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Kenyan connection brings Fr George to SA


With his friends calling him ‘small Father’ when he was in high school, it’s little wonder that George Ochola Oluoch ended up becoming a priest in the Kenyan diocese of Homa Bay.

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What is surprising, however, is that he has recently begun serving the people of God thousands of kilometres away from his home in the Archdiocese of Adelaide and will be doing so for the next however many years.

The easy-going 46 year old said there was no end point to his appointment, and he was “open to whatever”.

One of 13 children, Fr George (pictured) grew up in a small village called Kakrao in Migori County which borders Lake Victoria and Tanzania in south-western Kenya.

The region was evangelised by the Mill Hill missionaries from the United Kingdom in the 1920s and Fr George’s parents and grandparents were devout Catholics. A small church was located on their farm and the family walked 5km to the parish church for Sunday Mass.

While attending the government school young George took it upon himself to ask the local parish priest to come and say Mass for the students.

“He was willing, and he said to me ‘you are free to come to me any time you feel like it so that you can have Mass’,” Fr George recalled.

“I would introduce him to the students and the administration whenever he came, and from there people took me to be the friend of the priest (the late Fr Basil Ogola).

“My friends liked it and sometimes they would call me ‘small Father’.

“I had a lot to do with Fr Basil, he was very kind to me, and I thought I could also try to be a priest…through his hands I went to the seminary.”

When he first left school Fr George did odd jobs on the family farm but in 1997, at the age of 22, he entered the junior seminary at Molo and a year later went to study philosophy at St Augustine’s Seminary in Mabanga. After two years he moved to Nairobi and spent four years studying theology, interrupted by one year of pastoral placement to “connect with our people”.

HIs parents took him to the altar at his ordination on January 28 2006 and all his family was present for the special day.

After a year as assistant priest at Homa Bay Town parish, his leadership qualities were noticed and he was appointed vice rector of St John’s Minor Seminary at Rakwaro.

“When I was in the Town parish many people commented that I could be a good teacher; I didn’t know that but they asked ‘have you been a teacher in the past’,” Fr George said.

“The Bishop must have heard, so I went to the minor seminary to accompany young seminarians spiritually and academically.”

While he was vice rector, he also began studying a Bachelor of Education at the Catholic university and graduated in 2011.

However, his next appointment was as parish priest of Mfangrano, an island on Lake Victoria. Initially there was no ferry to the island and Fr George said it was “very scary indeed” taking small boats back and forth to the mainland and other islands in the parish, “especially when the wind blows”.

“I was serving four islands in total, so it was very busy,” he said.

“There was one big challenge, there had been many people infected by HIV AIDs, there were quite a lot of child-led families because their parents had died.

“The Church helped support them, giving them some basic needs.”

Returning to the ministry of education, he became chaplain and religious education teacher in a girls’ national school in 2012 and 2013 and then spent seven years as rector of St John’s Seminary.

In 2020 Bishop Philip Anyolo, now Archbishop of Nairobi, appointed him parish priest of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Ringa.

Bishop Anyolo’s successor was Bishop Michael Odiwa, who was serving in the Adelaide Archdiocese when Pope Francis announced his episcopal appointment.

Bishop Odiwa introduced Fr George to Mgr David Cappo, from the Adelaide Archdiocese’s International Priests Program, and by early this year plans were in place for the move Down Under.

“I knew Bishop Michael from when I was young, he told me a lot about Adelaide and he also said ‘there are other things you’ll learn for yourself’,” Fr George said.

While the Church in Kenya is young and growing, there are still challenges in terms of clergy numbers and Fr George is grateful to Bishop Michael for allowing him to come to Australia.

“It’s having that big heart to give, especially Bishop Michael because he was here, he knows the demands of the priest’s ministry here,” he said.

“And he is expecting more priests in Kenya.”

Having served as chaplain to devotional groups and lay associations in Homa Bay for 16 years, Fr George is keen to understand what groups exist in Adelaide and how they operate. He is also interested in learning about the “lifestyle of the clergy in this part of the world”.

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