Diocesan News

Becoming a Priest Is ‘American Dream’ for Nigerian-Born Deacon

Deacon Tobechukwu Offiah will become a priest for the Diocese of Brooklyn on June 1. (Photo: Paula Katinas, Courtesy of Deacon Offiah)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Deacon Tobechukwu Offiah has a degree in accounting, and so it would make sense that numbers are a big part of his life. 

Here’s a significant number: 13. That’s the number of years that passed between the time he entered the seminary in his native Nigeria to now. Here’s another number: 7. That’s the number of years that have passed since he arrived in the U.S. 

But the most significant number for Deacon Offiah is 1. He will be ordained a priest on Saturday, June 1, at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights. 

Deacon Tobechukwu Offiah, whose nickname is Toby, was ordained a transitional deacon in October 2023 at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers. Transitional deacons are seminarians in their final period of preparation for the priesthood. They are ordained as deacons and normally serve in parishes in the diocese on weekends as they complete their seminary studies.

His weekend assignment for the past several months has been at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Bayside, where he enjoyed meeting parishioners and getting used to the role of a clergyman. 

It has been a long journey for Deacon Offiah from the moment he realized God was calling him to the priesthood in 2008 to now. And it’s a journey with many twists and turns. 

“There are times when the journey is difficult. But God in His mercy and love placed the right people at the right time at the right place to give me the right counsel that has helped me continue,” he told The Tablet. 

Deacon Offiah, 37, was born and raised in Lagos, the former capital city of Nigeria. He was the youngest of five children in a Catholic family where faith played a central role in life. 

His mother, Mary Offiah, found a clever way to make sure her children faithfully attended Mass. She treated them to ice cream after Mass, so that they came to associate Sundays with sundaes. 

“My mom made you love going to church. She had the secret of getting into your heart even without you knowing that she’s in your heart already,” he said. “So when Sunday came around, I was thinking of ice cream.” 

Looking back, he realized that his mother got her ice cream inspiration from a higher power — God. “He was using that as a means to draw me closer,” Deacon Offiah said. 

Deacon Tobechukwu Offiah earned a degree in accounting from the University of Nigeria before entering the seminary in the Diocese of Akwa in 2011. (Photo: Paula Katinas, Courtesy of Deacon Offiah)

It was in 2008 when Deacon Offiah first felt God’s calling to the priesthood. Deciding not to act on it, he opted instead to continue his education, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Nigeria. 

The pull to serve God was strong, however, and in 2011, he entered the seminary in the Diocese of Akwa in southern Nigeria. 

His parents, Polycarp and Mary, immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 and over the next few years, his siblings arrived here. In 2017, Deacon Offiah decided to follow. 

When he arrived, he found himself torn between the secular and the sacred. That partly explains why there is a two-year gap between the time he arrived in the U.S. in 2017 and the time he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in 2019. 

“The American culture really grabbed me and my discernment really shook a lot,” he admitted. 

He had to make a choice to either “continue the journey or to pursue the American dream,” he recalled. He worked at various jobs, including serving as a customer service agent at JFK Airport and stocking the shelves at a Target store on Flatbush Avenue. He briefly considered going to nursing school. 

Deacon Tobechukwu Offiah attended seminary in the Diocese of Akwa in 2011. (Photo: Paula Katinas, Courtesy of Deacon Offiah)

After talking to a friend from his seminary in Akwa, he saw that the life of a priest was really what he wanted after all. He was accepted by the Diocese of Brooklyn and entered St. Joseph’s Seminary and College. 

Deacon Offiah feels he received a great deal of inspiration along his journey — not only from his days at the seminaries here and in Nigeria — but also from a 10-week course he attended at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska. It helped solidify his vocation. 

Deacon Offiah, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2022, loves having his family here in the U.S., calling it a blessing. “I could easily go to my sister’s house and eat African food,” he said. 

Home cooking aside, there are other important reasons. “They really support me spiritually, in prayer and even physically, psychologically — encouraging me in doing what I’m doing,” he said. 

Mary Offiah passed away from cancer in 2022. Thinking back, Deacon Offiah marveled at how her faith never wavered during her illness. “Getting to see her faith in a time of trial, a time of difficulty, really strengthened my own faith,” he recalled. 

His closeness to his mother is also reflected in his closeness to the Blessed Mother. He is particularly devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. While talking to The Tablet at the co-cathedral, he stood and admired a mural depicting Mary’s appearance before the three peasant children in Portugal. 

Deacon Offiah is eagerly looking forward to his ordination. He does not have any particular type of ministry he wishes to focus on, preferring to wait and see what comes. 

“God will reveal what he wants me to do. So going into the priesthood, I have this openness to the will of God,” he said. 

After searching for the American dream, he realized, “My American dream is becoming a priest.”