In early October, I took a long weekend away from my work at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School in Jinja to visit Holy Cross Novitiate at Lake Saaka. Novitiate is the beginning of life in the community – training in prayer, community life and ministry, and an apprenticeship in the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. It is dedicated time and space, nourishing the “new ones” as we begin our life in Holy Cross. One of the best years of my life was spent at our Holy Cross Novitiate in the mountains of Cascade, Colorado. Often, I wish I had another day to spend there! And when I reached Lake Saaka, I felt like I had come home.
Lake Saaka is in Fort Portal District, where four Holy Cross priests (the leader would become Servant of God Bishop Vincent McCauley, C.S.C.) first established a community foundation in 1958. Soon afterward, they were joined by Holy Cross sisters and brothers, and together, they began to minister in the newly-created Diocese of Fort Portal. The beautiful novitiate property began as a place of rest and recreation for the Holy Cross community. Now, as a novitiate, Lake Saaka continues to welcome visitors to share in the prayerful solitude. I was grateful to be among them!
The original structures built under Bishop McCauley’s leadership are home to the kitchen, dining room and community living room, to a dormitory-style residence, and to a beautiful (although now too-small) chapel. A new guest house was recently completed, and a new chapel is under construction. The grounds are incredibly beautiful, featuring spectacular views of Lake Saaka and the Rwenzori Mountains. God’s presence seems to rest in this place.
I found the novitiate program to be quite familiar. The days begin with morning prayer, meditation and Mass. Breakfast follows, including eggs fresh from the chicken coop, bananas fresh from the garden and toast with homemade peanut butter (possibly my favorite food since I have arrived). Novices spend their days participating in conferences where they learn about prayer, community life and ministry in Holy Cross, and also working on the property (there is a working farm, complete with a variety of crops and animals).
Ministry is an important part of the novitiate year as well. One day each week, novices ride bicycles to nearby parishes, chapels, schools – even a prison – to share their experience of God with the people of the area. And, common meals and time to relax together are important parts of the rhythm of life at Saaka. On Sundays, the community gathers for social time following evening prayer. For these few hours, music breaks the silence of the place. Taylor Swift is currently a favorite on the Novitiate Top 40.
This year, twelve novices are guided by Brother Joseph Kaganda, C.S.C., Father Richard Stout, C.S.C., and Father Ronnie Kawooya, C.S.C. These men live together with the novices, teaching them, listening to them and encouraging them as they continue their journey with God. This is our common life in Holy Cross: helping one another to find God. I enjoyed conversations with many of the novices, yet another experience of our international brotherhood in Holy Cross.
Any life commitment well-lived makes us more fully the person whom God has created us to be, and draws us closer to God. I am grateful for the ways that life in Holy Cross is doing this for me.
Mr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C., is a temporarily professed seminarian spending a ministry year in East Africa teaching at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda. He is a monthly contributor to Spes Unica blog reflecting on seminary life in Holy Cross. Learn more about seminary formation for priesthood and religious life in the Congregation.