Deacon Michael Uso-Ereyi came from Nigeria to study for the priesthood and will be ordained for the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese on June 24.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Deacon Michael Uso-Ereyi came from Nigeria to study for the priesthood and will be ordained for the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese on June 24.

May 4, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Many young people look for some sort of sign from God to confirm their life's vocation, especially when it comes to pursuing the priesthood.

But for Deacon Michael Uso-Ereyi, no sign was needed at all.

This summer, the St. Joseph's seminarian will be ordained as a priest for the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese in northwestern Alberta – the culmination of a journey which began at his birth in his native country of Nigeria.

Growing up in southern Nigeria, a young Uso-Ereyi went to church with his mom every day. He greatly admired the Augustinian missionaries – the religious order which ran his church in Edo State – a congregation whose presence in the West African country stretches back to the late 1500s.

"They were living in the community and they were doing things in the community and I just loved the way they were living their lives," he said. "There came a point when I said to myself 'What if these priests were not here, who is going to preach the good news? Who's going to bring the Gospel to other people?'

"Maybe somebody will need to replace them, somebody will need to join them; somebody will need to be a part of what is going on."

As he came of age, he became more and more active in his parish, eventually joining a society called the Block Rosary, where he would pray the rosary each day, praying for vocations at the young age of 16.

Coming from a family of professionals – his father a lecturer and mother now a retired banker – Uso-Ereyi also considered other professions, and was convinced by one of his uncles, a famous professor in Nigeria, that he should go to medical school.

On his way to medical school, Uso-Ereyi started experiencing some striking revelations which would drastically change the trajectory of his life.

"I got to a point when I was starting to reflect on the gift of my life, the gift of who I am, my faith, and what God has done for me and to me," he said.

"The whole mystery of salvation, God being born as man, the incarnation, being among us, salvation, dying for us on the cross, rising again and reconciling the whole world to the Father. . . .

"I was thinking of how we could possibly say 'thank you' to God."

He asked himself how he could pass on the Gospel message to those who had not had a similar experience of faith. "That's how I totally abandoned medical school."

Uso-Ereyi decided to join the

Redemptorists, one of the Church's largest orders of priests and brothers, in Ibada, Nigeria.

Now on the path to the priesthood, Uso-Ereyi said he had no idea where he would fulfill that call, but God was leading him.

"It's a mystery," he said. "Most people who become priests, they don't actually know where they'll end up.

"When Christ is leading you, you follow the lead and Christ takes you to wherever he wants. I can't explain how the Holy Spirit came to me, how God spoke to me."

MISSIONARY LONGING

He went to the Catholic directory in search of a missionary diocese and came across the name of Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, leader of a missionary diocese in northern Canada, a long way from home for the future priest.

He wrote a long, detailed letter to Pettipas, asking if the bishop would accept him as a candidate for his diocese.

While Uso-Ereyi himself had needed no persuading that he should be a priest, convincing the Canadian archbishop of that fact was not as easy.

Considering bringing a young man from outside the country, who was not yet totally committed or totally formed, was a new venture for Pettipas. He was uncertain about the responsibility he might have as the person who invited the seminarian, in the event that Uso-Ereyi dropped out of the seminary.

It was Uso-Ereyi's ties to the Redemptorists – of which Pettipas is also a member – and his references from the congregation, which were his ticket for acceptance by the diocese.

HESITANCY OVERCOME

"He gave a number of references and because I also am a Redemptorist, I knew one or two of the references that he provided. So I called those people and they spoke very, very highly of him," Pettipas said.

"To be honest, I was a little bit hesitant to take somebody as a seminarian from another country. But on the strength of the references I was receiving, I decided to try this and see how it works out and I've been pleasantly surprised. He's a very fine candidate."

Uso-Ereyi arrived in Canada in 2011, just in time to begin his studies at St. Joseph Seminary.

Last year, he was introduced to the people of Grouard-McLennan when he completed his pastoral internship at the parish in High Prairie.

"People loved him; they thought he was great," said Pettipas. "He has some strong convictions of what it is to be a priest and I can see that he wants to be a good priest."

Uso-Ereyi is scheduled to be ordained June 24 at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in McLennan.

PRIESTS ON LOAN

The last ordination for the diocese was in 2012, Pettipas said, adding most of his clergy come from other countries, including India, Nigeria and the Philippines, on loan for periods of five or six years.

"So to have somebody ordained for this diocese where this will be their Church where they're going to serve is a cause for great rejoicing," Pettipas said.

Uso-Ereyi's promise has all but quelled Pettipas' apprehension of taking seminarians from abroad – to the point where his diocese has even accepted another seminarian from Nigeria, now in his first year at St. Joseph's.

"Even though some guys have come and they have left I'm grateful that they've come," Pettipas said.

"I think it's a good thing for any young fellow who is serious about their faith to explore and even if they don't persevere, the fact that they're willing to make this gift of themselves to Christ and to the Church I think is tremendously uplifting."

Regarding the new seminarian from Nigeria, Pettipas said: "Hopefully, he'll turn out to be as fine a candidate as Michael."