JohnPaul Kodiri Columbus Obiaeri, 34, spent a good chunk of his childhood in church.
Obiaeri grew up in Nigeria in a region that is 70 percent Catholic. His whole family is Catholic. He extended that family to his parish where he spent most of his free time. He didn’t play that much soccer with the other kids; he was helping in the church and was part of various groups.
After his father died, his mother, Christiana, thought it would be best to send the teen to the Catholic boarding high school. Now he was essentially sleeping at the parish, too.
After high school, he naturally applied and was accepted to the seminary. He studied philosophy and learned to question things. Now he was seeing his life in a new light. Was he just passively accepting the road to the priesthood?
He quit the seminary two years in and finished his degree in a secular college. Now he really began to question everything. There was no longer a topic left that could not be questioned.
Also, he found himself having freedoms he never had before. He could decide for himself when to wake up, when to study and when to have fun. Until this point, his schedule was mandated by either his family or school authorities.
He did not abandoned the security of the sacraments. He went to Mass every Sunday.
After college, Obiaeri filled his mandatory civic duty in the national youth service. He enjoyed leaving his own region and going to see other parts of Nigeria.
After that, a family member asked him to run a new hotel. He agreed and got it off the ground.
But his family was worried. He was getting older, and he still had not chosen a path in life. He had dated but did not seem interested in marriage.
So they confronted him about it. He assured them that he was fine, but they were not convinced. They asked if there was anything they could do to help.
He said that he did wish he could study abroad, but didn’t think that was feasible. They said they would help him make it happen.
He decided he wanted to come to New York to study at the Jesuit university, Fordham. His family pooled the money together for his university down payment and all expenses related to a visa application.
Still, Obiaeri wasn’t convinced that this was the right thing to do. The hotel was beginning to pick up, and he had a life in Nigeria.
So, going into the visa interview, he decided that whatever happens, happens. That helped him not be nervous, and the interview went well.
When the interviewer asked him why he wanted to come to study in the United States, he explained that he was impressed with the country’s freedom of speech. He thought it would be good to study in such a diverse environment, where everyone could express themselves, regardless of their station in life.
Obiaeri was granted a visa and made his way to America. A friend offered him a place to stay in Canarsie until he could figure something out for himself. He soon found something close by and continued to commute to school in the Bronx.
At first, he went to church in Canarsie, but then found a Nigerian community of worshipers at St. Clement Pope in Jamaica. He felt at home in the parish and felt comfortable speaking to the priest, in whom he confided his thoughts about the priesthood.
The priest counseled Obiaeri to call the diocesan vocation office.
He thought, why not? He prayed and asked God, that if it were truly His will for Obiaeri to become a priest, then let the call to the vocation office go well.
Lisa Amore answered the phone. She answered all his questions and assured him the diocese could help him during his time of discernment.
Obiaeri couldn’t believe how kind Amore was. She would help him with all the logistics of his new life and helped secure him a place in the Pope John Paul II House of Discernment in Cypress Hills.
It was an incredible opportunity for Obiaeri to truly discern his purpose in life. He appreciated the meditative atmosphere enhance by the neighboring Carmelite Monastery.
The House of Discernment also helped alleviate some of the financial burden he was placing on his family.
After a few months in the House of Discernment, he formally joined the seminary. He figured if this is where God is calling him to be, this is where he will follow the Lord.
When he was ordained a deacon, his mom expressed her great joy. Her son had finally found his place in the world.
“I am happy and humbled to be with the good people of the diocese,” he said.
Father Obiaeri will offer his first Mass of thanksgiving at St. Martin de Porres parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant. He will also offer a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Nigerian language of Igbo on June 9 at St. Clement Pope, Jamaica.