An Interview with Augustine Kelechi Ikegwu, O.SS.T.

Updated: May 19

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.


Augustine: Life in the seminary can be equated with life in purgatory. For it is a place where young men with an ardent desire for the Catholic priesthood are being cleansed, purified, formed as good, humble, and holy priests according to the mind of Jesus Christ and his Church. In her unique mission, the seminary is called to be a continuation in the Church — the community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding toward the Easter experience, and awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission.

It takes many processes and time for one aspiring to become an alter Christus, to experience a radical change in his way of life, before a priestly identity is formed and revealed. On this note, I would love to say some things about my early Catholic formation.


Growing up as a child, I had no idea of what Catholic priesthood is all about. One thing that was persistent in me was that I loved and admired how priests and religious comport themselves, their courageous stance at the pulpit when it came to the proclamation of the Gospel and how they dress respectfully. It continued this way until the year 2002, during my primary school days when I was in class four (4). One day in our parish church, our Pastor announced the stipulated date of entrance examination into our Archdiocesan minor seminary. Reaching home that day, I didn’t give my parents any breathing room. I pleaded with them that I be sent to the seminary for the announced entrance examination. Seeing this passion, my parents were surprised to see their son crying to join the seminary and serve the Lord as a priest. Unfortunately, I was ignorant of the requirements for entering the seminary. That point was driven home when my parents told me to calm down; I had yet to finish my primary education.


After completion in 2006, I immediately contacted the seminary to obtain the entrance form to begin the process of fulfilling my dream. It was then that another roadblock was put into my path. I was told the seminary has a set number of intakes per annum, and, unfortunately, that number had already been reached. Reaching home, I felt as if I’d lost everything and wasn’t myself all through the following week. Not wanting to stay at home doing nothing, I went to Obube Secondary School, the then government secondary school, or college. I studied there for three (3) years, always hoping to join the seminary someday. Because I seized the opportunity to observe my life in greater detail, my stay in public school facilitated a more thoughtful discernment of my desired vocation to the priesthood. Forcing myself to forget everything about the priesthood increased in me the desire to be a priest. My discernment helped me to realize that I had no desire for the things of the world. The things of the world did not satisfy me and left me feeling empty inside. My heart was ablaze for the things of Heaven. Deep down inside, I came to realize more fully that it was only Jesus that could captivate my heart in a way that no one else — or anything else — ever could. Lo and behold, in the year 2009, I was granted admission into Saint Peter Claver seminary Okpala, a junior seminary owned by my Archdiocese (Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, Nigeria), where I was provided with the necessary formation a young man aspiring to be a priest needs to get.


After completing my philosophical studies at Claretian Institute of Philosophy, Maryland Nekede in Imo state Nigeria, a seminary owned by the Claretian Missionary Fathers, I obtained two degrees in Philosophy: (B.Phil) from Pontifical Urban University Rome and (B.A) from Imo State University Nigeria. After that, I was accepted as a member of a sizeable Religious Order (i.e., the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives), which is located outside of my home country of Nigeria. In 2019, I took my first Religious vow for that Order. I feel at home with the Charism of the family God to which I was called. It suits my approach to Religious life. While doing my Theological studies, I am receiving formation for the Catholic priesthood as a happy Religious. Thank you.


Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.


Augustine: God bless you for that insightful question. As a former student of Saint Peter Claver seminary Okpala in Ngor-Okpala local government area in Imo state Nigeria, I have understood how much that experience has helped me prepare for this long journey of love and self-giving. It has contributed to building a solid foundation for my vocation, which was an integral part of making me the person I am today. During my high school years, I was gradually introduced to the particular way of life in which I intend to commit myself to God.


Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?


Augustine: Since my childhood, I have been increasingly drawn to the priesthood. This question brings to mind a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, whether rightly or wrongly. It goes something like this: Go out and preach to the people, and if necessary, use words. As I witnessed firsthand priests radiating the beauty of God’s Love for man through their vocation and ministry, I thought to myself: that is the life I want to live. Right from my childhood, I have had this profound and intense feeling within me that I have the call to be a priest. Nothing appeals more to me than that ardent desire to be a priest. I think the Catholic priesthood is the most suitable vocation for me to radiate the beauty of God’s Love by preaching the Good News in both words and deeds; to minister to God and His people in love and joy. I am always moved when I see a happy priest.


I earnestly believe that I will be happy in the priesthood. As a little boy, when my friends and I gathered to play, it was quite common for me to play the role of a priest. I would always tell them, “let us celebrate Mass.” Similarly, as a priest does during the distribution of Holy Communion during Mass, I would start distributing a packet of biscuits. The participants in this play were calling me Father. To this very day, the desire to celebrate the Mass has continued to remain in me, but this time for real — not for play-acting. All these things, though childish, have remained for me a strong motivating factor.


Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a seminarian. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ?


Augustine: Great! Being called to be a seminarian is, I believe, God’s Will for me. Nothing is more important in my life than doing God’s Will. It prepares me to take part in leading people to the fulfillment of a transforming vision. One in which the world conforms itself to the mind and body of Jesus Christ. It is the call to be an alter Christus, a call to share in a special way in the life of Christ, the High Priest, and to carry forth His universal salvific mission. Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his book, The Mystical Body of Christ, “The Church, then, is in the truest sense of the term the prolongation of the Incarnation; it is the new Body which Christ assumes after His Ascension.”


I have found out that there is no more challenging or satisfying leadership role in the world today than the priesthood. Without the priesthood, Sheen’s words could not be valid. Without the priesthood, the prolongation of the incarnation in the world would not be possible. God’s Will is everything

.

Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?


Augustine: As you rightly posed the question, my discernment process has helped me know exactly who is calling me, where He is calling me to go, and what He is calling me to do. During my discernment period, I wrote down my thoughts, feelings, and other activities that have helped shape me. Embarking on the discernment process, I was able to ask myself several questions about how to use my unique gifts and personal traits to serve God and humanity. It helped me understand who I am, which had not yet been apparent during my childhood years. Through prayer, reflection, and quiet time with God, I was given a foretaste of what priesthood and this state of life are all about. For I firmly believe that God does not call man to be someone he’s not. Instead, He uses the gifts, talents, and personality that He has given him, then calls him to be the very best versions of him or herself.


Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?


Augustine: Just as a Mosaic brings us a clear picture through the creation and assembling of many various elements, I do believe that my life is being “composed” of the many gifts God has given me. I am discovering these more and more as my formation helps me develop. The categories of the various tiles that form this mosaic include basic spiritual gifts (e.g., devotion, patience, etc.), intellectual gifts (e.g., thirst for knowledge of Truth), communication skills (e.g., writing, public and private speaking, etc.), and talents in personal relations. Don’t get me wrong; I recognize that I am a work in progress. In all of the tiles of my mosaic, there is still plenty of room for growth. I hope that my mosaic will serve all the needs of Christ’s Church and His Gospel to one degree or another. To that end, I wish to offer God my mosaic to benefit those with whom I come into contact. The role of the priest is ever more challenging today as the means of communication and learning seem to multiply. My mosaic is still a work in progress!


Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a seminarian?


Augustine: The only vital message I would love to leave with those reading this interview is that God did not create us to add anything to his very nature. Rather, it is essential to be obedient to His Will, to be attentive to His calls, to open our hearts to accept Him when he comes to us, and to be ready to be in communion with Him — for our good and that of our brethren. In other words, to respond to God’s call with the words, Here I Am, Lord. What is your Will? When we answer his call, He will lead us to a particular state of life that is suitable to our well-being; a state of life that not only make us happy, comfortable, and useful to ourselves, but also one that enables us to be instruments through which our brothers achieve that same blessed existence. God knows us right from our mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5), and He would love to see us bearing fruits in the hundredfold. Therefore, from “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb.3:15).


Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?


Augustine: Seeing what is happening today in the Church, one should firmly resolve to fully address the nature of the Church and the challenges Holy Mother Church will face in these very trying times. Amongst the diverse challenges the Church faces, the following are eminent: Knowledge and love of Christ and His Church; Repentance for Sin, which must be recognized and given up; a proper understanding of the role of the Church; Biblical illiteracy and ignorance of the word; poverty; racial discrimination; sexuality; and the Ordination of clerics. These are not the only issues of importance to the Church.


Despite all these, the Church will always be victorious. To that end, we must take unity as our watchword, affirming the oneness of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, whose foundation is apostolic. Through her teachings and actions, I think the Church will surely stand and defeat these challenges from the secularized world in which we live. We must do our part by helping Holy Mother Church fulfill her duty to nurture her children through teaching, advising/counseling, and correcting. These assuring words of Jesus to St. Peter must be kept in our minds “You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church” (Mt 16:18).

Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a writer of your new book?


Augustine: Having my first book, The Image of God: Give Man His Dignity published by En Route Books and Media (ERBM), is a great feeling and one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced in life. ERBM is a great publisher, and I am honored that they have selected my book for publishing. ERBM is not only a traditional publisher but also a Catholic publisher. Their list of authors reads like a Catholic Who’s Who. I am also gratified by those who have written testimonies praising my new book. These testimonies include . Mike Aquilina, Dr. ChadNewton, Dennis P. McGeehan, Paul A. Nelson, Dr. Brent Dean Robbins, Dr. Chidimma S. Ikea, and William Hemsworth. My thanks to all who have taken the time and effort to write them.


Whenever I re-watch the congratulatory message sent to me by my publisher, I feel a sense of accomplishment. The best thing about being a writer is establishing something out of nothing (ex-nihilo), making it a part of the great fabric of life. It is the most significant endeavor for any author when he or she establishes something from nothing. Transforming an idea from one existing only in the head to one that is visible within a book that can be held in your hands — and, hopefully, many others. Despite the number of books written in our present world, what matters most is how unique one’s work is and what unique or vital value one’s book imparts to society.


'The Image of God: give man his dignity' can be purchased through this link https://enroutebooksandmedia.com/imageofgod/

It is also available on Amazon and at the National Library of Congress, WashingtonDC.


Dr. Knight: As a seminarian what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?


Augustine: Since priestly vocation is a call to service, I must never neglect certain things as a seminarian, even after I am ordained a priest. I am called to serve humanity and God in love and Truth. As a seminarian, I render service to my community and the people around me. I’m still in the process of becoming a priest, and many things are still eschatological in nature.


More specifically, I was assigned the duty of a Librarian in my Community. I am one of the members of S.I.T (Trinitarian International Solidarity)-AFRICA at the community level. It aims to bring mercy and Redemption to those who suffer persecution because of their faith in Christ. Another I can mention is that I was assigned to be one of those in charge of the Trinitarian lay faithful still at the community level and many hosts of others.


Separate from my assigned duties as a seminarian, I also have a Facebook Page and Group titled, Catholatest. I try to explain to our brothers and sisters in the world at large the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic faith. It is my little way of helping to make the teachings of the Catholic Church known by many, especially poorly catechized Catholics.


To help foster devotion to my favorite saint-to-be, Blessed Carlo Acutis, I have created a Facebook group titled, Devotees of Blessed Carlo Acutis. It is one of the more active groups on Facebook fostering devotion to this young blessed.


Lastly, I have this site for Blessed Carlo Acutis, which one can visit to read up certain things written there: https://docacutis.com.


Thank you so much, Dr. Knight, for this interview, and for making it possible for others to see all the good works that the Trinitarians do for us.


I pray that God will bless you and your work for the Church!

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