Shown are the priests who concelebrated at the Mass of Installation.
Shown are the priests who concelebrated at the Mass of Installation.
Father Evarist Kabagambe’s hopes for the parish community he will now lead as pastor are fairly simple and straightforward.

It is that “we will be a vibrant faith community and people will become closer to Jesus,” he said. “My role is to foster a parish where people help each other through service and prayer.”

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, marked a new beginning for Father Kabagambe’s priestly ministry, when he was installed pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Whiting during the noon Mass Nov. 20. Msgr. Joseph N. Rosie, episcopal vicar for Monmouth County and pastor of St. James Parish, Red Bank, presided over the installation.

PHOTO GALLERY: Father Kabagambe's Mass of Installation 

“An installation is an opportunity to celebrate all that has been and those things that will continue to happen,” said Msgr. Rosie. “It is a joy to represent [Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.] because I know Father Evarist brings the love of the Lord and the enthusiasm of his culture to this parish.”

Born in Luweero, Uganda in 1970, Father Kabagambe was one of four children of Stella Mankuza and Augustine Sundambiw, who directed his son to enter the priesthood. 

In 1981, schools and churches were closed when civil war erupted and priests were forced out of the country.  A catechist, who celebrated Sunday liturgies in their absence, asked the young Evarist to serve as reader and preacher, sparking the earliest inklings of confidence that he was suited to the priesthood.

When war ended in 1986, he resumed his studies but financial hardship repeatedly stalled his progress and threatened his dream. Through the generosity of several benefactors, Evarist entered the St. Mbaga Major Seminary and was ordained a priest in 2003.

While serving as a parochial vicar, he oversaw a partnership between the parish where he served and the Diocese of Trenton.  It was through that experience he came to serve in the Trenton Diocese. In 2008, Father Kabagambe was assigned to Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, and served as full-time chaplain in Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, until 2018, when he was named parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish is currently home to 3,000 registered families and draws most of its parishioners from Whiting’s retirement communities. 

Parishioners take part in a number of ministries, including religious education, parish council, bereavement support, Adoration Society, Knights of Columbus and a St. Vincent de Paul conference, which operates a pantry.  Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist visit the homebound, hospitalized and those in nursing homes, helping those residents to remain connected to their parish community.

When asked about his plans for the parish, Father Kabagambe explained, “I’m still studying what’s needed. I want to see what’s in place then decide how to influence.”  

Father Kabagambe described the cooperation he has received from members of the St. Elizabeth community.  “Staff and parishioners are waiting to help. The work is so much, but when people cooperate and are willing to help, the burden is light.”

During the Mass of Installation, the enthusiasm and care for the new pastor resonated in the beat of jambe drums and voices of the choir harmonizing in a hymn sung in Luganda, the language of Uganda, and was based on Psalm 124: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…”

“We wanted to show how much we love and care for him,” said Teresa Lacalandra, director of the parish’s music ministry.  “We asked Father to choose a song from his homeland, and he worked with us.”

Added Father Kabagambe, “The song – about how God saved Israel in their exile – is relevant to my story; all the hurdles I had to go through in my vocation, how God’s providence has worked for me in my life, for which I am so grateful.”