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: Atlanta, Georgia
Diaconate internship: St. Charles Borromeo, Destrehan
Most looking forward to: “It just feels right. I’m ready to get out and be with the people. Preaching is probably the thing that has made me the most nervous. It’s taken me a little while to get that confidence, but I have gotten some good feedback like, ‘Oh, I haven’t thought about that.’”
The light of Pope John Paul II enraptured him
John Yike knows someone who has better sense of humor than he does.
He goes by the name of God.
“I’m kind of the slow, deliberate type,” Yike said, now 61, who entered Notre Dame Seminary in 2014 after a series of life events began pulling him back to the faith and drawing him into a religious vocation. “I don’t like to rush anything.”
Yike, one of seven children of Sylvia and Bob Yike, grew up in Atlanta, but because of the size of his family, he attended Catholic school only through fourth grade before going to public school, “so I kind of wandered away.”
With all seven children now adults, Yikes’ parents moved to New Orleans after a fire destroyed their plaster statuary business. For a time, the lanky Yike worked as carpet installer in Atlanta.
“When I started waking up in the middle of the night with my knees going wild, I realized I was not meant for that,” Yike said, which is why he was the only child to follow his parents to New Orleans when they opened a statue and plaque business for the World’s Fair in 1984.
“I call that the world’s largest private party,” Yike said. “We had a great time, but no one came.”
The little shop in Jax Brewery specialized in making figurines of famous religious orders who had served in New Orleans. In 1987, then-Msgr. Roger Morin walked through the shop and asked what the storeowners might be doing in advance of the visit of Pope John Paul II.
That’s when the Yikes sponsored a drawing contest for all students across south Louisiana. The winning sketch was converted into a wooden carving, which the student artist presented to the pope at the Superdome.
During that visit, Yike had a ticket to attend his first Mass in decades.
“That was my turning point, really, because on that wet, rainy day, the pope comes to us in the rain, and he’s up there on the altar giving his homily and he says, ‘Do not be afraid! There is still light in the world,’” Yike recalled. “And when he said that, a beam of light came down and illuminated the altar. So, that got my attention.”
Yike found himself attending Mass regularly with his parents at St. Vincent de Paul Church in the Bywater.
“After going to Mass a couple of times, I decided maybe I should go to confession,” Yike said. “So, I said, ‘Bless me Father, it’s been 25 years,’ and he kind of worked his mouth a little bit and then he said, ‘Welcome back!’”
Yike, characteristically, began slowly involving himself in parish life. He joined the Legion of Mary, and became secretary 12 weeks later. He served Mass regularly, got involved in mentoring the parish youth group and began thinking about the possibility of becoming a permanent deacon.
After entering the diaconate formation, the family business was struggling, and Yike was counseled to interrupt his studies to attend to those matters. But a few years later, he met his new pastor, Father José Lavastida, for the first time.
“The next words out of his mouth were, ‘Have you ever thought about being a priest?’” Yike said, laughing. “I looked at him and said, ‘Whatever happened to “hello”?’”
Finally, Yike entered, and he became an instant elder statesman.
“I find for some reason God really wants me to do this stuff, though I’m still not so sure why,” Yike said. “I’ve had great professors. I haven’t had to freak out about writing these papers. It’s been truly amazing. I think the church has better answers than anybody else I’ve heard in the world, if you take the time to figure out what the real answers are.”
Yike’s father, now 86, will be at his ordination Mass, along with four of his six siblings. His mother passed away in 2002.
“Mom and dad have always been very supportive of me,” he said.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.