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Fr. Jean-Marie Muzeyi Nsambu is one of the many priests from Africa, serving in the United States of America. A diocesan belonging to Houma-Thibodaux in the State of Louisiana, Jean-Marie was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ, on June 3, 2017, at the diocesan St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in the city of Thibodaux. That day remains momentous in his spiritual life, he says. His ordination coincided with the memorial of the Uganda Martyrs (St. Charles Lwanga and companions) on the Church calendar, celebrated as a national holiday in Uganda. Fr. Nsambu is named after St. Jean-Marie Muzeyi, one of the 24 Uganda Martyrs. The smiling priest explained that it was not his dream to serve in the US: “While I first felt the desire for priesthood from as early as 8 or 9 years, serving in the US was not on my radar.” Nsambu envisioned himself as a priest in Kampala Archdiocese.

Indeed, in the early ‘90s, he successfully applied to join Kisubi Seminary for his high school but not long after, he opted out. In 1995, after graduating with a diploma in Journalism, Nsambu went to Nairobi, Kenya to discern a missionary path with the Consolata Fathers. “While there, for the Propaedeutic.Year, my dream was to work somewhere deep in the Amazon of Brazil, or in some remote mission in Korea.” “I discerned out and returned to my journalism career in Uganda, where in 1999, I registered at the Law School of Makerere University.” He graduated, in 2003, with a Bachelor of Laws degree.

Yet, despite the esteem of enrolling as an attorney in law, after a year of post-graduate legal practice at the Law Development Centre (Kampala); despite jubilantly graduating in 2009 with a Master’s in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies (Makerere University); and notwithstanding the prestigious position he held as vice-director/ managing editor of this publication, the Leadership Magazine✓being the first layperson in the job, Nsambu felt something was still wanting for him! So, he felt a void! Thankfully for him, it would begin to fill up in 2011, when he was invited to the US to see if he wanted to pursue once more, his desire for priesthood. Two priests, Fr. Joseph Ssemakula (a former Comboni) and Fr. Ruffino Ezama, MCCJ, had talked to then Houma-Thibodaux vocations director, Fr. Mark Toups about him. With his then bishop, Most Rev. Sam Jacobs, Fr. Toups invited Nsambu for a visit to the diocese. “The people of Houma- Thibodaux were very welcoming. Above all, my impression was hooked on their openness to receiving African priests to evangelize them,” he states.

Nsambu returned to Kampala after visiting Houma-Thibodaux, to hand over office and travel back to the US to try priestly formation once again. This time, he completed a Masters of Divinity from the Notre Dame Seminary and School of Theology in New Orleans. Thereupon, he applied and the then Bishop, now Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre [of Louisville, Kentucky] called him to Holy Orders and ordained him a deacon on May 21, 2016. A year later, he ordained him a priest and appointed him parochial vicar (curate) at Annunciata Church, in Houma city. There, Fr. Nsambu worked mainly with the youth and children in catechism classes. In November 2017, after only five months at Annunciata, the Bishop requested him to transfer to the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales, also in Houma.

“Serving at the Cathedral as Assistant Parish Priest, I enjoyed working with the children of the parochial grammar school. I did hospital and hospice ministry, where I regularly visited the sick, the elderly and the dying, often homebound or in nursing homes. Most of all, it was the ministry of hearing confessions every 30 minutes before Mass and the celebration of Mass, that were the highlights of that assignment.”

Fr. Nsambu says that was a good foundation for him, but nothing could ever prepare him better for the challenges he would encounter in his ministry as a first-time pastor (Parish Priest), at Holy Savior Church (HSC), in Lockport, in July 2019. He is quick to clarify: “There’s not a school that can ever prepare you for some things in ministry, except the school of ‘firsthand experience’!” Fr. Jean-Marie sighs as he gestures, recalling the fateful COVID pandemic that struck six months into his taking up the administration of HSC. It was a nightmare, having to visit the dying in hospital ICUs, to bring them the Sacrament of Healing, under uncomfortable restrictions and precautions.

In another spell of time, on Sunday, August 29, 2021, a category 4 hurricane Ida, with sustained speeds of rain and wind of up to 150mph, made landfall across the Diocese, damaging, property worth US $180million. Thankfully, no deaths were suffered! The Church structure was extensively damaged and so was much of the Holy Saviour School. The parish was looking at close to US $ 4 million in restoring its facilities. The priest explains that they had to urgently re-group the parishioners and strengthen them in the aftermath of the calamitous storm. Many feared HSC would be closed.

Fr. Jean-Marie chose to concentrate on communicating positivity and availing himself to anyone who sought a listening ear. “It is something I admired of the Comboni missionaries at Our Lady of Africa Mbuya parish in Kampala, where I grew up during the 70s/80s civil unrest in Uganda. The predominantly Italian priests like Fr. George Previdi and [late] Fr. Dominic Andriollo did not flee, leaving us to our misery. They stayed and were a rallying point or the people, even when some of their confreres were killed during the volatile times!”

The story of Fr. Nsambu seems to fit the picture of an African priest, Pope Benedict XVI must have had in mind, describing to journalists on a flight to Africa, in March 2009 when asked about the role of the Church in Africa. The Pope answered: “I have a more positive view of the Church in Africa: it is a Church that is very close to the poor, a Church with suffering members, with people who need assistance and thus it seems to me that the Church is truly an institution that still functions even when other structures no longer function, through her system of education, health care, assistance; in all these situations, she is present in the world of the poor and the suffering.”

Fr. Nsambu believes God needed him at that particular time at HSC. Now, he has been assigned a year of Spanish study and immersion, so it will be an opportunity for him to once again minister to Hispanic families, many of whom migrate to the US, seeking a better life.

Fr. Jean-Marie Nsambu

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