Fr. Freddy Ocun
Fr. Freddy Ocun
Three priests from the Apostles of Jesus community serving in Oregon are celebrating silver jubilees this year.

The Apostles of Jesus were founded in 1968 in East Africa to sustain the church there at a time when dictators were expelling European missionaries. The institute also forms African priests to venture out to the peripheries — including Oregon. The priests serving here send much of their earnings back to Africa to support formation of Apostles of Jesus seminarians.

A young Freddy Ocun knew he wanted to be a missionary the day he saw an Italian priest zoom down a Ugandan dirt road on a motorcycle.

A thirst for adventure blended with a love for God and now Father Ocun is a missionary to the United States, serving for many years as head of pastoral care at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Northwest Portland.

He grew up in a village of 5,000 souls in northwest Uganda and was ordained in 1996 for the Apostles of Jesus. He came to Oregon in 2005, having earned a degree in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I became an Apostle of Jesus because I wanted to serve in the world,” Father Ocun told the Sentinel in 2015. “I wanted to return the blessings I received.”

As a chaplain, Father Ocun believes his major role is to help people cope, adjust and accept whatever they are going through. There are no

easy answers. “I love being here doing this ministry,” he said.

The energetic Father Ocun, remembering illnesses in his family, started a clinic in his home village in 2007. Our Lady of Lourdes Clinic serves an area of about 1,200 square miles and takes in patients with diseases like malaria, HIV, tuberculosis and parasites. Father Ocun continues to marshal support.

Children from Oregon Catholic schools and other local Catholics have raised funds for the project.

Father Frederick Nkwasibwe, who serves at Portland Providence Medical Center in Northeast Portland, has been inspired during the pandemic.

“This virus tests our faith and our love,” Father Nkwasibwe told the Sentinel last year. “It makes us ask, ‘How can I become available?’ It translates theoretical love into practical love.”

Father Nkwasibwe, who in 2008 wrote a history of his religious community, grew up in a small village in southwest Uganda. He was inspired when two Apostles of Jesus priests came to serve his parish. Their missionary ways — ready go wherever there is a need — excited him.

In 2001, five years after ordination, he was assigned to Pennsylvania. In addition to serving in parishes and as a chaplain for nuns, he earned a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in not-for-profit corporate leadership. He worked at a Catholic health system in Pennsylvania before being sent to Oregon in 2016.

“I have learned that even when we are sick, our dignity as created in the image of God remains in fullness,” Father Nkwasibwe explained. He also has a deeper awareness of the importance of the sacramental life, especially the Eucharist. He has seen people return to God, which he’ll never forget.

After 25 years, Father Nkwasibwe is happy and excited in his vocation. He said his ministry could not be what it is without the support of many of Christ’s faithful.

Father Cornelius Ssekitto, a chaplain at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, said serving with his classmates here is a great happiness.

He was born in Uganda, the youngest of 11 siblings. His father died when he was 5, so his faith-filled mother raised him with the support of extended family.

Priests visited when Cornelius was a teen and he was moved by the Apostles of Jesus. At 17, he entered formation. His mother died when he was in novitiate, but he sensed her support all the way through.

He served in Kenya as a pastor and youth director then became spiritual director of his religious community’s seminary.

In 2012, superiors sent him to Canton, Ohio, where the Poor Clare Sisters needed a chaplain. He also earned a master’s degree in counseling, followed by clinical pastoral education at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 2017, Father Ssekitto came to Oregon where he lives at St. Philip Neri Parish in Southeast Portland. In addition to hospital work, he presides at Masses for people who are deaf. Missionary life can be lonely, he said, but it’s an adventure that calls on a priest to learn new things, like sign language.

“I am very happy and satisfied in my vocation,” Father Ssekitto said, explaining that as time has gone on, he recognizes God’s providence more profoundly. He feels particularly grateful to be with patients as they draw their last breaths steeped in faith.