Nigerian native desires to serve the poor, communicate well

| May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

As a self-described “new chicken” to the United States, Deacon Bruno Nwachukwu tries to learn something from each person he encounters. While studying to become a priest, Deacon Nwachukwu, 35, has also had to acclimate to American culture.

“Back home, you see chickens that are roaming around,” said Deacon Nwachukwu, who came to the U.S. in 2011. “If you buy a chicken to be a free-range chicken at your home, the chicken will stand on one leg to get used to the environment before you see it running around.”

Growing up in southeast Nigeria, each day his parents would wake up early to bring him and his two sisters and three brothers to Mass before school. Every night, they prayed the rosary.

His interest in becoming a priest started when he was 5. He admired Father Charles Noel, a Carmelite priest from Ireland who would carry sacramentals in his pockets to give to children after Mass.

“One day I told him, ‘Father I want to be a priest.’ And he said, ‘If you want to be a priest, you first have to receive the sacraments.’”

After graduating from high school, which was a minor seminary, he started seriously discerning his path to the priesthood. He joined prayer groups and became a member of the Legionaries of Mary. But he still couldn’t decide between becoming an order priest or a diocesan priest.

Thanks to his uncle, Father Peter Njoku, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who died in 2006, and one of his older brothers, who lived in the U.S. and spoke of the need for more priests, Deacon Nwachukwu decided he could best serve in a U.S. diocese.

At that time, all of his brothers and one of his sisters were living in the U.S. Praying before the Eucharist only deepened his desire. That’s when he started praying for a visa. Former University of St. Thomas president Father Dennis Dease helped him come to the U.S. to begin the process of entering the seminary.

“I always tell people, coming from a developing country with a lot of poor people, I want to serve the poor,” he said. “That’s one of the things I really love about Pope Francis — his great love for the poor. He can’t say anything without mentioning the poor in society.”

From Deacon Nwachukwu’s start at the seminary, he’s been aware of challenges he’d face — including adjusting to life in Minnesota. To him that meant erratic weather and a foreign dialect. Because of his accent, he said he strives to improve his communication skills.

“There is great power in language, because if you’re able to learn the culture of the people, learn the language very well, that will help you to communicate and to bring Christ to the people,” he said. “Because if people don’t understand you, they won’t know what your mission is.”

Because of persistent desire to succeed in his ministry, he asks his advisors, parishioners and fellow seminarians for feedback and is grateful for their support and guidance.

Another challenge that his advisors specifically addressed was racism.

“That used to worry me, but I keep saying, ‘God, since you have made me to get this far, I believe that you’ll give me the strength not to think anything about color or race. . . . But to make people to understand that we are all the same — we are all here to serve Christ.’ I will do my best as a priest.”

Challenges aside, Deacon Nwachukwu said he hopes to walk with the people of the archdiocese and bring them closer to God, and vice versa, because “we need each other to grow.”

“I’m very much looking forward to serving the people with my whole heart,” he said. “And to always give a smile to people. Because when you smile, it heals.”

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Category: Ordinations