Samour studied engineering, spent time in the seminary
By Christopher M. Riggs
Jake Samour always thought he would move north after working for a few years for the marriage and family life office of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, but north to him meant Denver, where his family is, not Wichita.
His three children were not yet school-age – it wouldn’t be so disruptive – so he flew to Denver to speak to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, who as Father Aquila, was his supervisor when he worked for the Archdiocese of Denver years before.
“I went to see him this past summer but at same time this job opened up and it would have been foolish not to at least apply,” Samour said last week from his office in the St. Joseph Pastoral Center next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Although he leaned toward moving to Denver because his family still lives there, he said, “When you give your life to God, don’t ask where He leads you. It is that kind of relationship I feel I have with the Lord, and that trust. It’s not about me.”
It also didn’t hurt that his wife, Ramie, is from Marion. They met while they were studying at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., where they both received master of theology degrees in marriage and family.
Although the family had begun to establish roots in San Antonio, Samour took the job as director of the Diocese of Wichita’s Marriage and Family Life Office because he believes God has great plans for him here – and Denver is only about seven hours away.
“There’s a lot of good things already here,” he said. “It’s not a diocese where things are struggling.”
Samour said the diocese’s reputation about its stewardship, good schools, and strong presbyterate is widely known.
“To see people’s excitement that I’m here is humbling,” he said. “What that says to me is that God is going to do amazing work here. I’m hoping to be the vessel and get out of the way.”
Although Samour said he is still learning where everything is around his office, he is contemplating the future of the ministry.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have a lot of resources related to their marriage initiative, he said, “But it’s hard for those things to get transferred into reality in the parish – for the people in the pews. One of my tasks, I believe, is to take those guidelines, to take those recommendations, and bring them alive at the parish level – where the people are.”
He will also be working on a common policy of marriage preparation for the Diocese of Wichita. The current policy adopted by all four Kansas dioceses has been in use for over 20 years.
“The needs of couples today are a lot different from the needs of couples in the past,” he said. “So we’re going to see what we need to put together, some key components for marriage preparation.”
Samour hopes to revitalize some of the current marriage enrichment and marriage preparation programs in the diocese. “I’m going to see what’s here and find out how we can strengthen those ministries so that they can better serve the people of our diocese.”
He said the institution of marriage is suffering and that the prevailing culture does not support marriage. “The culture tells us that we should be self possessive and self determining but if you don’t act like everyone else, you’re an outsider,” he said, adding that that has resulted in a shockingly high rate of divorce.
“People are treating marriage like their iPhones,” he said, “they replace it when it gets old.”
Samour said his goal is to help people understand what God intended marriage to be – from the beginning.
“When you are presented with the beauty of the way God created things,” he said, “that’s attractive, you don’t have to worry about getting into debates. A married couple is a witness to everyone of the beauty of marriage and that speaks volumes to our world.” As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said last year at the opening of the Synod for the New Evangelization: Marriage “is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today...The union of a man and a woman...is a sign that speaks of God with force and eloquence.”
Samour is the oldest of 12 children. In 1979, his father, who at the time was a lawyer and judge in El Salvador, moved his family from El Salvador to Denver, to avoid any repercussions from the revolution connected to the murder in 1980 of the Most Rev. Oscar Romero, archbishop of El Salvador, and a friend of the family who played a part in the marriage of his mother and father.
Samour, who was 14 when he moved to Denver, attended Catholic schools in El Salvador and public schools after he moved to the U.S., earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and worked for what was then the Martin-Marietta Corp. A proposal of marriage to a woman with a Baptist background who later broke off the engagement resulted in a change in Samour’s course in life.
“It (the breakup) was a gift,” he said, “even though it was probably one of the lowest moments of my life.”
Samour’s mother told him to go to church, and get involved there to get his mind off of the breakup.
Like a good son, he obeyed, and found out his parish in Littleton, Colo., was starting a Life Teen program. “I told them I’m here to help,” he said. “That led me to get involved with the church in all kinds of programs. I loved it!”
Later, he became involved in the youth programs at the archdiocesan level.
“I started to ask myself. Lord, do you want me to become a missionary? Do you want me to become a priest?”
Even though he had a great job, Samour said he came alive in the evenings and on the weekends with his church ministry. That desire resulted in him leaving his engineering job and to take a position as coordinator of the Hispanic youth ministry for the archdiocese. The location of his office, next to the archdiocesan seminary, inspired an interest in the priesthood, but after about a year and a half in the seminary, he and his formators decided that perhaps, Samour, who was over 30 at the time, was not being called to study at that seminary, maybe at one designed for older vocations.
Samour said when he went home, he had to face his father’s point of view: the eldest son had left a high-paying job for a relatively-low paying church job, quit that job to go to the seminary, and then left that.
“I’m 37 years old and I’m coming home without even a cell phone,” he said.
So, on top of that, he announced to his father that he needs a degree in theology, something he could use if he decides to continue studying for the priesthood or continue in church ministry.
His father’s reply was: “So, you have nothing, and whatever savings you have you’re going to spend on a degree in theology?”
Samour said it was a real “desert” moment for him, despite his belief that God was leading him to further his studies.
After discussing the idea with friends and acquaintances, he ended up at the John Paul II Institute, where he met his wife who had followed the recommendation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who at that time was bishop of the Diocese of Wichita. He is now bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix.
“It’s a small institute, so you get to know the people who enter at the same time. I grew to love Ramie, asked her to marry me, and she said yes – and she was Catholic,” he said laughing.
They graduated in May of 2005 and were married the next month at St. John Nepomucene Church, Father Emil Kapaun’s hometown church, in Pilsen, Kan.
Samour’s life adventure doesn’t end there, though.
He and his new bride moved to Mexico so that he could immerse himself in Spanish and learn it well enough to use it in church ministry, if he needed to. Ramie was asked to work as an English instructor at a Catholic school run by laymen for students preparing to go to English-speaking universities outside of Mexico.
“They needed Ramie more than they needed me,” he said, “but I came with the package!”
The newlyweds spend about 18 months in Mexico where Jake was able to hone his Spanish and they were able to explore the country.
He learned about the position with the marriage and family office at the Archdiocese of San Antonio, applied for the job, and began working there in February of 2007.
Office has new phone numbers
The name of the diocesan Family Life and Natural Family Planning Office has been changed to the Office of Marriage and Family Life.
The phone numbers associated with the natural family planning office – (316) 685-6776 and (800) 813-2410 – are no longer in service.
To contact the office, call (316) 685-5240.