Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Father Patrick Baraza celebrates 25 years of priesthood
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Father Patrick Baraza (left), in residence at Spokane’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and teaching at both Gonzaga University and Eastern Washington University, is a native of Kenya. He has, however, lived in the United States since beginning doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., in 1993. He arrived in Spokane in 2005.
At the Cathedral on Sept. 21, Father Baraza celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination. His actual date of ordination was Sept. 25, 1982.
“I was ordained in Kenya by Archbishop John Njenga,” Father Baraza said, “and in Kenya you don’t ordain people in the cathedral because the cathedral cannot be sufficient enough to accommodate all the people. So they do it outside, and thousands of people will come. It was at a parish church, but outside the church in a kind of stadium.”
Father Baraza’s first assignment after ordination was to work in a parish in the city of Eldoret, in western Kenya, where he stayed for a year and-a-half. He says that a high point of his 25 years of priesthood was teaching at St. Augustine Seminary, in Kenya. “It’s a big seminary,” he says, “for the whole country, but it’s located in the village of Mabanga, which means ‘blood.’ The name refers to the fact that this is the place where the British and the locals met, and it was a bloody battle, in 1895.”
Another high point of his years of priesthood, Father Baraza says, is the 10 years he spent working in the desert of Kenya with the Potok nomads. “I was all by myself, moving with them from one place to another,” he recalls. “After teaching in the seminary, I told my bishop that I wanted to go to a parish where there was a road to and no road back. Archbishop Njenga said, ‘Wait a minute. Where can I find a place where there is a road to and no road back?’ And the only place that he could think of was the Potok people in the desert.”
Archbishop Njenga is now the bishop of Mombasa, and came to Spokane for Father Patrick’s celebration. (Editor’s note: See article below.) This year, the archbishop himself celebrates 50 years of priesthood.
Father Baraza has been teaching in the Religious Studies Department of Gonzaga University since his arrival in Spokane in 2005, and with the current semester he began teaching courses in Islam – which was the focus of his doctoral studies – at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
As far as his pastoral assignment in the diocese is concerned, Father Baraza’s bishop in Kenya has asked him to be of service to the Diocese of Spokane. “My bishop (in Kenya) wrote to (Bishop William Skylstad),” Father Baraza said, “to say that this is the place I should now do my apostolate, and the first priority is my apostolate. Teaching is second.”
Besides Archbishop John Njenga, from Kenya, other special guests for Father Baraza’s 25th anniversary celebration included Frederick Scheetz, of Seattle. “He educated me in the United States,” Father Baraza said. “He paid all my fees.” Also attending was Father Baraza’s cousin, a priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Reflecting on his 25 years of priesthood, Father Baraza said that “It has not been an easy journey, but at the same time there has been joy; so much struggle, but also there has been joy, and my joy lies in friends. My friends. Wherever I have gone I have always found a friend who comes into my life and makes my life easy. Had it not been for my friends, I don’t think I would have finished the 25 years. Even the highest support I have received has been from my friends, not anybody else.”
Reflecting on what he has enjoyed most about being a priest, Father Baraza has no hesitation. “I enjoy most when I preach and celebrate Mass. I always make sure that I have prepared my sermon so that when I talk to the people I have something substantial to tell them. I cannot walk to the altar having not prayed over what I am going to preach, and prepared it.”
Father Baraza says that he takes every opportunity to encourage vocations to the priesthood and Religious life. “In any sector of life there are difficulties,” he said, “but I think there is a lot of joy in the priesthood. I encourage (those who inquire about the priesthood) that they might not lose hope.”
Finally, Father Baraza says, “I say thank you to my friends, but also for the last two, now three years in Spokane, I never forget the bishop here, Bishop Skylstad. And I’m not just saying that. He is a good man, and his simplicity has really made an impact on me.”