The final step — Ordination Day

January 10, 2012

HOUSTON — On Jan. 14, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo will call forth two men to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Deacons Tom Hawxhurst and Martial Oya couldn’t be more eager for their ordination, and to begin their long-awaited ministry to God’s people as priests. 

January ordinations are somewhat unusual in the Archdiocese. Most men are ordained during the summer months, but because these two deacons were ahead in their coursework, pastoral formation and deemed ready to enter priestly ministry, they were advanced toward early ordination so they could serve the Church in some capacity.

The ordination celebration will take place at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Jan. 14 at 10 a.m. a. All are welcome. Below is a glimpse into Deacon Hawxhurst’s and Oya‘s discernment journey to the priesthood.

As a former teacher and athletic coach, Deacon Tom Hawxhurst is a man who likes to earn things on his own. “You set a goal, you work hard, you achieve and you celebrate,” he said. 
But it was the growing realization that he had, in fact, done nothing without God’s blessings that drew him to the seminary.

Hawxhurst said he was nothing short of overwhelmed with gratitude by God’s continuous generosity when in 2005 a sense of desperation took hold.

“I had this awareness that I hadn’t earned any of these great blessings, and [that] I had to find out who this God was,” Hawxhurst, 44, said. “Faith had always been a part of my life, but I felt that instead of being something I tucked in here and there, He had to be central. I had to know Christ better.” 

For Hawxhurst, that meant risking the many gifts he cherished — a great teaching and coaching career at Incarnate Word Academy in Houston and meaningful and exciting work as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the Alief-Mission Bend area. 

In his day-to-day work — which included teaching supply-side economics or stanching the wounds of a bleeding car accident victim — Hawxhurst was struck by the fact that what the people he encountered most needed was Christ. He needed Christ, too.

“I went to the seminary to find Him — who is this God, Jesus Christ, I wanted to know Him — even if it meant giving up all these wonderful things he had given me, even as wonderful as they are they are not Him,” Hawxhurst said. 

He was also keenly aware that there was only so much he could do by himself to help those in need.
Hawxhurst, a native of New Orleans and Mater Dolorosa Parish, moved to Houston in 1985 to study history at the University of St. Thomas. A generous scholarship made it possible, he said. There he made friendships that would last to this day and bond him with the Bayou City.

After graduation, he joined in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and spent two years as a Missionary Cenacle volunteer in Compton, Calif. where he taught junior high. It was there Hawxhurst said he witnessed the cultural shift of the community he served from African-American to Latino. 

“I got to see that dynamic of social-ethnic shift and it raised a lot of historical questions for me. It gave me a focus to look at in grad school,” he said.

He continued his studies at Auburn University in Alabama, where he received a masters in history. Old friendships drew him back to Houston, and it was through a friend’s good word that Hawxhurst landed a job at Incarnate Word Academy as a teacher and coach.

He was there for 14 years before he entered the seminary. 

Hawxhurst said he most looks forward to bringing the presence of Christ to God’s people as a priest and coming to know God more deeply through those he serves. 

He has served the community of St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church since being ordained a transitional deacon last May.

After 14 years discerning his vocation, Deacon Martial Oya says he is literally counting down the days to Jan. 14 when he will finally be ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

“When I think about it, I say, “Wow, God, this is becoming real,” Oya, 36, said in a recent interview with the Herald at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Spring. “It’s excitement day in and day out.”

God, it seems, has blessed Oya in the final month before ordination with a profound joy and confidence about his calling that often eluded him during his long discernment. Now he says he’s never been more confident about anything in his life. He simply radiates energy and excitement. 

Oya was born in Cameroon, a country in Central Africa, the youngest of eight children in a devout Catholic family. As early as the age of 6, he recalled wanting nothing more than to be a priest, just like the parish priest in his home town of Tonga. At 11, Oya was sent to live in the rectory with other children, a common practice in Cameroon, where 40 percent of the population is Catholic. 

Oya entered the seminary when he was 22 and earned a masters degree in Theology and Biblical Studies from the Central University of Cameroon. At the point of being ordained to the diaconate, however, lingering doubts and questions forced him to reconsider his vocation. 

“I was saying priesthood is not just for one year, or two, or three, it’s for your whole life, and when you are not ready for it, it’s better for you not to enter into it. I was not ready for the ministry,” he said.

When Oya came to New York a year and half later to continue his studies and learn English, the priesthood was a distant reality. He studied and began assimilating into the American culture. He was even dating, thinking that God might have called him to marriage. 

Meantime, he continued attending daily Mass and even drew the attention of strangers at his parish. People who didn’t know his background would approach asking if he had ever considered the priesthood, Oya said. Even his parish priest asked him to contact the Archdiocese’s vocation director.

“I thought to myself, ‘If they only knew I was running away from it!’ ” Oya said. 
Eventually, Oya applied and was accepted to the seminary at the Archdiocese of New York, though he was not required to enter immediately. During that period of discernment, which was accompanied by prayer and spiritual direction, Oya paid a visit to a friend in Houston. 

“I discovered that Houston is just so beautiful and nice and people are just so warm and welcoming,” Oya said. 

Once he moved to Houston, Oya began a nursing program at Lone Star College. But he could not ignore the pull at his heart. 

“I had this time of searching but I didn’t get any satisfaction being out of the seminary. It was as if a voice was telling me to go back where I belonged,” Oya said. 

He was accepted at St. Mary’s in 2007 and committed himself to his vocation. He earned a masters of divinity from the St. Mary Seminary and was ordained to the diaconate in May by Retired Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Rizzotto. He was assigned to St. Ignatius Loyola for his diaconate ministry. What he’s most excited about is being among the people as a priest he added was preaching, teaching and working with youth.

In hindsight, Oya says he clearly sees God’s hand in his life and in his discernment process. And rediscovering his vocation in America was also no accident. Oya said he finds great meaning in becoming a priest in America.