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four men to be ordained for the diocese of belleville

Photos and story by LIZ QUIRIN
Messenger editor

Four men will be ordained priests for the Diocese of Belleville at 10:30 a.m. May 22 at St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville by Bishop Edward K. Braxton.

The four come from different parts of the world, are different ages and will bring different gifts and talents to their ministry.

Following are short interviews with each of the men who talked about their lives and their call to the priesthood.

The Rev. Mr. Abraham Adejoh: Born in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, Deacon Adejoh is one of eight children, the third oldest.

After high school at age 18, he entered St. Peter the Apostle Seminary in Eruku and the
following year, in 1999, he transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Makurdi to study philosophy.

He spent the year before beginning his theology classes working in the bishop’s office there.

Deacon Adejoh expressed his interest in missionary work to his spiritual director, Father Michael Ngoka who was superior of Nigeria’s Vincentians.

When Bishop Edward K. Braxton visited Nigeria to ordain priests there in 2006 and 2007 and expressed a desire to meet candidates interested in coming to the United States, the deacon met the bishop.

When Deacon Adejoh talked of wanting to minister “in a different diocese” he “didn’t have a picture of any place” in mind.

“I wanted to be a priest of God and serve the people of God anywhere,” he said. “That was my mindset: to serve anywhere.”

When he realized he would be leaving his family and his life in Nigeria to study and be ordained in the Diocese of Belleville, the deacon began Googling the United States, the Midwest and this diocese to see what he could find out before he arrived here.

“I started learning about the people and the culture,” he said.

While the deacon said it was difficult to leave his family and come to this country, he has stayed in close touch with them through emails and telephone calls.

After arriving in the diocese, it was decided he would spend time at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wis., where men who were somewhat older than the 20-somethings who attended other seminaries go.

The diocese wanted to give him an understanding of seminary formation in the United States, he said.
“I was the youngest person there,” the deacon said.

Now 30, Deacon Adejoh sees “the primary duty of the priest” as “the proclamations of the Gospel. I see that as number one in my life — talking to the people of God” and sharing the Gospel message.

This past year, Deacon Adejoh has been assigned to St. Peter’s Cathedral where he has been involved in parish ministry there.

From cathedral rector, Father John Myler, the deacon said he “learned about dedication to the priesthood.”
From parochial vicar, Father Steven Beatty, he has also learned lessons about life as a priest. “He is conscientious and considerate of other people,” the deacon said.

Looking forward to his ordination, Deacon Adejoh said: “When I reflect on my journey so far at this point, I still feel immense peace and joy about becoming a priest.”

Deacon Adejoh expects to welcome his mother, aunt, uncle and cousin to his ordination. He is convinced he is “in the right place. The people of God are everywhere, and I am not concerned about where I am going to serve. I am happy about becoming a priest.”

The Rev. Mr. Dale Maxfield: At 57, Deacon Dale Maxfield will be fulfilling an almost life-long dream of becoming a priest for the Diocese of Belleville. The journey to ordination has been long and filled with twists and turns, but the deacon looks forward with hope and thanksgiving to beginning his priestly ministry.

Born and raised in New Baden, Dale attended St. George Catholic School and went to
St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville at age 14 to attend high school. For college, he went to Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Quincy, Ill.
While he was in Quincy, Dale became interested in the Franciscan way of life and joined them for two years. However, during his time there, an incident made him reconsider his call to join a religious order, and he decided to leave and “get some life experience” before choosing a path to ordination.

It was during his time in Quincy that he met and married the woman who would be the mother of his five children. His studies led him to a master’s in theology and a return
to the Diocese of Belleville where he took a position in the diocesan education department, working with then director, Father Bill Hitpas.

“I learned so much from him,” Deacon Maxfield said. Part of what he learned then he has incorporated into his hopes as to the kind of priest he wants to become — one who welcomes all and serves all.

He later served in diocesan parishes in religious education and finally took a position
at Holy Spirit in Carterville as a pastoral life coordinator. It was at this time that his marriage began to fall apart and the life he had created as a husband and father. “I kept thinking that if I tried harder, everything would work out,” he said, remembering what he described as a very painful time in his life.

Later, divorced, he sought an annulment for the marriage and decided it was time to step back and turn his life over to God, praying about what he should do. “I was still willing but didn’t think they would take me back.”

A conversation with Bishop Edward K. Braxton gave him hope that he might one day be ordained. He returned to the seminary at Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis where he was the oldest seminarian there.

He transferred to Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., where older men studying for the priesthood go, and he was then one of the younger seminarians.

Deacon Maxfield has spent his pastoral year at Holy Rosary Parish in Fairmont City where, he said, “the people have been great and very supportive.”

His ministry was interrupted Christmas day in 2009 by a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery on New Year’s Eve.
The recovery has been slow but steady, he said, and now, with less than two weeks until ordination, he said: “I’m so ready; I’ve been ready for 20 years.”

Starting his journey to ordination in 1958 at St. George, Deacon Maxfield said his home parish has always supported and encouraged him. “They always said I would make it,” he said. “I just didn’t know I would take the ‘scenic’ route.”
His journey, he said, gives him insights and life experiences that he believes will help him in his ministry. When he talks to couples about marriage, he can draw on his good and his painful experiences to talk with them.

He knows what it is like to be a parent, to have children that don’t always listen to you. His own children, rightfully proud of him, call him “Father Dad.”

Deacon Maxfield’s goal as a priest is “helping people, trying to be Christ for people; if they fall, I want to help pick them back up again.”

The Rev. Mr. Joseph Oganda: A quiet, thoughtful man, he was born and raised in Nairobi, the capitol city of Kenya in East Africa. While he never imagined he would come to the United States to minister as a priest, he sees “the hand of God” in his journey to the Diocese of Belleville.

One of 14 children, seven of his siblings died before their first birthday. Recently, two
more of his brothers died, so now he is one of five boys. Both parents also died —
his father in 1995 and his mother in 2001.

At an early age, young Joseph was attracted to a religious community that had a house of formation near his home parish in Nairobi. Joseph decided to join this community of Quebec Missionaries because “I was interested in the missionaries
and how involved they were in evangelization and reaching out to the poor.”

It was during this time that he began working with the poor in the Kibera slums, “the worst slum in Africa,” he said.
He visited the poor and the sick, many of whom suffered with HIV/AIDS. About 30 percent of Kenyans are afflicted with HIV/AIDS, he added.

As he studied, Deacon Oganda realized he did not want to join a religious community, but he was still drawn to missionary work. He continued to meet with his spiritual advisor, a Jesuit priest, and through his discussions, he decided to leave the
religious order and continue to pray and reflect on what God had in store for him.

While his prayer and reflection lasted almost four years, he continued working with the poor and marginalized even after he left the religious community. During this time, he realized a need for a school for the young people whose families had been ravaged by HIV/AIDS, leaving many to fend for themselves as orphans.
The result, working with others, was the opening of a high school, St. Joseph’s, which is now being run by the Jesuits.

“In the long run I have to come to hold those experiences so dear to me,” Deacon Oganda said. “They have been a real strength for me.”

In May 2007, a friend in Chicago, also in the seminary, contacted Deacon Oganda after attending the ordination of Father Steven Beatty in the Diocese of Belleville. After discussions and conversations about his future, Deacon Oganda decided to come to the diocese to finish his studies and become a priest.

Staying in Herrin for his pastoral year, Deacon Oganda has come to know and love the people of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and its pastor, Msgr. Ken Schaefer. “The people have a love of their church; they love their school so much; and the parish is a central place for them to gather,” he said.

Msgr. Schaefer has a genuine love of the people at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, he said, and “he was so welcoming” as were the people of the parish. Deacon Oganda has also enjoyed the size of the community. Growing up and living in the capitol city of Nairobi, “it was so hectic and noisy,” and Herrin has afforded him the opportunity to reflect and pray about his upcoming ordination in a much quieter atmosphere.

Staying close to his family has been made much easier with the internet. He writes emails to his family in the evening, and the next day he can receive a reply. He hopes one of his brothers, working in the United Kingdom, will be able to secure a visa to come to the diocese for his ordination. Time will tell, he said.

Deacon Oganda has seen the journey to the diocese as one of moving closer to God, whom he said has been his constant companion, “always traveling with me.”

The Rev. Mr. Sean Palas: Finishing school May 1 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich., Deacon Palas, 29, has thought about his vocation since he left for the seminary after high school.

He began his study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Belleville, and then Bishop Wilton
Gregory sent Deacon Palas to the North American College in Rome to study. During his first year of theology in Rome he became seriously ill, spent a week in an Italian hospital and it was decided he should come home.

He walked to his classes in Rome every day, passing the Oratory of St. Philip Neri where he eventually began stopping to pray and eventually developed a devotion to the saint.

At the end of the year, recovering from his illness, he returned home to Trenton and in
the process, began thinking about adult life outside the seminary. “I wanted to know if I was really called to the priesthood.” It was 2003.

With an undergraduate degree in psychology, he began work on his master’s in social work at St. Louis University and began a practicum working with adults with severe mental illness which he found satisfying and fulfilling.
However, through his prayer and searching, the priesthood kept calling him back. With three classes remaining to finish his master’s degree, he decided the call to priesthood was too strong to ignore. “I really felt a call to return.”

This time, much more aware of options for religious life as well as diocesan priesthood, he began searching for the right fit. He looked into joining a religious community and spent time with the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, one of whose members is Father Benedict Groeschel.

While the austere life appealed to Deacon Palas, the friars completely focus their lives on one very specific mission and do not take into account an individual’s gifts and talents to incorporate into his ministry. Deacon Palas said he “liked the freedom to find the gifts God has given me and to use them.”

His search led him to different oratories and reading on the life of St. Philip Neri to “see if this is where God was calling me.” All during his time away and his time of searching, he continued to receive support from people of the Diocese of Belleville. “They nurtured my vocation, always praying for me. God made a connection between me and the people of Belleville.”

Eventually, his journey of discernment led him back to the diocese even as he was spending a year at Sacred Heart praying and listening for the voice of God in his heart.

“God was calling me to minister to this diocese and these people,” Deacon Palas said. Father Jim Deiters, a lifelong friend, “kept encouraging me and told me to keep praying about my vocation and see where God is calling me.”
Deacon Palas said he has been thinking this year especially about the sacraments. “They’re so powerful and what draws most of us into discernment,” he said.

This year he has been privileged to baptize, and the experience has been “so humbling,” he said. “This is not my ministry but Christ’s ministry.”

At this point in his life, Deacon Palas said he is “absolutely sure this is what I should be doing. In many ways the reason I’m not as nervous as I might be, I’ve already given my life over to God.”

Deacon Palas hopes to be able to complete his work on his master’s degree sometime after ordination. “My time with adults with severe mental illness was so powerful. I saw clearly the face of Christ with these people. As a society and a church, we have room to grow in our understanding and ministry” with them.

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