Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2005
Mackenzie to ordain first priest in fifteen years
Nigerian's faith path leads him to Canada's North
By CINDY MacDOUGALL
Special to the WCR
A young Nigerian man is nearing the end of his formation for the priesthood in an unlikely place: the Northwest Territories.
Matthew Ihuoma is slated to be the first priest ordained in the Diocese of Mackenzie in fifteen years. The diocese covers the Northwest Territories, as well as parts of Nunavut, northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan. Bishop Denis Croteau plans to ordain Ihuoma to the priesthood this spring.
Just before Christmas, the bishop laid his hands on Ihuoma and ordained him a deacon at a packed Mass in Yellowknife.
Ihuoma says he was nervous for months before his ordination as a deacon. He says all fear left him before the sacrament took place.
Be not afraid
"I took two months to think deeply, to reflect on it," he says. "I had the assurance from God, 'Be not afraid.'
"So I wasn't afraid at all."
Ihuoma is 30 years old, and came to Canada in September 2003. His journey to the North led him from his homeland to Ghana, Jamaica and finally Canada.
"I come from a very Catholic family, but I never thought of becoming a priest as a young boy," he says.
But a sermon changed his life path.
"I was 18 years old. I was at a Thanksgiving service, and the sermon was about Jeremiah. The preacher was also teaching us (Paul's letter to the) Romans, chapter 12, about sacrifice.
"It was after that sermon I began to think of accepting the priestly vocation."
It took some time to convince his parents, because Ihuoma's father wanted him to be an engineer. Ihuoma's mother challenged him to give her proof that God was calling him to be a priest.
"I said to God, 'You never refused someone who offered themselves to you.' I went to my mother and told her I see it as a call and an oblation. She said, 'That sounds good. . . . That's a good answer.' She spoke to my father."
Ihuoma spent six years studying with the Oblates of Saint Joseph, but felt his talents didn't fit with their ministry. After a stint of pro-life work in Ghana and some work experience with the Nigerian government, he moved to Jamaica to work for Defence for Life.
It was there, he says, God pointed him toward northern Canada.
"While I was in Jamaica, I decided to continue my formation for the priesthood," he says.
"My friends wanted me to stay and become a priest in Jamaica. But a priest friend spoke to me about mission ministry in the north of Canada. He had worked there, and encouraged me to consider it."
Ihuoma researched the Mackenzie Diocese on the Internet, and was moved when he discovered there are fewer than 10 priests serving the faithful in 33 parishes.
Many of the mission parishes are in communities only accessible by plane or boat for most of the year. Priests visit when they can.
"After a few months I contacted the bishop. He asked for references, all my references," Ihuoma says, laughing. "After two months, he got back to me and said he was willing to make it a possibility."
Ihuoma moved to Ottawa in September 2003 to finish his seminary studies at St. Paul University. During his school vacations, he spent time travelling throughout the Northwest Territories, including Arctic communities such as Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
His ordination to the diaconate was held in the diocese's most populous parish, St. Patrick's, in Yellowknife.
Ihuoma says he was overwhelmed with happiness as he lay face down on the floor during one part of the ceremony, the Litany of the Saints.
The presence of God
" I felt the presence of God that day. He has always been with me, but I felt his presence that day," he says, smiling.
As for his future in the northern diocese, Ihuoma says he is hopeful - but realistic.
"He (the bishop) didn't hide anything from me. He said it may be very different - northern ministry - after coming from a tropical country. But he said it could be done because others have done it before me."
"The will of God will not take me where he will not sustain me," he says. "I have always wanted to be a missionary."
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