By Katie Engesser
Voices are raised in a joyful noise as parishioners of St. Clement Pope Church in Jamaica, Queens celebrate their African heritage. For Deacon JohnPaul Obiaeri, it’s a welcome reminder of his childhood home and his road to the priesthood.
“My coming to Brooklyn was totally providential,” Deacon JohnPaul explained.
Deacon JohnPaul’s faith was formed in Ebenator Nigeria, a small town that in English means “three homes” or “three places.” His family, including three brothers and one sister, and his community are all deeply devout. “The Catholic faith is almost 70 to 80 percent in the eastern part of Nigeria,” said Deacon JohnPaul.
“In some families in my area we have like three, four priests coming from siblings,” he added. Deacon JohnPaul followed suit; eventually becoming so inspired by his parish priests, he decided to enter the seminary.
As Deacon JohnPaul began to study philosophy and question everything around him, he started to have doubts which caused him to leave. “At some point I said, ‘this is not what I want to do,’ he explained.
Deacon JohnPaul then tried to find his way. His family, who were concerned, asked him how they could help. Deacon JohnPaul had an idea. “If you want to help me, I want to go abroad. I want to study abroad,” he said.
Happy to help however they could, his family agreed. He narrowed down his choices to three schools: Boston College, Fordham University and St. John’s University. Deacon JohnPaul had made up his mind to go Boston, and then tragedy struck. The Boston Marathon bombing caused the college to curtail the number of new foreign students, Deacon JohnPaul among them.
He then decided to go to Fordham and room with a friend in Canarsie.
“That was actually how I came to know Brooklyn,” he explained.
While he attended classes, more and more people were mistaking him for a priest. He started considering his vocation again, and as he grappled with the difficult decision, he asked God for help.
“I said ‘God, if this is what you want me to do, then make it easy for me. Make it easy in such that when I call the Diocese, that the Diocese is able to respond,” he prayed. God answered his call.
Now, Deacon JohnPaul is serving the Brooklyn Diocese, the place he calls home. As he prepares for his ordination, his doubts are gone; thanks to God, his family, and the faithful from the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“People don’t want me to be another Jesus Christ, they just want me to be a priest of Jesus Christ. And that is the most I can be. To be a priest for the people and I’m so, so excited and looking forward to getting into that position,” he said.