May 8, 2024 at 9:06 a.m.

A ‘SACRED JOURNEY’

As his ordination nears, Deacon Anthony Chibueze Onu talks about his vocational journey, which started in Nigeria and has brought him to the Diocese of Albany
Deacon Anthony Chibueze Onu (r.) is shown during his Ordination to the Diaconate on May 20, 2023 at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany, and in a more recent photo (below) from his time at seminary. (Cindy Schultz photo for The Evangelist/photo provided)
Deacon Anthony Chibueze Onu (r.) is shown during his Ordination to the Diaconate on May 20, 2023 at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany, and in a more recent photo (below) from his time at seminary. (Cindy Schultz photo for The Evangelist/photo provided) (Courtesy photo of CINDY SCHULTZ)

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TE: Can you talk about where you were born and what that was like?

DO:  My journey to the priesthood began in Nigeria before I moved to the United States seven years ago. I come from a family of eight children and I am the youngest son among them. When I was just 10 years old, my father passed away, leaving my mother to raise us on her own. Despite the sadness of losing my father, my mother, a strong widow, took care of us with courage and determination. Growing up in our family was like being part of a lively community. With five brothers and two sisters, each of us brought our own personality into the mix, but love kept us united. My mother was the heart of our family, providing guidance and love that held us together. She was our source of strength and wisdom, carrying on the legacy of love left by our father. As both a mother and father figure, she nurtured us with endless affection and care, showing us the power of love and devotion.

TE: Was your family religious?

DO:  I grew up in a deeply religious family, following the Christian faith of the Catholic denomination. Our family’s connection to Catholicism goes back generations, with my late grandfather being one of the founding figures of Catholicism in our village. In his honor, one of the outstation churches was named St. Charles after him. Catholicism was a central part of our family life, with Sunday Masses and daily devotional activities. These experiences instilled in me a deep respect for our faith from a young age. As a child, I actively participated in religious activities such as serving as an altar server, joining the youth organization, and being part of Marian societies. Spirituality thrived in our family compound, especially through communal practices such as neighborhood Rosary meetings, which we called Bloc Rosary gathering. These gatherings, where extended family members came together to recite the Rosary, strengthened our bonds and sense of devotion. During my upbringing, I learned Catholic prayers in both my local Igbo dialect and English. The regular recitations of these prayers became rooted in my memory, reflecting the profound influence of my upbringing in a devout Catholic household.

SAVE THE DATE
The combined Priesthood and Diaconate Ordination will take place on Saturday, May 18, at 11 a.m., at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. Deacons Thomas Fallati, Adam Feisthamel, Paul McDonald, Anthony Onu and Joseph Tuan Pham will be ordained to the priesthood, and Eric Ramirez will be ordained to the permanent diaconate. You can watch the ordination live at www.rcda.org/live
stream. 

TE: When did you first start thinking about the priesthood as a vocation?

DO:  My path to the priesthood started during my time as an altar server in secondary school, where I was deeply involved in my faith. Later, I became interested in science and considered pursuing an engineering program. But over time, I felt a call to the priesthood resurface in my heart. After secondary school, I discussed my vocational feelings with my pastor and close friends, and I began discerning my vocation with my home diocese. Unfortunately, I faced a setback when I was not accepted due to a missing prerequisite — a course in Christian Religious Studies. Despite this setback, I remained determined to explore my vocation. I sought guidance from a religious congregation and delved into philosophical studies as part of my discernment process. In that supportive environment, I found the space and encouragement to deepen the understanding of my calling.

TE: Talk about the encouragement you have received during your formation.

DO:  Throughout my years of formation, I’ve been deeply blessed by the unwavering support and encouragement of many people, from my family and friends to the wider community of parishes. Their steadfast solidarity fills me with gratitude. People would often approach me with prayers, encouraging me as I pursued my vocation. I remember one touching encounter with a woman from a distant parish who had been praying for me for years. Her sincerity reminded me of the unity we share in Christ. During my time as a graduate student, a humorous yet meaningful moment occurred when a woman sensed a calling in me and asked about a monastic vocation. It highlighted the mysterious ways of God’s providence in our lives. Some have discerned glimpses of my vocational journey and affirmed the calling they see in me. Their words and prayers have been a source of light and strength, sustaining me through seminary challenges. In the embrace of their unwavering support, I find solace and strength, knowing I’m part of a community whose prayers propel me forward on this sacred journey. Their presence has deeply influenced my discernment, reminding me of our interconnectedness in God’s plan.

TE: Can you share any memorable experiences while at seminary?

DO:  During my time in seminary, both in Nigeria and the United States, I have had many wonderful experiences. The different aspects of formation — spiritual, intellectual, social and personal growth — have all helped me become a better person. Being part of a community of fellow seminarians has been especially important. We’ve shared our ups and downs, supporting each other through it all. Working in parishes as part of my training has also been valuable, helping me to grow spiritually and learn to serve others better.

One of the most memorable experiences was going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my classmates. Visiting the places where Jesus lived and taught was incredibly moving. It made the stories of the Bible feel real and alive. I even had the amazing opportunity to attend Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. It was a truly special moment, like a gift from Jesus himself to me. Another highlight was a retreat I had in Galilee before my diaconate ordination. Walking in the footsteps of Saint Peter around that region and contemplating the person of Saint Peter, a man filled with human experiences but had a deep love for Jesus. This experience strongly reaffirmed in me the desire to be ordained. The peaceful surroundings and moments of prayer helped me feel God’s presence and confirmation of my path to my vocation.

These experiences have been crucial in shaping my journey toward the priesthood. They’ve given me a deeper understanding of my faith and a sense of purpose. I’m grateful for God’s guidance throughout this journey and I’m excited to continue following his call in my life.

TE: What are you looking forward to the most after ordination?

DO:  As I approach my ordination as a priest, I eagerly await the opportunity to serve as an instrument of God’s love for His Church and people. I desire to be a humble and dedicated servant, celebrating the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as moments where God’s grace touches lives. I also look forward to sharing the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic faith, guiding others to deepen their relationship with God and each other.

TE: What do you think is important in growing vocations?

DO:  I believe the key to growing vocations begins with strong family support. When families are supportive and prayerful, nurturing faith and fostering growth, it creates an environment where vocations can flourish. My journey to the priesthood began within my family, where a foundation of faith was laid and nurtured. However, the concept of family extends beyond the household; it includes the parish community where faith is shared, especially among the younger generation. When we cultivate healthy and supportive religious families, I believe vocations to the priesthood and religious life will naturally thrive.

TE: Do you have any favorite biblical passages?

DO:  On my priestly prayer card, two biblical passages hold special significance for me. The first is from Matthew 11:28, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” This verse reminds me of the comforting presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who offers solace and peace to those who are weary. The second passage is from Romans 8:28, which declares, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” This verse serves as a reassuring affirmation of God’s providence and the ultimate goodness that he brings out of every situation for those who trust in him. These passages are like guiding lights in my journey as a priest, reminding me of God’s unfailing love and care for his people.


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