PERKINSVILLE — Father Stephen Karani originally planned to study and minister for a few years in the United States before returning to his native Kenya to teach. Yet his experience in the Diocese of Rochester was so positive, a Plan B emerged.
“Once you stay in a place and start getting used to it, you start getting more comfortable,” he remarked.
The priest eventually got comfortable enough that he sought to become a permanent part of this diocese — a wish that was granted earlier this year.
Father Karani, 39, has been incardinated as a priest of the Rochester Diocese. Bishop Matthew H. Clark publicly announced the news during a March 26 visit to Cohocton’s St. Pius V Church, one of four faith communities Father Karani serves as parochial vicar.
Father Karani was ordained in 1993 in the Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya. He arrived in the Rochester Diocese in 2000, and has been studying at Elmira College toward a degree in education while also logging parish assignments. He began at Our Lady of the Lakes in the Finger Lakes area. Since then, all his stints have been in the Southern Tier: St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, 2001-03; St. Mary’s Southside in Elmira, 2003; and Holy Family Parish from 2003 to the present. Holy Family comprises St. Pius V as well as Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; St. Mary, Dansville; and St. Joseph, Wayland.
Father Karani began seeking incardination last year with the support of Holy Family’s pastor, Father Michael Schramel. His request was ultimately granted via an agreement between Rochester Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Nakuru Bishop Peter Kairo. He is one of several Kenyan priests to serve the Rochester diocese in recent years. Most of these priests come here as externs, returning to their native dioceses after a few years.
Father Karani said the current priest shortage motivated him to stay here.
“I know there is a need for priests around here, and the situation is different back home,” he said, explaining that the Nakuru Diocese still is served by a fair number of missionary priests.
He refers to his incardination as “a new calling, a new vocation.” In an April 2 parish bulletin article, he quoted from Genesis 12:1: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Whereas Holy Family Parish’s four communities in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties may appear a considerable amount of ground to cover, Father Karani noted that Kenyan parishes are spread out over a much wider geographic area and communities generally celebrate Mass just once a month.
“To have a concept like Holy Family doesn’t even bother me,” he said, adding that the roads are better paved here and car travel is much more common. In Kenya, “it takes time to get to the people. It’s just a different world.”
He’ll miss that world in many respects — not only the family and friends that he will only see on vacations, but also the joyous Kenyan liturgical celebrations that typically include vibrant singing, dancing and drumming.
The consistently weather warm of his homeland will also be missed, especially since Father Karani is an avid golfer. He recalls his first winter in the Rochester Diocese and the sight of snow — “you call (Kenya) and tell people about it” — but the novelty had worn off by that January with plenty of cold still in store.
“The first year was difficult for me. I am not used to being indoors all the time, going from one building to another. It was depressing,” he said with a laugh.
However, Father Karani said his vocation requires adaptability. “I believe it’s in the nature of the priesthood. We are supposed to be open to serve in any part of the world.” He added that he sees an important common thread between here and Kenya is that “the ministry of the priest is basically the same.”
“We have very nice people here” at Holy Family, he said.
Father Karani appears comfortable with parishioners of all ages. On a recent Friday he kidded around with students from Holy Family School during a morning Mass at St. Mary’s Church, and a couple of hours later was doing the same over lunch with a senior-citizen group at Sacred Heart Church.
“I’m generally social. I try to get along with as many people as possible,” Father Karani said, adding that he can see himself doing many different things.
“I kind of hope that, with time, I can see myself applying for the position of a pastor,” he said.