All priests, when we are sent to a new parish assignment, pray for the grace to follow a failure. We hope that we can walk into a mess that is out of control so that despite our own failings, we can look good by comparison to our predecessors. Sadly, for me, that didn’t happen when I was assigned here to All Saints. I had the great misfortune to follow a beloved pastor, Fr. Calist Nyambo.
Fr. Nyambo arrived at All Saints at a time when the parish needed a calm, loving presence; he was all of that, and more. He was tireless in his attention to the parish. He loved all of you deeply. He was always ready when a family faced trouble or tragedy, and he was always eager to socialize and enjoy your company. Fr. Nyambo adored the African Sisters, and was devoted to his brother priests from Africa. He was, most often, the one who made certain that the African clergy and Religious stayed in contact with one another; that was true here in the Diocese as well as throughout the country.
When he retired, there was general consternation here at All Saints. Everyone was happy for him, but sad for themselves, as they didn’t want to see him go. I was told that at least one family considered leaving the parish because he was leaving. I don’t know if that family actually left, but I’m certain they missed Fr. Nyambo’s gregarious, loving attention.
In his retirement, however, Fr. Nyambo was never far away. He was very generous with his time for the parish and his former parishioners. He was often here for liturgy. He looked forward to joining us for Christmas and Holy Week, and I looked forward to seeing the consternation in the eyes of parish employees and volunteers when they were faced with the choice between doing things the way Fr. Nyambo wanted or the way I wanted them done. We always did things the way Fr. Nyambo wanted.
He was often here for help, as well. Fr. Nyambo often called, and visited, especially when he needed help with his computer or email account, when he needed help with his disagreements with the IRS about what constituted work-related expenses, when he needed help with maintenance issues at his condo, when he was out of the country and had forgotten to pay his cell phone bill or had forgotten to take along a list of his medications, when he forgot to change his mailing address or his banking information. The parish office at All Saints functioned as his travel agent. Lynn made air reservations for him, printed boarding passes and provided on-demand transportation to and from the airport.
From time to time, parish staff members and volunteers would ask me if the Diocese made any provision to look after retired priests. My response was always, “Yes, of course! The Diocese’s provision for Fr.Nyambo is All Saints!” We were blessed with Fr. Nyambo’s presence. I joked often that we were his custodial caregivers and surrogate parents. This, I think, is a beautiful image of what the Catholic Church is, and aspires to be.
Fr. Nyambo left his homeland and his family, and came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg to serve the Church selflessly for forty years. He gave himself to the Diocese, and often asked help from his parishioners; his many requests were an endearing means for the faithful to give back in return for what they had received from him. This is the Church at its best; rather than an hierarchical society, the Church has always been a communal effort to live the Faith and share the Faith as a congregation dedicated to one another’s spiritual and physical well-being.
Fr. Nyambo was all of that for us, and so much more. We are richer for the experience of his giving and our own. Fr. Nyambo made All Saints a better parish, and a better experience for all of us of what the Catholic Church should be.
His last few days were exactly what he would have wanted, had he known they would be his last. He said Mass here on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family. He spent Monday with some priest friends, and had lunch with some ladies from the Choir on Tuesday. He suffered a massive stroke on Tuesday night. He was found on the floor of his condo on Thursday morning by a parishioner who knew something was amiss: Father wasn’t answering his cell phone, a devotional object second in importance only to his breviary.
If there is cell phone coverage in the Kingdom of Heaven all of us can expect a call as soon as Fr. Nyambo gets his new account established. Be certain to pick up after the first ring, or he will grow impatient. If the call doesn’t come, rest assured that is only because Father’s attention is directed to his deceased relatives, all his former parishioners whose funerals he presided over and as much time as the Angels can spare. We should all be so fortunate and so faithful.
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine,
secundum verbum tuum in pace,
quia viderunt oculi eius salutare tuum.
Requiescat in pace, Patre.