Father Anthony Mutuku celebrates his first Mass Sunday, July 27, 11 a.m., St. Henry Church, Nashville. He is assigned as Associate Pastor of St. Henry Church.
On July 26, Deacon Anthony Mutuku and Deacon Delly Mutajuka will be the first two priests from Africa ever ordained to serve the Diocese of Nashville, adding to the vibrant, multicultural nature of the Catholic Church in Middle Tennessee.
Hailing from Kenya, Deacon Mutuku hopes to bring the “the spirituality and the values acquired from my own society, joy, hospitality and openness” to his new life as a priest.
Growing up in a small Catholic family in Kenya, Deacon Mutuku was first drawn to the priesthood through the missionary priests from India who served his diocese. “They really loved what they did and I developed a desire to minister as they did,” he said.
Deacon Mutuku said he felt a strong pull to be a priest after receiving his first communion and serving as an altar boy. “It altered the course of my life.”
Deacon Mutuku began seriously discerning his vocation while attending a Jesuit school in Zimbabwe, then the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Kenya, and St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. Through connections of friends, he came to the United States to study at the Oblate School of Theology at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, planning to serve as a missionary priest in the United States.
Then he became friends with some seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville, also studying in San Antonio, who introduced him to Bishop David Choby. Before Deacon Mutuku made a commitment to this diocese, Bishop Choby wanted him to spend time at a parish in the diocese, so Deacon Mutuku was assigned to Good Shepherd Church in Decherd, with pastor Father Jean-Baptiste Kyabuta, originally from the Congo.
As someone who speaks three languages and loves adventure, “I don’t have much problem adapting,” Deacon Mutuku said. “I was exposed to so many cultures before coming to the U.S.,” he said, so it was not that far of a stretch to make another move to Nashville.
Since Deacon Mutuku shared a great camaraderie with the seminarians from this diocese, and had the support of the bishop and Father Kyabuta, “it was clear that this was the place I want to be,” he said.
Since he completed his seminary studies and was ordained a transitional deacon last spring, Deacon Mutuku has served at St. Henry Church in Nashville, where he will be associate pastor after his priestly ordination. “The parish is phenomenal,” he said. “The people are accepting me as one of their own.”
During his year there, Deacon Mutuku has served as a minister of the sick under the guidance of seasoned parish volunteers, visiting hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospice care centers and private homes, distributing communion and visiting with them. He is looking forward to being able to offer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick once he is ordained a priest.
Deacon Mutuku has also helped lead the “Fishers of Men” early morning men’s bible study group. “We break open the word of God before they go to work,” every Monday, he said.
Deacon Mutuku has been at St. Henry for over a year, so he anticipates a smooth transition into his new role as a parish priest. “I have a good working relationship with everybody there. They are honest in their opinions and it helps me grow in my faith and my ministry,” he said.
Deacon Mutuku is thankful to have two priests with many years of experience, pastor Father Mike Johnston, and associate pastor, Father Steve Wolf, to guide him. “I’m glad I do not have to manage a parish and that I have mentors,” he said. As he navigates the adjustment to life as priest, Deacon Mutuku said the most important thing “is to be compassionate and loving, that’s the bottom line of it.” He wants his parishioners to “experience the love of the Lord by my own presence.”
As Deacon Mutuku prepares to be part of the largest single ordination in the Diocese of Nashville’s history, he is optimistic about the future of the priesthood. “I think the majority of people have respect for priests,” he said. “The priesthood is still a good vocation no matter what happened in the past. People still have faith in their priests.”
Deacon Mutuku is still hoping that family members in Kenya will get the necessary clearance to travel to Nashville for his ordination. “It’s not easy to come to the U.S. these days,” he said.
Deacon Mutuku’s home country of Kenya is a majority Christian nation, with Catholics comprising just under a quarter of the population, about the same percentage as in the United States. There is currently no organized Kenyan Catholic community in Nashville, although Deacon Mutuku knows of a few families that attend St. Henry, and some that are scattered elsewhere. So could a regular Mass in Swahili, one of Kenya’s two official languages, be coming to the Diocese of Nashville sometime soon? Maybe, says Deacon Mutuku. For now, “I want to minister to all people wherever they come from,” he said.