Nigerian-born 'Soldier for Christ' to be ordained Archdiocesan priest on June 1

May 28, 2013

HOUSTON — A cradle Catholic growing up in Eastern Nigeria, Deacon Sebastine Okoye said his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary dates back to when he was 4 years old. In large part, he credits an evening Fatima Crusade Rosary Group (Block Rosary) that gathered regularly at a neighbor’s home.

“I was always there with them, just sitting down on the floor and listening to the instructions,” said Deacon Okoye, who will be ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on June 1. “I learned every bit of the prayer by heart, but interestingly enough, [the group] would not have me registered as a member because they said I was too young. Their concern then was that I might not be committed to the daily devotion, not minding that I was more punctual than the majority of the adults.”

He added with a laugh, “It actually took two years before I was registered — maybe we can call it two years of discernment — which was not part of the Fatima Crusade rule.”

In a recent interview with the Texas Catholic Herald, Deacon Okoye discussed other details of his spiritual life growing up, what drew him to Galveston-Houston and his call to the priesthood.

Texas Catholic Herald: What kind of impact did your family have on your spiritual life?
Deacon Sebastine Okoye: I am very thankful to my parents for making sure I was baptized as an infant. I am from a family where you have no reason not to go to Church on Sundays, so my parents always encouraged me and my siblings to go to Church. My mother seemed to know God was calling me. At birth, she gave me the name “Soldier,” which is spelled as “Soja” in my Igbo language, meaning “Soldier for Christ.” This is the same woman who encouraged me to go to any level that God is leading me to serve Him. She will always be there to support me.

TCH: When and how did you receive your call to the priesthood?
Deacon Okoye: My call to the priesthood vocation came as an epiphany when I was 18. I saw myself drawn closer to God through my active participation in the various activities of the Church. 
However, after secondary school, my encounter with a charismatic Dominican bishop, Ayo Maria, O.P., who made a Lenten retreat at my parish in Lagos, solidified my idea of saying “yes” to God’s call in my life for the vocation to the priesthood. I decided to take a leap of faith to apply to the seminary after two years of discernment.

TCH: What are your other interests outside of your studies, prayer life and ministerial duties?
Deacon Okoye: I love sports in general, especially soccer, tennis and basketball. I am good at soccer and tennis (ping pong) but not at basketball — I wish I was!

TCH: What ultimately drew you to Galveston-Houston?
Deacon Okoye: It was in Toronto, Canada, when I read about the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on the Internet. One of the things that ultimately drew me to this Archdiocese is the growing Catholic population. The thought that came to me then was that the Spirit of God is alive in that Archdiocese, but I wasn’t sure if that is where God was calling me to be. 
The other thing was the warm weather that I saw during my visit in the late summer of 2006 at the invitation of Father Clint Ressler, the then-vocations director. During that first visit, I was taken to various parishes to have a little view of the Archdiocese and I met some lively parish activities that confirmed my thoughts that the Church of God is alive in Galveston-Houston.

TCH: What do you look forward to most being a priest?
Deacon Okoye: I am looking forward to being able to celebrate the Sacraments and working for the salvation of souls as a humble servant of Christ Jesus. And above all, I am looking forward to a greater encounter with Christ Jesus through a deeper knowledge and relationship with Him.