By JESSICA ABLE
Record Staff Writer
What began two decades ago as a six-month sabbatical has led to a ministry in Africa that’s now sponsoring 125 seminarians and assisting priests in several of the continent’s countries.
Father John Judie, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King churches — and the founder of Father John Judie Ministries — recently returned from his yearly trip to eastern Africa.
In the last two decades Father Judie has visited Africa approximately 28 times. The yearly (and sometimes twice yearly) trips began in 1994 when Father Judie took the sabbatical. He spent four months in Tanzania (with a one-week trip to Kenya) and two months in Zambia.
When planning the initial trip, Father Judie said he went for three reasons: To get in touch with his own heritage, to experience life in a part of the world that was economically depressed and to learn how the ministry of the church functions in that context.
Father Judie said all his questions — and more — were answered.
“The biggest thing I discovered over there was that the junior seminaries, as well as the major seminaries, were full,” he said in an interview July 26.
Father Judie learned that the students had to pay school fees and often the young men were from poor families.
“Some students (who couldn’t pay the fee) were dismissed and sent home,” he said.
At that time the fees were equal to $100 a year.
When Father Judie returned to the U.S., he said, he contacted eight to 10 friends and asked them to consider sponsoring one of the young seminarians. By the end of that year, he had secured 71 sponsors.
Out of the one-time sponsorships grew Father John Judie Ministries — a charitable organization that aims to serve people all over the world, specifically those in eastern Africa.
Eighteen years later Father John Judie Ministries has grown to the point that it sponsors about 125 seminarians in three different seminaries, Father Judie said. The annual fees for seminarians in Africa are now $250.
Father Judie said the development of the ministry was a huge surprise to him.
“It was not something I ever envisioned doing. One thing I always say is that this was God’s idea, not mine. My job is to keep up with what God is doing,” he said.
Since the organization started sponsoring seminarians in 1994, many of those first men were ordained priests about six years ago, Father Judie said.
“We have helped in excess of 500 seminarians move from point A to point B. Some made it to the priesthood and some did not,” he said.
Even those who did not complete their seminary studies were able to get better jobs because of the education they received, he noted.
In addition to sponsoring seminarians, Father John Judie Ministries also provides financial support for boys and girls in elementary and high schools. And the organization assists priests in Tanzania and Zambia.
“We have a number of African priests who get little to no salary,” he said. “We try to send stipends to help support priests.”
Father Judie said the charitable organization also has helped establish a rehabilitation center for orphans in Rwanda, a country whose people endured unspeakable horrors during the genocide of the early 1990s.
Back home, Father Judie gives talks at his parishes and around the Archdiocese of Louisville about his ministry in Africa.
Father Judie said he finds it important for people in the U.S. to be in touch with an honest picture of Africa, not just the reality of poverty but how the people live happily in the midst of want.
“It’s important to call ourselves out of chosen ignorance and to break down the dividing lines mentally, spiritually. I help people understand the situation of poverty. My job is to raise the level of awareness,” he said.
During his most recent visit, Father Judie was able to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with the people he has served for nearly two decades.
This weekend that celebration comes home to the Archdiocese of Louisville. Father Judie plans to celebrate his 25th anniversary with a banquet celebration at the Crown Plaza Hotel on Aug. 12. Proceeds from this event will benefit the priest’s ministry in East Africa.
He will also celebrate a Mass on Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary. An additional jubilee Mass for both parishes will be held Aug. 12 at Christ the King. The theme of his 25th jubilee celebration is
“Thanks be to God for the Ministry.”
Father Judie, who has been pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King for seven years, said his two parishes support his involvement in eastern Africa wholeheartedly.
“They are very much involved and very supportive. I have so much appreciation for these two parish communities,” he said.
To learn more about the Father John Judie Ministries, visit frjohnjudieministriesinc.home.insightbb.com.