Five men order their lives to Christ
Five men will be ordained as transitional deacons by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond May 23 at 10 a.m. at St. Louis Cathedral. Dzung Francis Nguyen, Zachary Oburu (ordained for the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda) and David M. Ducote, Kenneth S. Smith and Francis Uzochukwu Offia.
Following, the five transitional deacons share their vocational journey and talk about their excitement for the future. The four men ordained for the Archdiocese of New Orleans are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in June 2016.
David Michael Ducote
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, June-October 2015.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I guess really just getting into a parish, meeting the people and doing ministry. I have been studying and training for the past five years, so actually getting out there and doing the work is exciting.”
Altar serving led to call
By Christine Bordelon
Being an altar server beginning in fourth grade at his home parish of Prince of Peace in Chalmette through his senior year in high school heavily influenced David Ducote’s decision to study for the priesthood.
So did being part of the student ministry team at Brother Martin High School, where he was an extraordinary minister of the holy Communion.
“It was something special to me, something I took to heart that helped me deepen my spirituality, even though I didn’t realize it at the time,” said Ducote about his altar serving.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and forced his family from St. Bernard Parish to Metairie, the Ducotes landed as parishioners at St. Edward the Confessor. There, he heard God’s voice “through the weekly intercessions, particularly the one asking God for many new vocations, and especially from St. Edward Parish.”
Those prayer intentions were “the catalyst I needed to begin discerning whether or not God was calling me to the priesthood.”
Ducote said he accepted the call to enter Notre Dame Seminary after two parishioners told him he should consider it.
Now after five years of studies at Notre Dame Seminary, he is looking forward to working at St. Catherine of Siena Parish and its school as part of his diaconate training. Ducote loves the idea of working with school children.
“I haven’t had any experience in schools except for being a student in Catholic schools,” Ducote said. “All of my assignments have been in the summer.”
Dzung Francis Nguyen
First Assignment as Deacon Intern: St. Cletus in Gretna, June-October 2015.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “Serving the people in the parish through pastoral work, home visits, teaching and preaching. I also want to learn as much as I can from the pastor and the parishioners.”
Family was devoutly Catholic
By Beth Donze
Born in the Nam Dinh province of Vietnam, Dzung Francis Nguyen began his formal discernment for the priesthood at age 16, when he became a boarder in the rectory of Lac Dao Catholic Church, about 10 miles from his hometown. Nguyen spent more than a decade there, serving as the parish’s sacristan, responsible for opening the church at 4 a.m., ringing the bells and being an altar server.
“Two priests and two brothers came out of (my group of rectory residents),” said Nguyen, who remained at the parish hub while discerning his vocational calling in high school and college. Earning his keep involved more than church work, he said.
“I worked in the rice fields and did concrete work for the parish,” Nguyen said. “I also fed the pigs.”
Nguyen said his devoutly Catholic mother, who recently relocated from Vietnam to Sydney, Australia, played a significant part in his priestly calling. In her new church parish, she teaches choir and assists in the catechesis of couples preparing for marriage.
“She always chose God first in her life,” Nguyen said, noting his parents and brother will journey to New Orleans for his May 23 ordination to the transitional diaconate. “At home, she taught us how to live well in virtue and how to pray. My childhood was blessed with love, hope, faith and prayer.”
Nguyen, who enjoys playing chess and soccer, came to the United States in 2007, studying English at University of Illinois in Chicago and philosophy at Mundelein Seminary. He decided to study as a priest in the Archdiocese of New Orleans after befriending Father Paul Tung Van Nguyen, pastor of St. Rita, New Orleans. Another local priest – Father Bac-Hai Viet Tran, pastor of St. Agnes – also helped ease Nguyen’s transition to American culture, English language and parish life.
“I feel New Orleans is a lot like my home in Vietnam. I like the weather and the people here,” he said. “I am happy to be here in this archdiocese.”
Fortifying Nguyen’s faith and vocational commitment is Romans 5:8-9: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.”
“Christ Jesus helps me to acknowledge my weakness and to feel his strong arm reaching out to lift me up and save me. I am saved by the blood of Christ,” Nguyen said. “All my life, God’s blessing is a gift – a grace – that empowers me to live a meaningful life of purpose and fruitfulness; it is a gift freely given which I do not have to work for; it comes from love, undeservedly bestowed.”
Francis Uzochukwu Offia
First Assignment as Deacon Intern: Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, June-October 2015.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “Being able to administer the sacrament of baptism and preaching the word of God in the homily.”
‘Christ turned on fire in me’
By Beth Donze
When Francis Offia was born in Ekwulumili, a farming village in eastern Nigeria, his birth order played a leading role in steering him toward the priesthood.
“When I was born my mom had already lost four children,” explains Offia, one of nine children. “She said she made a promise to God that she was going to use this son as a sacrifice to him. My mom wanted me to serve at the altar from the time I was 7, when I received first Communion.”
It also helped that the community into which he was born was 95 percent Catholic.
“All my family is Catholic – my mother, my father. It’s a kind of big offense in the family if you miss Sunday Mass,” said Offia, who entered a high school seminary at 13 in the town of Ukpor, Nigeria, 40 miles away.
“When I finished high school, I lost interest in becoming a priest,” said Offia, who spent the subsequent six years at jobs, which included being storekeeper in Lagos, the most populous city on Nigeria.
His interest in becoming a priest was reignited when he became involved in his local parish and befriended the pastor. Offia joined the Legion of Mary and a young adult group whose conversations focused on vocational discernment.
“I began to speak to other friends who were already priests. They encouraged me and supported me,” said Offia, who re-enrolled in the seminary – this time at the university level – at age 25.
After graduation, Offia was thinking about parting ways with his priestly studies yet again when the possibility of studying at Notre Dame Seminary was broached by his New Orleans-based spiritual director, Dominican Father Peter Otillio, with whom he had a long-distance correspondence. Offia came to New Orleans in 2012, and fell in love with his adopted home.
“In New Orleans I love the hospitality, the friendships, and I love my (Notre Dame Seminary) professors,” he said. “I’m ready (for ordination to the transitional diaconate).”
He finds strength in John 15:16 – when Christ tells his apostles: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
“I don’t see my vocation as something I choose to do,” Offia said. “It is Christ who turned on this fire in me to go ahead with this life.”
Kenneth Sims Smith
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: St. Rita Parish, Harahan, June-October 2015
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “Totally giving myself to God and to the Lord – and prayer. Prayer is the only thing that gets you through. It’s totally prayer. The one thing the archbishop drills into us is to be men of prayer. That’s the only way you can get through.”
Two fish, one loaf of bread
By Peter Finney Jr.
Kenneth Smith admits he’s not much of an academic. That’s probably the biggest challenge of his years studying theology at Notre Dame Seminary.
But what the former executive chef at Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans does have is a heart to serve the people of God, and he hopes those virtues will come shining through as he prepares for his ordination as a transitional deacon May 23 at St. Louis Cathedral.
“Now that we are finished school for the year, I’m really thinking about it, and I’m really joyful,” Smith said. “I’m joyful but a little nervous. I know that I’m not an academic, but I’m not going to dwell on that. I have to trust. I’m entering into this with my two fish and my loaf of bread, and I have to give thanks and let the Lord do the rest.”
Smith described his pastoral experience last summer – working as a chaplain at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida – as an “amazing” time to learn from others.
“I was totally drawn to the hospital ministry and just being with people when their hearts were heavy or broken or confused,” Smith said. “They invite you into their lives at the most intimate times, when their loved one is suffering or dying. They are making life decisions that are going to change whole families. I was there just to be with them.”
Smith often reflects on his previous career as a chef who could make people happy through his cooking. The Scriptures are filled with images of Jesus using a meal to teach and, as Smith learned in the hospital, to just sit and listen.
“When I was actually working as a chef, that’s the one thing that gave me a sense of pride,” Smith said. “The Lord was there at the wedding feast at Cana, he was there for the Last Supper, he was there when people were fussing at him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. He fed people with two fish and a loaf of bread.
“When I entered the seminary, I didn’t know anything, I promise you. There were no guarantees. I was totally walking in faith.”
Smith said if he had the chance to do it over, he’d “absolutely” make the same decision today.
Zachary Oburu (Archdiocese of Tororo)
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Belle Chasse
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon? “I look forward to serving the people of God with great passion and compassion, serving them after the very heart of Jesus Christ.”
‘In love with the Lord’
By Peter Finney Jr.
Zachary Oburu grew up in a large Catholic family in Tororo, Uganda. He was the eighth of nine children, and then when his mother died in 1995 when he was 6 years old, his father remarried and had three more children.
“Our family was heavily involved in the church, so I got the chance to get involved with church activities such as serving Mass,” Oburu said. “I was an altar server from fifth grade onward. Through altar serving, I fell in love with the priesthood, and I wanted to be like my pastor. My mother also used to encourage me a lot because she spoke a lot about me becoming a priest. She always said, ‘We keep praying for you.’”
The Dutch missionary priest who served as pastor of St. Theresa Church encouraged Oburu to join the diocesan preparatory seminary at age 12. Oburu said this afforded him a “warm-up” place to see if he might go on to the high school seminary, which he did.
After six years, Oburu then enrolled in St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary for an initial three years of training, which he completed with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a diploma in social and philosophical studies. In 2012, Oburu’s bishop sent him to Notre Dame Seminary to complete his theological training, following in the footsteps of many other Ugandan seminarians.
“I knew many of our priests had studied here,” Oburu said. “I love everything about New Orleans except the humidity. We have an equatorial climate (in East Africa), so there’s really not that kind of humidity. It took me awhile to get used to it.”
Oburu said he has been warmly welcomed by his fellow seminarians and the Notre Dame faculty and staff. He’s also developed a close relationship with Jerry Christopher, a member of the rock band Bag of Donuts, who invited him to his home. One night, Oburu played the piano, Christopher played the bass guitar and Christopher’s father played the acoustic guitar together.
“Right now all I am thinking and praying about is to be prepared spiritually to receive the gifts of ordination,” Oburu said. “Then, after that, I pray about becoming a very good priest, a very holy, trustworthy and loving priest. I want to be a good priest in love with the Lord and dedicated to my priestly duties.”