The Catholic Commentator  

Brother Joseph Kikanda, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he felt “small in the face of God” to make the changes needed to lift his country out of its economic and social oppression. Just when it appeared the country was heading toward Democracy, war broke out between factions. Through prayer, Brother Kikanda dipped into his deep well of faith, which led him to begin formation to become a priest for the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. This journey led him to spend a year in the Josephite’s novitiate house at St. Augustine in New Roads and make his first profession in front of the church parish’s joyful community on July 16.  

 

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The old convent at St. Augustine Church in New Roads has been restored and now serves as the novitiate house for the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.  Photo provided by Father Patrick Healy SSJ 

 

Brother Kikada was part of the first known group of novices to live at the St. Augustine community. The novitiate house Mary, Immaculate Noviate, was formerly an old convent that had not been used much for many years. The “breathing of new life” into the old convent has also invigorated the church’s parishioners, according to pastor Father Patrick Healy SSJ.  

According to Father Healy, the Josephites, who are headquartered in Baltimore, wanted “to get out of the city” and have some formation houses in the south, preferable those connected to a church parish. Father Joseph Doyle SSJ, novice director, was investigating some sites in Louisiana when Father Healy asked him, “What about New Roads? We have a convent across the street.”  

While the convent needed much work, it has a “homestyle” appeal, according to Father Healy.  

The Josephites accepted a proposal to consider the restoration of the two-story convent, and Bishop Robert W. Muench and the St. Augustine parishioners and finance council were supportive. 

“They were 100 percent behind it. They thought it was a tremendous benefit to the parish,” said Father Healy.  

 

He added, “With the volunteer team efforts of the parish, we were able to get a lot of the work done.” 

Father Doyle said, “They (Father Healy and St. Augustine parishioners) put in a lot of financial and prayer support and they had a positive impact on the novices. It was a good year.” 

In addition to the kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms, the house features a chapel as well as recreational room.  

Three novices, Brother Kikanda, one from Uganda and one from Nigeria, arrived in January 2016.  

“I was surprised at the reception they got,” said Father Healy. “The parishioners invited them to their homes and to dinner.”  

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Brother Joseph Kikanda prepares dinner for the novices at the Mary Immaculate Novitiate at St. Augustine Church in New Roads.  Photo provided by Father Patrick Healy 

 

The Josephites actively work to foster vocations in Africa, Father Healy said. Before coming to America, candidates for the priesthood or brotherhood are oriented to the Josephite ministry. When those studying for the priesthood come to America, if they have not begun or completed college, their college-level formation begins in Washington, D.C. When their pre-theology work is completed, if the candidates are accepted, they advance to one year in the novitiate. This is the point where the three candidates were when they came to New Roads.  

The novices spent their year at St. Augustine, getting away from “the hustle and bustle of the city” to clarify their understanding of the Josephites way of life, focus on their spiritual life and continue discerning a vocation within the Josephite Society. They also “took care of the household,” cooking, doing laundry and maintaining the home and had daily conferences with Father Doyle, who was their novice director.  

The novices were active within the St. Augustine community. They taught CCD, participated in the liturgy and prayed within the community. They even wore their cassocks while walking around the community talking to people.  

“I lived my faith in order for it to be known to my neighbors,” said Brother Kikanda, who mused that those not familiar with the Catholic faith or their order asked him and his fellow novices, “Who are you? What are you doing?”  

Father Healy said, “I think the witness of what they were doing was great. People don’t look at young men as studying for the priesthood. People think it’s kind of odd … although we’ve had a lot of vocations come out of this parish,” he said naming Father Joseph Rodney SSJ, Bishop Shelton Fabre, of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and Bishop John Ricard SSJ, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.  

He added, “We’ve also had a lot of sisters over the years. I think people missed that. I think seeing the seminarians has boosted the morale of the parish.”  

At one time, the church parish had a Catholic school, St. Augustine Elementary School, which was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine soon became Catholic Junior High School and served in this capacity until the 1980s, but was closed when it was rolled into Catholic of Pointe Coupee. A couple of  sisters stayed to teach CCD after that, but soon the convent became empty. </span id=”21″>

Albertha Brue attended St. Augustine School and wryly remembers that the sisters “wouldn’t let you get away with anything”, but they also displayed their love of their students and wanted them not only to learn “the academics,” but grow in their faith. Like the novices, they also witnessed their faith through their open prayer life.  

“I thought they were inspiring,” said Brue. 

Father Healy said the St. Augustine community was overjoyed to witness Brother Kikanda’s first profession. Brother Kikanda has returned to Washington, D.C. to begin his graduate studies in theology and diaconate ordination in preparation for his ordination.  

Brother Kikada, who plans to minister in an African-American community after his ordination, fondly recalled his time in New Roads and found his experiences there very fruitful in his faith journey.  

“I served others without expecting anything in return,” said Brother Kikada, who said his vocation is “love.”  

A second class of novices is expected to arrive at St. Augustine next summer, according to Fathers Healy and Doyle. Getting Visas for them has been challenging, but it appears that, once again, there will be religious walking around the St. Augustine campus.