A ‘St. John Paul II priest’ from ‘foothills of Mount Kenya’

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, September 21, 2014

Father Paul Maina Waithaka celebrates Mass at The Abbington of Glenview healthcare residence on Aug. 20. Waithaka is pastor of St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Glenview. (Brian J. Morowczynski/Catholic New World)

He is: Father (Paul) Maina Waithaka, pastor of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Glenview since 2009. Former pastor of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr in Posen. Grew up in Kenya. Ordained at Mundelein in 2002 at age 29.

Village life: Born in East Africa, “In the foothills of Mount Kenya, second highest mountain in Africa. It’s near where they say Prince William proposed to Kate. Mother still lives there with my two brothers.

“I lost my dad when I was two. Our home was Catholic. Grandmother planted the seed. She would wake up early on Sunday and make breakfast -- tea and sweet potatoes for everybody. And she’d make sure everyone went to church.

“Then we children moved with mother and other Christians to north-east Kenya. It was 10 per cent Christian, and 90 per cent Islam, Al-Shabaab, related to Al-Qaeda. After some years we moved back to central Kenya because of safety issues.”

He credits Maryknoll priests and nuns like Sister Anastasia Lott in the north-east for encouraging his vocation. “I was baptized ‘Paul’ at age 11. (I prefer my given name Maina, pronounced like the myna bird.) The Maryknoll priests provided cassocks for us to be altar servers. I was the first to wear one. I served until I was a teenager and my cassock looked like a mini-dress. One day a new pastor came: Father Tom McQuaid of Chicago. He said he asked permission from Cardinal Bernardin to join a missionary group. He chose Maryknoll. I liked him right away. He had no car; he walked to the market. He would drink the dirty water where everyone else was drinking – like Pope Francis!”

Seminary: “I wanted to go to a good high school to be a priest. Being in Muslim territory we had no Catholic high school, so Sister Anastasia and Father Tom   took me to the minor seminary in the West. It was a 24-hour bus ride. I left in January and came home in December! The last time I’ve celebrated Easter at home was in eighth grade. “At graduation I joined the Missionaries of Africa. Father Tom went back to Chicago when I was in the college seminary. Later he surprised me with a letter, asking if I’d like to be a priest in Chicago. I only knew ‘Chicago Bulls.’ I didn’t even know where it was on the map.”

Adjustments: “American English is a dialect of its own. My first time in a restaurant I ordered whatever the guy next to me ordered. Best part of being here is how friendly and helpful people are. I don’t like winter. I was studying on a Saturday morning in 1999, when I saw all this white stuff falling down for the first time.”

Leisure:  “I like to cook Kenyan food, but I can cook sloppy joes, too. I used to play soccer with friends, but now I’m 41 and into golf. I’ve been following Pope Francis’ writings. I’m a John Paul II priest and I like to read about him. I enjoy suspense novels, and a movie now and then.”

Prayer: “Here at St. Catherine’s parishioners have a 24-hour adoration chapel. I stop at least three times a week to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I got a smart phone recently and downloaded the Divine Office in chant. I love it and pray along with it.”

Favorite saint: “St. John Paul II. He gave me a rosary. He’s a model for my priesthood.”


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