By Jessica Easthope
Deacon Peter Okajima has had many titles throughout his life, but soon he’ll take on the one that makes him who he is.
“I’m trying to answer God’s call to be a priest, I want to be the best and holiest priest I can be,” said Deacon Peter, who will be ordained on Saturday, June 27.
For Deacon Peter, the priesthood signifies a new beginning and a call he’ll admit he resisted for a long time.
“I grew up without God in my life and at various times I was agnostic, and at various times I was an atheist,” he said.
The traumas Deacon Peter’s parents suffered played a role in his lack of faith: during World War II, his mother was put in an internment camp, and once Peter was born his parents settled in Queens. They were desperate for him to become as Americanized as possible.
“They were basically allowing me to choose my faith but of course being a kid, when I was free to choose, I chose nothing,” said Deacon Peter.
Due to the pandemic, Deacon Peter has been quarantined at home in New Jersey since graduating from a seminary that specializes in later-in-life vocations. He stands out from other deacons, some of his previous titles include husband and father.
“I got a job, got married, wonderful wife, two beautiful children, in a sense you could say I was living the American Dream, yet I had this sense of incompleteness,” he explained.
While he was still married, Deacon Peter was called back to God and he immersed himself in the Catholic faith.
“I came to realize that his call was a call to priesthood,” he said. “I laughed because of my age, but I also laughed because I was married,” he said.
Eventually, Deacon Peter and his wife had their marriage annulled. It was then when he surrendered to his vocation.
“Maybe God wants some of his priests to have life experiences similar to the people sitting in the pews,” he said.
Deacon Peter can relate to his future parishioners in a way most other priests can’t.
“I know what it’s like to work and to balance work and faith and kids and everything else,” he added.
Now, Deacon Peter is one of God’s lights in the world, and when he sees someone lost in the darkness, he can say, “I know the way.”