Priest, born and raised in South Africa, set to become U.S. citizen

Father Wayne Dawson, who is from South Africa and is currently serving in the Diocese of Monterey, Calif., is set to become a U.S. citizen May 23.

Father Wayne Dawson, a native of South Africa and administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Capitola, Calif., will take the oath to become a U.S. citizen May 23.

Father Wayne Dawson, who is from  South Africa and is administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Capitola, Calif., will take the oath to become a U.S. citizen May 23.

“I’m very excited about being a priest and I’ve very excited of being a citizen of America, a beacon of hope,” Father Wayne recently told Catholic News Service.

“As an immigrant you recognize the opportunities that America affords,” Father Wayne said. “What America offers one is that sense of the potential of no matter who you are, you are accepted and you are able to do things.”

He will take the citizenship oath with dozens of others near San Jose, Calif.

After the oath Father Wayne will join his twin brother, Redemptorist Father Ivan Dawson, as an American citizen.

Father Ivan will miss the ceremony because he is studying Spanish in Mexico until October.

The brothers are one of a few pairs of identical twin in the priesthood around the world. Father Wayne was ordained in 1998 and Father Ivan three years earlier. Father Wayne said that at the time of his ordination he was told there were only six other pairs of priest twins worldwide.

The brothers’ attraction to the priesthood began in the family home in Cape Town. Father Wayne said he was impressed with the Catholic Church’s work to break down apartheid and to serve black South Africans during a period when they were relegated to the status of second class citizens.

“That sense of always welcoming others and always being a welcoming community always resonated with young people,” Father Wayne said. “Many of us young people wanted to go off to the seminary to become part of that.”

Father Dawson currently serves as administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Capitola, a few miles down the road from Santa Cruz. He’s been at the parish for a year, but has served at parishes in the Monterey Diocese for five years.

Prior to that Father Dawson served in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore. He had visited Portland several time to visit his brother assigned there by the Redemptorists in the early 2000s. Father Ivan introduced him to now-retired Archbishop John G. Vlazny, who invited him to serve in the archdiocese.

The cold, damp winter weather in the Pacific Northwest was a far cry from Cape Town. In 2008, he went on retreat with a priest friend on the central California coast and the weather reminded him of home. His friend encouraged him to contact Bishop Richard J. Garcia, who had been recently appointed bishop of Monterey. Bishop Garcia subsequently invited the South African to Monterey.

Father Wayne will be incardinated in the diocese Sept. 1.

He said the people across the Monterey Diocese have warmly welcomed him at the three parishes in which he has served since his arrival five years ago. Parishioners are planning a party for Father Wayne this weekend.

“I think the church in America is vibrant and dynamic,” he said. “One of the things I value about America is that sense of justice and I also value the way men and women work together. The empowerment of women in this country, I value that.”