years ago, Deacon Buya left the Community of St. Paul, deciding it would be difficult to balance both commitments, but he is grateful to the community for helping him discern his vocation.

“During the years that I spent in the Dominican Republic and Racine with the Community of St. Paul, the priests and seminarians were particularly instrumental in helping me to reflect on Christ’s invitation as it was made known to me through those experiences,” he said, adding he remains close to several members of the community.

Moving from the tropical, hot, humid climate of Kenya to Milwaukee was an adjustment, admitted Deacon Buya, explaining that even though he arrived in the summer, he was cold.

“Winters are really tough for me,” he said, adding his family in Kenya, hearing about the frigid Wisconsin winter on television, feared for his safety, wondering how he’d survive.

Adjusting to new foods has also been a challenge, he admitted, saying he still does not like to eat hot dogs and hamburgers, instead preferring the cooking of Kenyan sisters in residence at All Saints Parish, Milwaukee, who prepare Kenyan food for him and fellow seminarian, Deacon Peter Patrick Kimani, a couple times a month. He’s also enjoys frequenting an Ethiopian restaurant in Milwaukee.

In his spare time, Deacon Buya likes to cook for himself, read novels — right now, he’s immersed in Turkish novels — and listen to music, particularly Kenyan Zilizopendwa. An avid soccer fan, he enjoys playing and following soccer leagues throughout the world. One day he hopes to run a marathon.

As he prepares for ordination, Deacon Buya said he looks back on his life thus far, grateful for the zig-zag path he’s taken.

“As I look back on my life, I can only give thanks to God because this is one of those things I never thought I will do; I never imagined taking this path. The Spirit has pretty much been guiding my life,” he said, adding he looks forward as a priest to being a bridge between the people and Christ, “to be that compassion that will enable them to experience the compassion of Christ.”