Story By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Photo By Frank J. Methe, Clarion Herald
On May 18 at St. Louis Cathedral, five seminarians of the Archdiocese of New Orleans will be ordained as transitional deacons – the final step before ordination to the priesthood. The ordinands are Sylvester Adoga, Luis Duarte, Dennis Obienu, Luis Valencia and John Yike. The Ordination Mass will be live-streamed at nolacatholic.org.
Hometown: Okuku Yala, Cross River State, Nigeria
Diaconate internship: St. Rita, Harahan
Most looking forward to: “I am definitely looking forward to preaching and to breaking open the Word of God, which has been part of my practice. The Scripture is true and the sacraments are true. I would like people to appreciate the beauty of our faith.”
A winding journey: God is faithful
For Sylvester Adoga, the winding journey to his ordination to the transitional diaconate has been a testimony to God’s faithfulness.
“I always go back to the statement of Pilate, who in response to the Jews, said, ‘What I have written, I have written,’” Adoga said, smiling. “Why do I say this? I think what God has written about a person is written forever. There has never been a time that I have quit dreaming about becoming a priest.”
Adoga said his burning desire for the priesthood was planted early by his family and neighbors. In the apartment building where he grew up, he met a tenant, David Ipoule, a Catholic who was “a man of prayer, deep faith and commitment who sowed the seed of faith in my life.”
“He was always at Mass 20 to 30 minutes before, and he was always the last person to leave,” Adoga said. “He was just a pious person who loved the Lord. I would say his hobby was prayer.”
In Nigeria, where the church is a hub of community activity, Adoga found himself walking a mile every day after school to spend time at his parish church. He also was influenced greatly by his Irish pastor, Father Patrick Grey.
“I started nurturing that dream,” Adoga said. “Father Grey was a man of deep faith. He would lead us in the rosary. I saw him as a builder of faith.”
Because family finances were tight, Adoga was not able to go directly to high school. By the time he completed his six-year secondary education and completed a national exam for admittance to college, he was considered past the age limit to enter the college seminary for his home diocese.
He eventually attended college from 2003-07 – studying history and international relations but still wanting to be a priest – and then did two years of “national service to the fatherland.”
“Because of my activity in the church, people kept pointing to me – ‘Why don’t you become a priest?’” Adoga said.
He was fortunate to secure a job with the Nigerian federal government, “which meant I had a bright future ahead of me. But as I was working with the government, my peers in the group were telling me, ‘Why not become a priest?’”
Adoga contacted his former bishop again, who had just become the metropolitan archbishop of the province, but he was close to retirement age and did not want Adoga’s continuation in the seminary to depend on him. The archbishop suggested he investigate entering the Josephites, who were preparing to reopen their seminary in Nigeria.
Josephite Father William Norvel, then the superior, told Adoga his candidacy for the Nigerian seminary might be blocked again because of his age but suggested he come to the U.S. for seminary training.
“I had never sat on an airplane before; I had no Nigerian passport,” Adoga said.
Father Norvel wrote a letter of invitation, and Adoga was able to get a travel visa to the U.S. He spent three months with the Josephites in Washington, D.C., and then two months at Our Lady of Grace Church in Reserve, but his stay came to an end and he had to return to Nigeria. A short time later, his mother died.
“It was a very sad moment for me,” Adoga said. “I had resigned my job to join the society. I was not able to comprehend it. But, as you know, God always wins. It says in Romans 8:28, ‘Everything works for good for those who believe in God.’”
In his short time in New Orleans, he met Deacon Larry Oney, who also became a mentor and friend. Adoga eventually applied to study for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and was accepted in 2014.
“I see the faithfulness of God in taking me through,” Adoga said, who added that he is so happy that Father Norvel will attend his ordination Mass. “I kept saying, ‘Lord, let me try just one more time and one more time.’ My joy knows no bounds.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.