ELLSWORTH — Straight from the heat of Cameroon, Father Roland Berngeh arrived in Maine mid-December, days before winter’s official start but still cold enough to shock. While not his first time in the United States, it was his first sighting of snow.
“In fact, I had lived in the States, precisely in Los Angeles,” he explained from his office at St. Joseph Catholic Church, his brightly patterned shirt a stark contrast to the beige décor. That was 20 years ago, and he never saw snow, despite an intentional winter stop in the Midwest on his way home to Cameroon in central Africa. That was not the case this time.
“When I got here, it was all white, white, white,” he said with a joyful smile that rarely left his face for the entirety of the interview. “It’s a strange phenomenon.”
As a parish priest, Father Berngeh will serve St. Joseph and Catholic churches in Bar Harbor, Dedham, Manset, Bucksport, Castine, Stonington, Northeast Harbor and Winter Harbor as well as the Blue Hill Mission. But first he needs a Maine driver’s license. “I just got the DMV book to study for my driving test,” he said, adding he had learned to drive in the United States while in Los Angeles.
Until then, he is delivering a daily sermon at St. Joseph, although to a much smaller congregation than the 1,500 to 4,000 people who attended his Cameroon parish sermons. But the message, he said, is universal across all Catholic churches.
Another difference he sees is in the faces in the pews: they are all adults.
“I noticed right from when I was in California that most parents don’t come to church with children,” he said. “In Cameroon, children have to come. I think that’s what keeps us alive. It’s very cultural.”
While international assignments are not common, Father Berngeh said his posting from Cameroon to Maine didn’t come out of nowhere.
“What happens is churches, by some means, get into a friendly partnership, sharing personnel, [making] visits.” His bishop in Cameroon had visited the Portland diocese, he said. “It is healthy for the churches to have the experience you get here. It enriches, it enhances our work to see how people in other areas live and pray.”
And, he is happy to be in Maine, he said. “The winter is no problem. I believe where there are people, I can also live.”
A native of Jakiri, Cameroon, Father Berngeh was ordained to the priesthood in 1985 after completing his clerical studies at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui, Cameroon. He has served Cameroon parishes, as rector for a Kumbo seminary and then for the Catholic church in Kumbo, his most recent assignment. He holds a bachelor’s degree in theology and a diploma in philosophy from St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui and a master’s degree in educational counseling from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.