By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When Father Adrian Ichaka’s bishop in Tanzania, Africa, told the priest to prepare to study in the United States, “I just accepted it; I was excited,” Father Adrian recalled of his first journey overseas three years ago. He arrived at the St. Vincent Center (Diocese of Davenport headquarters), his home while he continues postgraduate studies at St. Ambrose University. In May, he received a Bachelor of Finance Degree at the university and will continue studies this fall in the Master of Business Administration program.
Father Ichaka is among the African priests who have journeyed to the Davenport Diocese over the last 15 years to pursue academic studies at St. Ambrose University. The 43-year priest, ordained in 2011, believes he is gaining invaluable skills in Iowa that will contribute to the wellbeing of his Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara in Tanzania. “My bishop wanted me to study about finance. I expect to help people with finances, especially in the diocese.”
International Students Advisor Cathy Toohey said a number of priests from the Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara have attended St. Ambrose University since she began her position in 2012. “We enjoy a special relationship with this diocese. St. Ambrose offers them a scholarship and the Diocese of Davenport provides assistance for the priests. Upon their return to their home diocese, their St. Ambrose education, along with their experience in the U.S., helps them fulfill important roles within their diocese.”
Toohey said Father Ichaka has contributed greatly to the campus since his arrival. “Not only does he volunteer and participate in events sponsored by the Center for International Education, he also provides a valuable global perspective within his classes and to his classmates. Life at home in Tanzania is very different from campus life at St. Ambrose! The first semester at St. Ambrose is always a big adjustment for international students, as I am sure it was for Father Adrian. His hard work, inquisitive nature and perseverance has led him to the successful completion of his bachelor’s degree and acceptance into a master’s degree program! I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
The African priests who live at the St. Vincent Center while studying at St. Ambrose “make our own culture richer,” said Father John Stecher, a retired priest who lives at the center. “Father Adrian has made a tremendous adjustment to adapt to our language and our culture,” said Father Tom Stratman, another retired priest who lives at the center. Both retired priests appreciate Father Ichaka’s ability to learn American English — and his sense of humor.
Father Ichaka appreciates the diocese’s generosity in providing accommodations; the retired priests he lives with, who have taken him under their wing; Bishop Thomas Zinkula, whom he describes as a humble man; and St. Ambrose University, especially Toohey, for her guidance. Also helpful was the presence of two other Tanzanian priests and fellow students from Tanzania, who have since graduated. “Seeing people you know helps a lot. You can share some views and some stories,” Father Ichaka said.
Seven months after his arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. “I had fear at the beginning, but as time was going on, the fear was decreasing, he said. “At the beginning, so many people were dying.” While the pandemic was challenging, Father Ichaka also confronted the challenges of communication, individualistic versus communal culture and winter weather.
“In the beginning it was really challenging because the way you speak here is a bit different than the English we are taught. Some of the words you use here are very new to us,” he said. “Now I speak the same language.” He has also adjusted to the weather. “Now I can stay 100 years here,” he joked.
Building relationships with people outside his homeland also presented some challenges. “In Tanzania, you can be friendly with anyone, here not so much.” He has not experienced racism, but occasionally detects another person’s wariness toward him because he is African. “You understand that someone’s not used to it,” he said.
Father Ichaka notices differences in Mass attendance as well. “In Tanzania, many youth are in the church. Here, I see there are not many.” People in parishes where he helps out treat him well, he said. They tell him, “Father, your English is pretty good.”