Legate Deacon Larry Oney fosters evangelization and entrepreneurship in Uganda . . .
Deacon Larry Oney believes that proclaiming the Gospel shouldn’t be limited to the pulpit — something he backs up with words and actions.
A member of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter with his wife Andi since 2002, Oney is renowned far beyond Louisiana for his dynamic preaching and fearless defense of the faith.
In February, Oney traveled to Africa where he gave a day-long retreat for members of the Ugandan parliament and the president’s cabinet, which was then under fire from President Barack Obama for supporting a bill criminalizing same-sex “marriages” and imposing life imprisonment for repeated homosexual acts. (The bill passed despite Obama’s empty threat of yanking U.S. aid to the impoverished, heavily Catholic country.)
“Evangelization is my passion,” says Oney, 57, father of five. Pursuing this passion in a big way, however, would be impossible without significant personal means: He is chairman and CEO of Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., which provides third-party administrative management, business process outsourcing, and project management services.
“Business can be a tool, arrows in the quiver of the Lord,” says Oney. “We see that in scripture with men of means like Joseph of Arimathea. He used his influence and wealth to help the Lord. This goes straight to the heart of Legatus: Catholics who can support many initiatives, not in a loud, boastful way, but strong and silent — and deepen their own faith through the fellowship and mutual support that Legatus provides.”
“We had 11 kids in my family — Catholic-sized, but not Catholic,”
Oney laughs. He was always a believing Christian, but came into the Church 30 years ago. He was later introduced to Legatus by Danny Abramowicz, the legendary football star and co-host of EWTN’s Crossing the Goal.
Being on fire with the faith eventually enkindled Oney’s vocation as a permanent deacon, which in turn led to many more opportunities to preach and give retreats throughout the country. (He was ordained five years ago.) Realizing the limitations of a one-man show, he recently founded Hope and Purpose Ministries to expand the New Evangelization through a host of media initiatives and collaborations.
Faith and works
Underscoring the fact that the world is small when love is large, Oney attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans with a young Ugandan seminarian recruited for priestly service in Louisiana’s Houma-Thibodaux diocese.
When now-Fr. Simon Peter Engurait was about to be ordained in 2012, he mentioned to Oney his consternation that members of his family wanted to attend but were unable to do so because of the cost.
Today, the priest is deeply moved that Oney is focusing so much attention on the needs of his fellow Catholics back home in what he calls “the Pearl of Africa”— needs material as well as spiritual.
“The conviction with which Deacon Oney preaches and shares the Good News is deeply inspirational and transformative,” says Fr. Engurait. But he also draws attention to that famous passage in the Letter of St. James: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
When Oney traveled to Uganda earlier this year to speak and preach, he noticed not only the spiritual richness of the people, but their material poverty. Oney moved quickly to establish a bank to give micro-loans to Ugandans whose capacity to evangelize is hampered by economic insecurity.
“Like many developing countries, Uganda has a lot of unexploited or under-exploited economic opportunities,” says Fr. Engurait. “One of the key inhibiting factors is lack of financing — pure lack or prohibitively high lending rates and terms. So this micro- banking initiative to support income-generating activities is a significant effort in meeting people’s needs for a better livelihood.”
Oney has already secured over $50,000 in loans to Ugandans, averaging $1,000. (Given the exchange rate and comparative poverty of Uganda, this would equal about $1.32 million in America.) Most of the recipients are 16 couples associated with the Emmaus Center, a focal point of charismatic Catholicism in Uganda.
The people in this community want to evangelize, Oney notes, “but they need to feed their families.” Starting small enterprises with secure outlooks — raising chickens to sell the eggs, for example — presents “a ridiculous return on investment.” Oney is working on formalizing this loan process, which provides “a leg-up, not a hand-out.”
“Like Legatus, this is faith in action and entrepreneurism. If they’re successful, they can become lenders, too, not just borrowers. The expectation is that these little businesses will grow and they’ll pay the money back.”
This summer Oney will visit Uganda a second time, not only to check up on the loan recipients, but to speak at the first International Leaders Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal to be held on the African continent. Others sharing the podium at the June 30- July 12 event include Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Oney describes the meeting’s aim as strengthening participants in their personal faith and spiritual lives while teaching them the leadership skills and techniques necessary to evangelize effectively.
Renewal Ministries, led by its founder Ralph Martin, has worked in Uganda for about 20 years, hosting retreats, meeting with local prelates, and focusing on catechetical training and resources to counteract the challenges of Pentecostals. Renewal Ministries arranged Oney’s February retreat for Ugandan members of parliament — a regular activity enjoyed by the leaders of this strongly Catholic country.
Martin, a member of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter, says Oney’s impact in Africa has been impressive, “partly due to the fact that Africans are perhaps more receptive to an African-American. One of the major challenges we’re encountering there is the mindset of Western materialism that’s trying to conquer the globe. This underscores the necessity to advance and deepen Catholic evangelization efforts.”
As for Deacon Larry Oney, he notes that material concerns can be valid, and if validly addressed, nurture the spiritual life. Materialism, on the other hand, “puts Mammon in the place of God altogether.”
MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.