This is the sixth 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.
Deacon Peter Patrick Kimani sometimes refers to himself as the biblical Jonah who tried to flee from God’s call.
The middle of Samuel Kimani and Mary Wambui’s five children, Deacon Kimani, 39, said his first vocational stirrings came during high school, but for various reasons, several times over the years, he decided not to pursue the call to religious life.
But like Jonah, who eventually obeys God, only to be swallowed by a great fish, Deacon Kimani, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, answered the call and will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Saturday, May 17.
But even after making the decision to pursue the priesthood, Deacon Kimani’s journey included some of the bad luck that surrounded the prophet Jonah.
“He’s sort of an unlucky guy,” admitted Deacon Dennis Saran, who described Deacon Kimani as “probably my best friend.”
“All of his experiences were very difficult, and would have been difficult for someone who lived around here, but even more so for someone from a different culture,” said Deacon Saran.
Yet, in spite of the challenges presented to him, Deacon Saran called Deacon Kimani, “one of the kindest and most compassionate people I know,” adding he always looks back on his experiences with a smile on his face.
For example, some people might have been put off by the reception Deacon Kimani received when he arrived in Milwaukee in summer 2010 to begin his studies at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. His flight had been delayed while on layover in London, and when he landed in Milwaukee, much later than his scheduled arrival time – and without his baggage – there was no one to meet him. The person assigned to that task had waited, but eventually left.
“I tried to call the seminary, but it was past working hours during the summer,” said Deacon Kimani in an interview with the Catholic Herald a few weeks before ordination. “It was a good thing I had a printed address and schedule for orientation week,” he said, explaining he called a taxi driver who drove him to the seminary.
Once there, however, he found the doors locked and no one answering the bell. Fortunately, after about 10 minutes, the vice rector, Fr. William Stanfield, heard his knocking and found a travel-weary Deacon Kimani waiting patiently to be let in.
Adjusting to Milwaukee was a challenge, admitted Deacon Kimani.
“I was cold in August, and the guys were telling me, ‘Just wait,’ he said, adding he has come to enjoy the four seasons, looking upon the wait for the upcoming season as Advent. “When we are in winter, I look forward to spring, and after spring, summer. For me, it becomes something I am looking forward to, because I know something good will come. It’s a good learning tool in my life, waiting for God, waiting for good things to come, as that’s our journey as Christians,” he said.
Deacon Kimani’s seminary years were challenging, explained Deacon Saran, noting that not only did he have to learn to drive, take his road test and learn the city, he was appointed to St. William Parish, Waukesha, as his teaching parish – at a time when road construction on 1-94 west made the journey twice as long as normal.
His chaplaincy appointment in Chicago also proved challenging. He rarely used his car in the Windy City, instead venturing around on foot or by bus. But when he retrieved the car from its longterm parking spot, he discovered his catalytic converter had been stolen!
An assignment to La Sagrada Familia, the archdiocesan sister parish in the Dominican Republic, found him living in a home with a Spanish-speaking family, yet he did not know a word of the language.
But, as with each of these challenges, Deacon Saran said Deacon Kimani approached them with his quiet courage.
“He just forges ahead with things and lets God guide him,” said Deacon Saran.
After his chaplaincy experience in Chicago, however, Deacon Saran said Deacon Kimani came to him emotionally spent. He had previously worked with AIDS patients in his native Kenya, and the chaplaincy work took its toll on him, explained Deacon Saran.
“He came to me and said, ‘I need a vacation,’ even though he probably didn’t even know what a vacation was before that,” said Deacon Saran.
Determined to help his friend relax, Deacon Saran, a widowed father of three, thought back to days with his family and remembered some of his best memories were trips to Wisconsin Dells.
So he and Deacon Kimani headed to America’s largest Waterpark, Noah’s Ark and spent a couple days going up and down the waterslides, splashing in the wave pools and maneuvering the bumper boats.
“He is fearless,” laughed Deacon Saran of his friend. “We went on every single ride and had the greatest of times,” adding they even experienced the 10-story-high, 400-foot long Scorpion’s Tail which sent them plummeting through a vertical waterslide loop.
As their friendship has grown, Deacon Saran said he’s observed that not only is his friend able to integrate himself well into new situations, he is also skilled at listening to others.
“I’ve seen his interviewing skills and he’s marvelous at getting to the point of things. He’s very good in pastoral counseling, very compassionate, and able to listen to the problem and offer a faith-filled solution,” said Deacon Saran.
That compassion for others is what drew Deacon Kimani to the priesthood, he admitted.
After high school, he was a catechetical instructor in his parish, Holy Cross Catholic Church, Dandora, Nairobi, and at the encouragement of his pastor, joined the community of Holy Cross Fathers. After studying at Queen of Apostles Philosophical from 2001 to 2004, and completing a philosophy and social science major, however, he left the community and returned home. While he continued to be involved in his parish, he found himself searching for his place in life.
He became involved in community work, did some community policing and even ran for political office, finishing a close second in a race to be county representative. Ironically, the man he lost to in the election died in 2010 and people of the community encouraged Deacon Kimani to take the position.
But at this point in his life, Deacon Kimani had heard God’s call again and this time, decided to return to the seminary. Two years earlier, he learned about Milwaukee when speaking with a friend enrolled in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s college program. While that friend is no longer in the archdiocese, he gave Deacon Kimani contact information for the then-director of vocations, Fr. Jim Lobacz.
Deacon Kimani contacted Fr. Lobacz in 2010 and his journey to priesthood for the Milwaukee Archdiocese began.
Leaving family and friends in Kenya was the hardest part of the decision, admitted Deacon Kimani, who said that to ease the pain of the good-bye, he left for Milwaukee on a Thursday, but only told his parents the Sunday before.
Since he enrolled in the seminary, he’s returned home twice – once at Christmastime at the expense of his friend, Deacon Saran.
“One of the things that’s been the hardest for him is when an issue or problem arises (in Kenya) everybody in the family heard about it and discusses it, and when he is here, he doesn’t have anybody,” said Deacon Saran, explaining how Deacon Kimani has become an extended member of his family. “He’s met my girls (Amanda, 30; Michelle, 27; and Kelly, 24) and loves being around family,” he added.
Noting that Deacon Kimani has taught him a love of life and how not to take the simple things for granted, Deacon Saran said he “truly is a servant leader. He is a very courageous man for what he has accomplished and he will be one of the kindest, most compassionate priests I know.”
With ordination approaching, Deacon Kimani said he’s looking forward to being there for people in need.
“I am looking most toward the sacrament of reconciliation and also spiritual direction,” he said. “I like to cry with people who are crying. It makes me feel connected with people. Back in my parish, I used to work with those who have HIV and AIDS and I like taking care of the sick. … I look forward to being one on one with people who are looking for God’s blessing.”