Thomas Ongige, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a member of the founding Rome Experience Class of 2009, collapsed in a class on Thursday afternoon, February 18, 2010. He was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where he was pronounced dead; a heart attack was initially suspected.
“He was attending a class in homiletics (preaching) and was preparing to deliver a practice sermon on the readings for this coming Sunday,” said Father Thomas Baima, provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. “At about 2:50 p.m., without warning, he slipped out of his chair and down to the floor. Paramedics were immediately called. He never regained consciousness. He was transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center where physicians continued to attempt to revive him. He was pronounced dead at about 4 p.m.”
Mr. Ongige, a native of Kenya, had studied in a seminary there, but transferred to the Tuite Program at Saint Joseph College Seminary. The Tuite Program is a transition and formation program for African and African-American men wishing to study in the seminaries of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He entered Mundelein Seminary in the fall of 2009.
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, who presided at a prayer service with the student body Thursday evening, said this about Mr. Ongige: “He generously offered himself for life-long service to the Church in Chicago. His willingness to come to another country, to leave the life he knew behind, is a testimony to his faith in Christ and his generosity of spirit.”
Mr. Ongige, who was thirty-seven years old, was in the second year of a four-year graduate program preparing him for ordination to the priesthood in 2012. He was about to begin a ten-week pastoral internship, serving full time in a parish.
Autopsy results confirmed Mr. Ongige’s death was caused by an enlarged heart. This is an unhealthy genetic condition not easily detected by routine physicals. There are not always signs or symptoms; in fact, it often results in a sudden death. The Lake County, IL Coroner said that, even had he been stricken in the emergency room of the hospital, the result would still have been the same; doctors would not have been able to save him. The funeral was Tuesday, February 23, 2010, with visitation and Mass in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Mundelein Seminary.
Please continue to keep Thomas Ongige, his family and the seminary community in your prayers.