For 25 years, the parishioners at St. Patrick's in Bedford have been warmed by Father John Kauta's greeting, "You pray for me and I'll pray for you." With his time now coming to an end at St. Patrick's, his flock easily recognizes that he cannot be summed up in a catchy longline.
Even though he is a theological scholar, he described himself as a simple African bushman who appreciated how the parish at St. Patrick's helped him assimilate into American life. Parishioner Margaret Whelan remembers that despite his early struggles with the English language, the love and the smile always created a connection - even if his words didn't.
He found room in his life for every single person and before long he was able to tie everyone's name and face to each of their triumphs and tribulations. As he is scheduled for reassignment, probably in Africa, she recalls the effect his approach has on what the parish calls his bodyguards - the children. "He listens to them," said Ms. Whelan, and children simply equate that with the respect they crave and deserve.
But Africa is not as far away as it used to be. He used the sense of humor that the people of St. Patrick's have known for 25 years to clarify how his departure does not mean an end to this relationship. "We have cell phones (in Africa) but you have to climb a tree on a mountain - much like in Bedford and Pound Ridge," he deadpanned.
This way about him serves more than just the chance to provide laughter, according to Ms. Whelan. "It makes him more accessible," she said. Something that parishioner Virginia Lanigan can second.
His welcoming, optimistic demeanor immediately came off to her as non-judgmental. "He seems to understand what it's like to be struggling," she said, and it puts the people at St. Patrick's at ease around him.
In his final homily, Father John stressed the importance of marriage and how the institution not only begets children, but the building blocks of a healthy society. But he acknowledged the difficulty that couples always face and urged them to endure through the struggles.
True to his form, he made light of the subject. Speaking as if he had placed the first marriage between Adam and Eve into an American sitcom, he said, "I am here to give you orders, and not only that, I am here to change you." It was clear from the laughter that the audience understood the words came from the fictional Eve and not the fictional Adam.
Once again, the laughter generated transcends into something more, according to parishioner Dan Asaro. "His stories bring it back down to reality and has the effect of putting things in the perspective of day to day life," he said.
Every single day is right, according to Monsignor Thompson, who said he has seen a lot of priests in his time but none finer than Father John. "Nobody ever heard, I'm sorry I can't do that. What you always heard is sure," he said.
Father John acknowledged, in his address at the reception which followed that the kindness has traveled in both directions. He is grateful for the welcoming spirit going back two and a half decades and the generous efforts the people from Bedford have made in behalf of those in need here and in his homeland of Uganda.
He said, his time here has made him feel as a family member to his parish - especially when his father was killed in political violence back in Uganda. He conveyed the family feeling long distance to his mother in his efforts to convince her to come to America. "She was afraid of planes," he quipped with the precision of a comedian.
Today, he knows she smiles down on his extended Bedford family and left St. Patrick's, probably in the same manner that he entered it - with a story. In Africa, he said, "When you move from a place, leave a plant so when you come back there is a little shade."