Growing up as a nominal Catholic, Father Robert H.C. Mema, 28, never thought about becoming a priest until he journeyed through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Born in Brooklyn, he was baptized at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Windsor Terrace, and went to P.S. 230 nearby. When he was 12, his family moved to Oakwood, Staten Island, where he attended I.S. 24 and Susan E. Wagner H.S.
Originally planning to pursue a career in law, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Manhattan. He worked as a personal banker for two years before entering Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, Douglaston. At St. Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, he earned his bachelor of sacred theology, master of theology and master of divinity degrees.
Father Mema did not have a close connection to the church until age 18 when he was asked to be a godfather in baptism. He realized he could not accept without becoming fully initiated in the faith.
“That’s what prompted my journey back to the church,” he said.
He spoke to Father Robert B. Adamo, then-pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, and enrolled in RCIA classes, while also balancing college courses and work in his family’s restaurant.
At the Easter Vigil of 2008, he received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Longing to be more involved in the parish, he started volunteering in the rectory and church, eventually ministering as a sacristan, lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
He also had the chance to meet good priests like Msgr. Vito Buonanno, pilgrimage director at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., who shared their faith and vocation stories with him.
“What I would eventually come to know was that I wanted to become a priest,” he said.
But he also wanted to be sure it was God’s will – and not his own – so he went to talk to Father Adamo, who told him to get the idea of priesthood out of his mind.
He prayed and tried to discern another path. After three months, he went back to his pastor and said that he believed God was truly calling him to the priesthood.
“That’s when Father Rob said, ‘There’s your answer. You had to find out through your relationship with God that this is what He wants you to do. You couldn’t get your confirmation through me.’”
Though his family was initially shocked, they have come around to the idea of having a priest in the family. His Aunt Maryann, with whom he lived during his college years, is his biggest supporter.
“She’s been journeying with me everyday,” he said.
As part of his formation, he served summer assignments at St. Kevin Church, Flushing, and Resurrection-Ascension, Rego Park, where he also spent his diaconate year, and went on pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Poland last summer.
Father Mema said he is grateful for the “amazing opportunity, privilege and honor” to serve God’s people as a priest, a role he sees as bring both a bridge and instrument of God’s mercy.
His parents, Kathleen and Patrick, and siblings Michael, Patrick, Christopher and Stephanie, will attend his ordination. Msgr. Buonanno and Father Adamo will vest him.
He will celebrate his First Mass of thanksgiving at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Sunday, June 4, at 11:45 a.m.