By Elizabeth Brennan | Tableaux, Winter 2017
Father Speratus Kamanzi has a twinkle in his eye. Warm and welcoming, the priest, an ordained member of the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries, is now a fixture at Fontbonne, both in the chapel and the classroom. Last summer, Fr. Kamanzi restored Fontbonne University’s office of chaplain, and in doing so, he has helped extend the mission and spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet further into the future.
Born in Bukoba, Tanzania, Fr. Kamanzi was inspired as a young boy by the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, as well as his committed Catholic parents, who were among the first generation of baptized Christians in the Bukoba Diocese, located in northwestern Tanzania.
Fr. Kamanzi has studied, taught and ministered in various parts of the world. He studied philosophy in Uganda, earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Urbanian University in Rome, and completed a master’s and a doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
It was in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, however, where Fr. Kamanzi met Fontbonne’s current president, J. Michael Pressimone. Then Alvernia University’s vice president for advancement, Pressimone temporarily lived in student housing while waiting for his family to move to the area. He got involved in music ministry for the chapel in his building, which led to a friendship with Fr. Kamanzi, Alvernia’s chaplain at the time. Fast forward 10 years. Fr. Kamanzi had moved back to Nairobi, where he had completed six years of service as the superior general of his order, and Pressimone became president of Fontbonne, a university in need of a chaplain. He couldn’t think of a better fit than Fr. Kamanzi.
“He was personable and comfortable working in a sisters’ charism environment,” Pressimone said. “He had a great deal of respect for their mission. I believed he would fundamentally understand our connection to the CSJs. I had no doubt he would fit from a mission perspective.”
Mission is essential to Fr. Kamanzi. His order, the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries, was founded in Uganda almost 50 years ago, soon after the Second Vatican Council declared in Ad Gentes that the Church is essentially missionary — and the whole world is mission territory, as Fr. Kamanzi explained.
“There are so many things the Church here can learn from the Church in Africa — and vice versa,” said Fr. Kamanzi, who believes that even in a small community like Fontbonne, everyone can benefit from learning about and respecting the differences of others. “We are all missionaries. If we shake hands with someone else, we promote diversity, and we can have a community where we respect each other. It’s an inclusive religious experience.”
For students and staff, having a chaplain on campus provides consistency and connection, as well as an expansion of Catholic identity through the availability of the sacraments — and the availability of the chaplain himself.
“I think he fits in well with what Fontbonne represents,” said Gabby Campa, a junior special education major involved in campus ministry and social justice on campus. “Just knowing that he has a sense of our community, he can implement that in his homilies. Personalization is one of the things that Fontbonne really focuses on.”
And Fr. Kamanzi brings a personal touch to his work.
“He’s a very humble individual; he’s very kind, compassionate and concerned about students,” said Lori Helfrich, Fontbonne’s campus minister. “Like the CSJs, he shows up and does what needs to be done. He connects well with the CSJ mission of serving the dear neighbor, whether that’s a Catholic student at Mass, a Jewish student who stops by his office or the students taking the World Religions class he teaches.”
Thanks to a group of generous donors, the first three years of Fr. Kamanzi’s ministry have been fully funded.
“Since we didn’t have it in the budget, I approached a donor couple who supported us in the past, but who didn’t have a current relationship with the university,” Pressimone said. “’We’ll give you half,’ they told me, ‘and we challenge you to match that amount.’ So we received half of the funding from one couple, and half from a group of donors. Over the next three years, we will work the cost of a campus chaplain into the operating budget.”
As chaplain, Fr. Kamanzi celebrates Mass twice each week and serves as a spiritual guide for students, staff and faculty. As a professor, he teaches religious and theological courses such as Introduction to Religious Studies and World Religions.
“For me, it is very exciting,” said Fr. Kamanzi. “I have a challenge of making this job more engaging, making this department, this work, contribute to the growth of the university, especially in Catholic identity. In working with campus ministry and mission integration, how can we continue the mission of the CSJs, respond to the needs of the Church and respond to new needs as well?”
Fr. Kamanzi, along with Helfrich, Mary Beth Gallagher, assistant to the president for mission integration, and Sister Linda Markway, CSJ, Fontbonne’s director of mission stewardship, will guide a new generation of students as they navigate faith at Fontbonne. The four serve as a physical testimony of the mission and spirit of the CSJs who founded the university 94 years ago.
“Our Catholic identity doesn’t go away without a chaplain on campus,” said Helfrich. “But people see a more visual representation of that identity through Fr. Kamanzi.”