Brooklyn priest on a mission to elevate Mary, teach faithful
BOROUGH PARK — The much-beloved tradition of Catholic devotion to the Holy Rosary is spotlighted every October, and Father Jon O. Okaegbu, at St. Rose of Lima Church, has become a role model for the Church’s goal of appreciating and praying the rosary’s mysteries with greater zeal.
During 43 years of priesthood, Father Okaegbu, a native of Biafra but long-time resident in the Diocese of Brooklyn, has recited the rosary’s prayers to reflect on his love for the Blessed Mother, and two personal missions have emerged.
One of them, seeking greater global attention — and higher status as a celebration — for the glorious mystery called the Crowning of Mary, continues to rely on the Holy Spirit’s help, he said.
But a second mission, publishing a book to help Catholics pray the rosary correctly, has reached fulfilment — pending his further enthusiastic mentoring, which Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wants to support within the diocese and beyond.
“It occurs to me,” Father Okaegbu said of rosary recitation, “there are many people who do not know how to do it the right way.” He did research and compiled various official instructions, allowing him to edit and produce a simple, but substantive, 38-page book, “The Holy Rosary,” whose content received Bishop DiMarzio’s approval on behalf of the Church.
There is no doubt such content can be helpful because even Catholics who do pray the rosary may have different approaches to it.
Most Catholics know to start by making a sign of the cross and then move their fingers along the row of rosary beads as they say each Hail Mary. But many of the other steps can be elusive.
Permissible differences aside, the guidance that allows the Church to pray with one voice is considered a valuable contribution.
That content, which guides readers through the beads by which Mary leads reflections on up to 20 mysteries illuminating Christ from her perspective, is a mirror of Father Okaegbu’s priestly enthusiasm.
As one way to elevate Mary even higher in the eyes of the Church, he wants to see Pope Francis proclaim the Crowning (Coronation) of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven to be a “solemnity” in the liturgical calendar. This event, the fifth glorious mystery, is currently designated as a “memorial” day in the calendar while the other four glorious mysteries have the higher “solemnity” status.
“Four out of five,” Father Okaegbu said. “Why not the fifth?”
On “solemnity” days, additional components are added to the Mass. These days have the highest calendar status, one might say, followed by “feast” days and then “memorials.”
Only a pope can proclaim a solemnity. “We must pray to the Holy Spirit, who will guide our Holy Father to do it,” he said. Father Okaegbu wants his new booklet to help the cause.
Father Ukaegbu, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, traces his zeal for Mary and the rosary to his days as a soldier in Africa. A native of the West African state of Biafra, which is now part of Nigeria, he fought in the war between those two states in 1968. He said he sang a song to Mary every day after a friend told him the Blessed Mother would spare his life if he did. When the war ended in 1970, his gratitude for survival increased his devotion; he made sure he recited the rosary every day.
His work on the book has now borne fruit. In addition to English, there are versions of “The Holy Rosary” in Spanish and Igbo, an African dialect. The book is available on Amazon.
Importantly, in May, before final publication, Bishop DiMarzio granted the book an imprimatur — Latin for “let it be printed’ — the Church’s official approval for a work as authentically Catholic. An imprimatur is a much sought-after designation that only a bishop can grant.
Bishop DiMarzio agreed Father Ukaegbu’s book is important “because many people today, unfortunately, don’t know how to say the rosary, and the more we are able to publicize it and get it out to people, the better it is.”
The book’s importance as instruction goes beyond being a how-to guide for this month of the rosary. “Anything that brings people to prayer is going to help them understand their faith better because when you pray, you get the appetite to go deeper and understand more,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
Father Okaegbu is a role model for that appetite. He said he believes his pursuit of the Blessed Mother’s intercession through the rosary guided him toward the priesthood.
“I have had a wonderful life as a priest because of her,” he said.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in getting a copy of Father Ukaegbu’s book, you can search for his book on Amazon HERE