by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic Formation?
Fr. Stephen: To start with, I was not born into a Catholic home. My parents were adherents of indigenous religious practices (African Traditional Religion) and never went to Church. I grew up in a predominantly Muslim. However, in the past few decades, the Christian faith has grown in my family; we now have more family members who are practicing Catholics. On a personal note, I would say that my older brother played a pivotal role in my journey to the Catholic Church. It all started when my oldest brother was invited by one of his Methodist friends to their Church; after his first visit to the Methodist church, my brother joined the Methodist Church. A few months after joining the MethodistChurch, another friend invited my brother to Sunday Mass at a Catholic Church. After visiting the Catholic Church, my brother kept going back to the Catholic Church. Having compared the two Churches, he decided to remain with the Catholic Church and never went back to the Methodist. At this time, he took the rest of us (including me) to the Catholic Church one after the other. Since I was not born into a Catholic home/family, I was baptized as an adult at a Dominican Church (In the Diocese of Sokoto, located in the core Northern part of Nigeria where I grew up) by a Dominican Bishop – late Bishop Michael Dempsey, O.P. (A Dominican Missionary sent to Nigeria from Chicago in 1951).
Before I was baptized, I attended catechism classes for two years. It may interest you to know that I joined the altar servers before I was baptized. Because I was active, the priest allowed me to serve at mass before my baptism and first communion – this was an extraordinary experience that I remember vividly, for which I am thankful to the good Lord. I was eventually baptized and made my first communion, and I continued as an altar server for a while. It was a great experience, and I was happy I worked for my faith, and God helped me grow in it as I was growing up.
Dr. Knight: You went to College and Joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Fr. Stephen: I did not join the Seminary after college; instead, I entered the seminary after my High school (Secondary School). I started schooling a little bit late because I had some health challenges that made my parent decide to keep me at home for some time and ensure that I was completely healthy and fit before sending me to school. This situation made me graduate from High school at the age of 18 to 19, which was an acceptable age by the Dominican Order then. Right from my Primary school days, I felt that God was calling me to serve him, but it wasn't evident in what direction. It became clearer to me after much prayers and consultations/guidance and discernment. When I shared this desire with my parents, they had different reactions and responses. While my father emphatically disagreed with me, my mother said, 'I don't understand what it means, but if that is what you like, and you are sure you will be happy, go ahead. But then, my mother died just as I was about to graduate from Primary school, and so I was left with my father, who held on to his position against my desire to become a Priest. But then, before I graduated from secondary school, my father died. At this point, my oldest brother tolled my father's path and insisted that I was not going to the seminary since I did not receive my father's approval before he died. He could not sustain this position as members of the Church advised him to desist from stopping me, so he allowed me. My Choice of becoming a Dominican was based on my encounters with them as I grew up. The Dominicans I encountered in the Northern part of Nigeria had a significant impact on my life. I admired their way of life and their dedication and simplicity. The Dominicans I met in the Northern part of Nigeria attracted me because of their primary evangelization, preaching, and communal life
Dr Knight: You were called by God to be a Dominican, what is the significance of your call to be a follower of Dominic and Jesus Christ.?
Fr. Stephen: The Dominican way of life is modeled after our Blessed father Dominic in the footsteps of Christ who came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45). The Dominican Vocation is a call to self-emptiness and preaching the Truth. Our motto is VERITAS meaning Truth. Let us not forget that Jesus himself is the TRUTH for he says in John 14:6, 'I am the Truth….' The Dominican Vocation is a call to PROFESS, TEACH, LIVE, AND PROCLAIM this VERITAS until death. The significance of this call to me is to bring God to the people and the people to God by Praising, Preaching, and Blessing in Truth – Veritas as our Blessed Father, St. Dominic, did. This is the significance of this call to me. To bring people to the knowledge of the Truth and be saved.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally as a Dominican?
Fr. Stephen: The Dominican Constitution clarifies that the formation of a brother (Seminarian) primarily lies in his hands. By implication, the person being formed has the primary responsibility for discerning his vocation daily even though the formators are there to form, guide, and journey along with him as he discovers himself concerning his call. As a Dominican, through prayers, personal reflections, and my formators' guidance, I have come to appreciate my vocation more, see God's plans for me, and make a daily commitment to follow Christ through my service to the Church and humanity.
Dr. Knight: What do you want to readers to understand after reading this interview about being a Dominican and living in Community?
Fr. Stephen: After reading these interviews, I want readers to know and understand that the Dominican vocation is a unique call from God to a life of prayer, service, holiness, and Community. The Community is the strength of the Dominican because that is where he emanates from, and that is where he returns to as he carries out his work daily. The realization that my life and death as a Dominican revolve around my brothers strengthens my resolve. I want the reader to understand the power of my community life as a Dominican. I want the readers to know that the Community of friars prays for them, their families, and the world. I want the reader also to see that they have a responsibility towards the Community: to pray for the Community and support the Community.
Dr Knight: With regards to your mission in Nigeria, What would be some Challenges of the Future Church?
Fr. Stephen: In talking about the challenges of the future Church in Nigeria, we must look at the current situation. This is so because whatever the situation would be tomorrow would not be entirely unconnected for today. The Dominican mission of preaching for the salvation of souls and teaching in all ramifications faces many difficulties today. Some of these difficulties are Insecurity, poverty, Islamic fundamentalism, Bandit unleashing mayhem on both Christians and non-Christians alike, leadership at its weakest point since independent and alarming growth or sustained culture of Illiteracy, to name but a few. These situations are our common reality. In the lift of the current situation, and given that those at the corridors of power have not been able to develop strategies to arrest these situations nor find an enduring solution to them, the future will be in more trouble than the present unless something drastic happens. I can say that many individuals are making efforts to make the future better, but the sad news is that their efforts are not gaining enough attention and support from the government. The Church in the future would have more people in abject poverty to take care of than ever. At the moment, we have more than 14 million children out of school in Nigeria (the highest in the world). If all these situations are not taking care of, the future may not be bright to some considerable degree. The Church would have to struggle with such different strands of issues.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the Joys you have experienced as a Dominican follower of Christ?
Fr. Stephen: In my Dominican life, my primary fulfillment is the fact that I have come to know God better and have deepened my faith in Him. The last 26 years of my life as a Dominican have exposed me to different areas of life, cultures, situations, and attendant complications and blessings. I have derived so much joy from living the Truth and preaching the Trust, Jesus Christ Himself. Happiness and fulfillment cannot be without the Community, which I have explained earlier on. I must state that one of my initial attractions to the Dominican life – Community- has given me a lot of happiness and fulfillment. I may not be able to say everything here on this question, but I will not end this until I have mentioned that I have been blessed and happy knowing the People of God whom I work with are getting to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection through the work that I do as a Dominican.
Dr Knight: As a Dominican, What are some of the Duties you that you have performed or role that you playing?
Fr. Stephen: After my Priestly Ordination in 2004, my first assignment was working as the Director of Vocations for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph the Worker, Nigeria and Ghana. This entails promoting Dominican Vocations in Nigeria and Ghana and recruiting young men who feel God is calling them or has called them to be Dominicans. I did this for about 15 years. Along the way, I was also appointed as the Director of the Dominican Vocation Support in 2008; this office is responsible for raising sponsors and benefactors to support and train Dominican Students in our formation house in Ibadan. This task also involves project development in aid of Dominican Vocations. This office has to do with fundraising both locally and internationally. I am looking for individuals and corporate organizations to support our Dominican Vocation and project related to Dominican Vocations. I have done this in the last 12 years. Currently, I am building a secondary school in Nigeria to give indigent kids a world-class education in our society. Like you know, we have over 13 million children that are out of school in Nigeria. With Covid 19 Pandemic, this figure has risen. Again, this also entails much fundraising locally and internationally. Find attached here are pictures of my current and ongoing work.