His brother, sister-in-law, nephew and great nephews joined past and present parishioners and members of the Catholic African community at his anniversary Mass, as did Archbishop Patrick O’Regan and Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ.
But it was the presence of a third bishop, Michael Odiwa, from Homa Bay Diocese in western Kenya, that capped off the day.
Bishop Odiwa was serving as an assistant priest at Hectorville parish in Adelaide when he was appointed a bishop by Pope Francis in November 2020. His friendship with Fr Michael goes back more than 30 years to their days in the seminary together in Kenya. It was Fr Michael who was invited by the then Fr Odiwa to preach at his 25th anniversary Mass in Adelaide in 2018.
When Fr Michael asked Bishop Odiwa to pray for him as he celebrated his own silver jubilee, the affable Kenyan went one step further and chose to return the favour and travel back to South Australia, the timing also fitting in with the ordination of two priests in the Adelaide Archdiocese.
Bishop Odiwa entertained the congregation at Brighton on March 18 by recounting one of Fr Michael’s adventures when he was a young seminarian and referred to his friend’s “cheekiness”.
On a serious note, he said Fr Michael had left his mother country to be here in his “second home” and in doing so had given his life to the service of the Lord. He thanked the community for “your love for Fr Michael” which has made his time “enjoyable and liveable”.
Reflecting on his journey, Fr Michael said he grew up in an “ordinary” Kenyan family with his parents and five siblings on the outskirts of Nairobi. He walked 5km every weekday to school, played soccer and looked after his family’s animals including cattle, goats, sheep and chickens.
“These runs (to school) were never without mischief and adventure, and it was during these moments that we formed bonds with peers and learnt to look out for each other,” he said.
For six years he attended high school at the foot of the “magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro” and he had “good strong Christian teachers” who had a deep influence on him.
Another major impact was his traditional rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
“This was a time for exclusion and only carefully selected and respected elders were allowed to have access to us,” he recalled.
“During this time young men are given instructions on the identity of the family and community. Also passed on were the values that hold a community together – respect, responsibility and sacrifice.”
His formation as a priest took eight years, including two months each year being hosted by Catholic families in his diocese. He said this had helped the seminarians to establish relationships with families and learn to “adapt and engage”.
He described his ordination day as “probably the happiest day of my life” and said it brought back fond memories of his mother Priscilla who he misses greatly.
“The day keeps playing in my mind over and over like a beautiful old song,” he said.
“Now 25 years later, I still pray for the grace to continue trusting in the Lord. I still have questions and challenges but I have never doubted my vocation.”Jump to next article