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Father Fred Jenga, C.S.C., recalls his relationship with his mother and reflects on the impulse of all sons to care for their mothers.

Growing up in Uganda, I enjoyed a special relationship with my mom. I had a soft spot for her. I never doubted her love for me. I saw the great extent she went to take care of business at home for good of all of us. I saw how proud she was when I was ordained a priest, and I could hear a tone of accomplishment in her voice when I eavesdropped on her telling stories to her friends about "my son who is a priest." She felt proud introducing me to her friends, and I sort of enjoyed seeing her happy and supportive of my vocation. An elderly priest friend noted to me a week before my ordination that I needed to give credit to my mom for the gift of my vocation because of her many prayers for me over the years.  




Years down the road, I was sent to the US for graduate studies. I kept the practice of calling my mom every now and then to find out how she was doing. Overall, she was doing fine. She did not have major health issues. She was all fine until one Friday evening I received a phone call from my sister Noelina, telling me that Mom had been admitted to the hospital. She wasn’t feeling well. The doctors had diagnosed her with acute pneumonia.

Mom urgently wanted to speak to me. She was put on the phone and we spoke, but her breathing was bad. She asked me to keep her in my prayers, and I promised to do it. I sent her some little money for my sister to buy her anything she needed. The Sendwave app enables one to send funds via a cellphone from North America and Europe to Africa and the recipient gets the funds instantly. My sister Noelina called me back to let me know the funds had arrived in her phone wallet and put Mom on the phone who appreciated the gift very much and reminded me to keep her in my prayers.  




I didn’t know that was the last conversation I would ever have with my mom. The following day, which was a Saturday, I pulled into a car parking lot to preside over a 5 PM vigil Mass and got a call from my sister Juliana. She was wailing on the other end of the line! She mumbled something about Mom passing away, and then the phone was cut off. I froze in the driver's seat. My head started spinning. I didn’t know whether I was in the middle of a bad dream. All sorts of emotions started welling up in me. I was confused for a while. I simply sat still in the car.  

Through the car window I could see the parking lot filling up with cars for parishioners who had come for the vigil Mass. I did not know what to do. It slowly started dawning on me that I had just lost my mom. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, yet I had Mass to preside over in a couple of minutes. I wondered whether I should just cancel the Mass and simply go back to the house, or I should simply go into the church and let the congregation know I had just lost my mom and ask all to pray with me. I decided on the latter.  

I had a deacon assisting at Mass, along with several altar servers. All went well until when I reached the part of the Eucharist prayer that says, “Remember, Lord, all our departed brothers and sisters who have gone before us." I added, “In a special way we pray for Esther (my mother’s name) whom you have called from this life.” Mentioning my mom for the first time among the deceased let loose all my emotions. I started weeping like a baby … at the altar, in front of the whole church.

The deacon came and stood by me and held my hand. We paused for a while. Every time I tried to read the words of the Eucharistic prayer, I choked. Through the glass of my tears, I could see the people on the front pews with their handkerchiefs out. I felt embarrassed before the congregation. 




I was able to compose myself and continue with the Mass, but I was embarrassed. Boys and men are not supposed to show emotion publicly—that is what I was taught. Before the final blessing, I said a few words about my mom and what she meant to me. Then I gave the final blessing, hurriedly processed out and unvested, and quickly got into the car and drove off before the congregants came out of the church and made eye contact with me.   


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Even under the extreme circumstances of His crucifixion, Jesus cared so much about His mother that he wanted her safe and well-tended.


As I reflected on my embarrassment before the congregation that day, I got an epiphany of how in many cultures, mothers enjoy a special place in the hearts of their sons. Hidden deep down in their hearts, with some exceptions, many men have a soft spot for their moms. They would do anything to make sure their mothers are safe and well cared for. It is part of that impulse that moved Jesus, while hanging on the cross, to entrust Mary to John—His beloved disciple. Even under the extreme circumstances of His crucifixion, Jesus cared so much about His mother that he wanted her safe and well-tended.  


When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)


Today, let us pray for all mothers, especially all the mothers in the Catholic Mom community. Please know that I and the priests here at the Father Peyton Center pray for you regularly. May God bless you and keep you.

Yours in Christ,

Father Fred




Copyright 2023 Father Fred Jenga, C.S.C.
Images: photo of Father Fred Jenga, C.S.C. courtesy of Holy Cross Family Ministries; photo of Esther Jenga courtesy of Fr. Fred Jenga, C.S.C.; all others Canva