Being Father Emmanuel

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Friday, March 15, 2013

On his final day at Duke Divinity School this past December, Emmanuel Katongole sat in his office surrounded by boxes. The space was sparse, but Katongole’s memories were bountiful.

He recalled his journey as a Catholic priest among mostly Protestant students.

Katongole said that serving as a Catholic theologian among Protestant students helped him continue to affirm his call as a priest and encouraged him in his roles at Duke. “This place, in a strange way, has helped me to appreciate my call, my vocation. It’s amazing how I am invited to live into that more here, in a Protestant setting,” he said. “When the students first come, they call me ‘Professor Katongole.’ The other students then get to know me more through my classes and so forth, and they call me ‘Dr. K,’ which is just a sign of endearment. But other students get to know me even more, and they call me ‘Father Emmanuel.’”

That final identification among Protestant students helped Katongole continue to affirm his call as a priest and encouraged him in his role at Duke.

“I have discovered that, actually, the most important thing about me here is being Father Emmanuel,” Katongole said. “That’s unique. And so I have claimed it.”

During his time at Duke, Katongole was a key leader, along with current Center for Reconciliation Director Chris Rice, in building the center and its programs.

Katongole played a pivotal role in the bi-annual, two-week “Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope” to Uganda and Rwanda and in an internship that Duke offers in his home country of Uganda. The internship places Duke Divinity students in a Catholic parish for three months of ministerial work and gives the students the opportunity to make connections between their Divinity School education and the hope-filled communities that minister in the midst of social and economic challenges.

Katongole said that he has cherished the opportunity to guide students on a journey of discovering a sense of a “new community” by introducing them to ministry and life in Uganda and helping them gain a “a sense of connection and feeling that Africa is part of who we are and we are part of what Africa is.”

“For me that has been a great experience, and I think it is one of the most beautiful opportunities that I have discovered,” Katongole said.

Leaving Duke was difficult, Katongole said.

“Beyond the programming, the Center for Reconciliation for me has been a community within Duke. To know that I have had a community of friends, that shared not only vision but programs — life — that has been life-giving for me,” he said.

In January of this year Katongole began his tenure as an associate professor of theology and peace studies at Notre Dame University. In addition to his teaching duties, Katongole also has a strategic research role with the Contending Modernities initiative at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute. The Contending Modernities initiative is a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research and education project that examines the interaction of Catholic, Muslim, and secular institutions in today’s world.

Katongole said he hopes that the initiative will continue to bring greater understanding between the different faith forces in a world in which many people act “as if the only way to be heard is to shut down or eliminate the other.”

Rice said he will greatly miss his friend and colleague. 

“For over 10 years, Emmanuel and I have journeyed from Duke, to Mississippi, to Uganda together.  What we experienced in the Center’s ministry is far more than we could ask or imagine.  Now God is calling Emmanuel to a new place.  The loss is real, but God is growing the mission of reconciliation through this.  We will remain deeply connected.”