GRANGEVILLE “I am happy to be here – there are so many familiar faces,” smiled Father John Gathungu.
Gathungu recently stepped in to fill the pulpit as priest at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Parish in Grangeville. He will also provide Mass at White Bird and Nezperce. He replaces Father Mariusz Majewski who was called to the Catholic Diocese in Coeur d’Alene.
Gathungu was born and raised in a family with nine siblings in Kenya. He attended grade school in his village and boarded out for high school. It was during his secondary education, he said, that he felt the calling to become a priest.
“I think I actually began fantasizing about it, being a holy man of God, when I was in grade school,” he smiled.
Being the second eldest in his family, it was tough for Gathungu to go away and attend seminary.
“Being one of the oldest, I was expected to help my family work and earn,” he said. Still, he said his family was “very supportive” of his decision to enter the priesthood. “They knew it was the will of God.”
He attended school and then went on to pastoral ministry for 18 years. He saw missionaries coming into Kenya and wanted to reciprocate, so he volunteered to come to the U.S.
“I wanted to be of value, to share my knowledge and expertise,” he added.
He was in New York, then took a sabbatical at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood and said he met many local people while serving there.
“Very good people,” he smiled.
He then went on to serve in St. Maries for seven years before he was called to Grangeville.
Gathungu makes it back to Kenya to see his family and teach environmental conservation, farming and craft techniques about once a year.
He said he is concerned about the environment and would like to show it does not have to be ruined in order for people to survive. He is an avid gardener who utilizes space and practices a “no-till” method.
“I really enjoy the Camas Prairie and the hard-working people here,” he said, adding he likes to get in the outdoors, go to the river, camp and simply be present in nature.
Kenya is about 80 percent Christian and 20 percent Muslim, Gathungu said. His country has more than 40 languages and he speaks the most common, Swahili, along with his village dialect.
“English is also spoken many places,” he added.
Gathungu said he looks forward to connecting with local people, especially in the areas of gardening and ecology.
“I am open to all people – I am a priest of God, not just of the Catholic church,” he said. “I welcome anyone to stop by and visit me and talk.”
Gathungu’s office is located at the SPP Parish office, 625 Lake Street, across from the SPP School playground. Call 983-0403.