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Gerald Okoli to be ordained deacon


On Saturday, January 9, Gerald Chigbogu Okoli will be ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Gaylord by Bishop Bernard A. Hebda during the 5:00 p.m. Eucharistic celebration at Holy Childhood of Jesus Church in Harbor Springs. All of the faithful are invited to participate. Born to Hyacinth and Agnes Okoli on August 27, 1969 in Ezikwo , Nigeria , at home Gerald is known by his middle name to his family, close friends and peers. “My middle name is significant to me because at the time I was born, Nigeria was in the midst of a Civil War that was waged from 1966-1970,” Okoli explained. “My tribe’s people were the main victims of the war and were praying earnestly for its end. My parents named me ‘Chigbogu’ which means ‘May God bring an end to war,’ so my middle name is a supplication to God to broker peace.” His parents, married 45 years, are both retired health care professionals and he has five siblings—three sisters and three brothers. His older brothers Obiora and Emeka live Switzerland and Japan , respectively, while his younger siblings, brother Chinedu and three sisters, Ebere, Obianuju and Chineye live in Nigeria . Okoli attended elementary and high school in Abor , Nigeria . His first thoughts that his vocation might be to priesthood were at the age of 12 and which led him to enter Sacred Heart Minor Seminary for a short time before enrolling at Christ High School , graduating in 1989. He worked different jobs as a young man when the call to priesthood tugged more strongly and in 1992, Okoli attended the Spiritual Year Seminary in Ekpoma, Edo State Nigeria . He was then accepted into the SS Peter and Paul Major Seminary in Ibadan , Nigeria which is an affiliate of the University of Ibadan (the oldest university in Nigeria ) and the Pontifical University in Rome . Over the next several years, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and completed two years of theology. Okoli then accepted a teaching post with St. Anthony Catholic School in Port Harcourt Rivers State in Nigeria before enrolling himself into the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium . There he completed a baccalaureate in theology and two years of studies toward a master degree in religious studies. “It was during those years in Belgium that I began to think seriously again about becoming a priest,” Okoli said. “In 2004, I decided to take a radical step toward further discernment of my vocation to the Catholic priesthood and decided to take a year off and apply myself to a ministry that would give me time for prayer and reflection, away from the hustle and bustle of the academic environment.” He moved to Salem , Oregon and began a one year clinical pastoral education residency at Oregon State Hospital . At the beginning of the New Year of 2006, Okoli determined that he would go to the seminary with the hope of one day becoming a priest. “I credit my parents with providing my first inspiration to be a priest,” Okoli noted. “They were married in the Catholic Church 45 years ago and they remained very strong in their commitment to each other, their children and most of all to God through the church they were wedded in. Their exemplary Catholic life influenced me a lot,” he added. “Both my parents and my siblings have remained very supportive of my desire to serve God as an ordained priest.” Okoli had multiple reasons for choosing to apply to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Gaylord. After looking through some dioceses in the country, he found Gaylord to offer a serene environment for spiritual growth. “My love for nature was amplified when I visited Gaylord for the first time,” Okoli said, “and the response I received from the then vocation director Rev. Joe Blasko was very supportive and friendly; I could not resist his passion.” Ultimately, Okoli found in Gaylord a similarity between the northern Lower Michigan diocese and his homeland, “people sincerely and passionately seeking to serve God.” Since being accepted as a seminarian, Okoli has continued his studies at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin . He was assigned a home parish in the diocese of Holy Childhood in Harbor Springs and spent a summer serving there as well as visting during breaks in the school year. He completed his pastoral year serving under the supervision of Fr. Charlie Donajkowski at St. Ignatius, Rogers City , St. Casimir, Posen and St. Dominic in Metz . He also spent a summer serving St. Francis in Lewiston and St. Mary in Mio. Okoli’s journey is, of course, uniquely his own and yet not uncommon to those who seek to discern their life’s vocation and what God is calling them to, with many bends in the road. Yet as he nears completion of his formal studies and preparation for priesthood, his reasons for becoming a priest have remained consistent. “I know it sounds simplistic in a way, but I want to be a priest to secure my salvation and to go to heaven,” Okoli stated. “I hope people understand that am not suggesting that other vocations in life are somehow less salvation-oriented. It’s just that for me it is how I envision working out my salvation because I am strongly pulled to do this as a priest more than anything else. Others are called in other ways,” he explained. “I also want to be there for the people, I like to help people,” Okoli added, “and I want to continue the great mystery of living a life fashioned after Christ – a life of giving without counting the cost.” Scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in June of 2010, Okoli paused to share his hopes for the future. “I’m looking forward to getting into the ministry and deploying what I have been privileged to learn from my seminary studies all these years,” Okoli stated. “I’m looking forward to being there for the people of God; providing a shoulder for them to carry on; laughing with them when they laugh, praying with them when they pray. I’m looking forward to serve God in His people in good times and in bad.”

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