Meet the men who will become the Archdiocese's newest priests

May 25, 2021

HOUSTON — Four young deacons to be ordained as priests June 5 in Houston are as diverse as a seminarian studying in Italy and a Nigerian-American whose immigrant father named him after the Bayou City itself.

Although they experienced different “Ah-ha!” moments when they realized their calling, they all said God’s love is in their hearts to share with others.

“My dad actually named me ‘Houston,’ after the city that adopted him,” said Deacon Houston Okonma. “After arriving to the city and country in 1982, he was so impressed with the industrious nature of the city and wanted his first son to be just as big and great.”

 “I was born in Houston, Texas, and raised right here. Both of my parents are immigrants of Nigeria,” he said.

But that industriousness meant for him to be financially successful, according to his family plan, so they were “very hesitant” about Deacon Okonma becoming a priest, he said.

“As the first son of a Nigerian-American household, the priesthood was not the prime ‘career’ choice. In overcoming this notion, my family saw how serious and committed I was to serve the same God we praise,” Deacon Okonma explained.

Deacon Joseph White, currently studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, said, “My ordination actually falls on my birthday and in the middle of my finals, so I will be studying up to my ordination and even after my ordination. I pray the grace of ordination, amongst other things, helps me with my exams.”

He is studying for a degree in moral theology, which would allow White to teach theology at the master’s level. He describes growing up “in a very devout family, and the idea of preaching about Jesus was present to me throughout my childhood.”

Deacon White added, “In fact, I would often preach homilies in the shower as early as five years old!”

But Deacon Chad Henry, although a “cradle Catholic,” said he did not think about becoming a priest until his senior year in high school, where he was also an active athlete playing both baseball and football at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land.

“As I was at my Confirmation rehearsal at Sacred Heart in Richmond, I saw our pastor simply sitting in one of the pews and at that moment, for the first time in my life, I felt a desire to be a parish priest,” Deacon Henry said.

He ended up entering St. Mary Seminary for the Archdiocese in the fall of 2012 upon graduating high school and has spent nine years in formation.

“As a deacon this past year, I had the opportunity to baptize my nephew, which was pretty awesome. I was also assigned to Resurrection Church in Denver Harbor, having the opportunity to preach in both English and Spanish,” Deacon Henry said.

Deacon Hoang “Wayne” Ly was 21 when he attended a Life Teen Mass, and the homily seemed out of touch with the young audience, making him think that he could bring the Word of God alive to youth. 

“It still took about five years later for me to take the leap of faith and enter the seminary,” he said.

The main catalyst in Deacon Ly’s spiritual journey was his home parish at Christ the Incarnate Word. 

“The parish introduced me to Jesus, taught me about the Catholic faith, and helped me discern toward the priesthood,” he credited.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation forced the seminarians to spend more time on the St. Mary campus and in the dorms. While studying alone and having classes online were difficult for most, the quiet time also helped them focus more on prayer and reflection, they said.

But Deacon Ly and the other deacons said they know they are blessed in their lives.

“I know that people are hungry for God, and I want to be that witness of God’s love and mercy!” he said.