When Father Augustine Idra departs Notre Dame High School for the final time on Jan. 16, there may be many people wishing him well with their words but grasping the hem of his coat to keep him there.
The school's chaplain and spiritual director was recently elected regional superior for the religious order of the Apostle of Jesus in the United States.
"God is calling us all to service," Idra said. "This is a service I want to render to my order and to the church."
The African religious order, whose United States headquarters is in Northampton, Pa., exists to evangelize Africa and the world, according to its website.
Idra, who was born in Uganda but raised in Sudan (now South Sudan), came to the United States seven years ago as a member of the order. At the time, he was contracted to the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, which includes Southeast Tennessee and Chattanooga.
Since then, he has served several parishes, including as associate pastor at both St. Jude and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga. He is in his third year at Notre Dame.
Idra said fellow members of his order elected him to the position.
"I did not vie for it," he said.
Idra said it took a while for him to accept the job.
"I have fallen in love with the Diocese of Knoxville," he said. "They are lovely people here in the South. And the kids [at Notre Dame] are just amazing. You hate to leave the people you love, but [leaving] is mission by its very nature."
Idra said it will be his job to coordinate activities for the 60 members of the order who are contracted to various dioceses and institutions in the U.S.
In addition to helping assure members "keep our contracts that were signed with various bishops," he said, he would be the official delegate of the religious order's superior general in this country.
Idra said he would have two assistants as part of the order's General Consulate in the U.S.
In announcing his new position in a December letter to Notre Dame families, he answered those who wanted to honor his service by suggesting they could make a donation to the school's chapel renovation fund.
Director of communications Gayle Schoenborn said since the letter went out, more than $10,000 had been contributed. That amount, she said, will be added to $40,000 already raised in trying to reach a needed $100,000.
"We love him," she said. "We're sorry to see him go."
Idra said he is grateful to the diocese for his service here and to the priests, laity, faculty, students and parents he dealt with.
"They've been wonderful and generous for accommodating me," he said. "I'll always remember them in my prayers [and] in their lives. I thank God for bringing me here."
Receptions for Idra will be held at Notre Dame on Jan. 11 following the 8:30 a.m. Mass and after school at 2:30 p.m. The public is invited.