Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


First Nigerian Priest For Atlanta Named Pastor

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2012

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory recently named Father Michael Onyekuru as the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville. In 2000, Father Onyekuru was ordained by the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue as the first Nigerian Catholic priest for the Atlanta Archdiocese.

During his time in the Atlanta Archdiocese, Father Onyekuru served as parochial vicar at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur; All Saints Church, Dunwoody; the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; and Good Shepherd Church, Cumming. He has also served at the Metropolitan Tribunal as an auditor, advocate and defender of the bond, beginning in 1999. He has been a judge for over 11 years and has been serving as the adjutant judicial vicar for the past six years. He continues to do part-time ministry for the tribunal as a judge and counselor in addition to his pastoral duties.

A native of Owerri, Nigeria, Father Onyekuru began his training at the St. Peter Claver Minor Seminary in Owerri and attended a communication course in England. He also attended the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, and the Pontifical Universities of Sts. Thomas Aquinas and John Lateran in Rome, Italy, where he earned licentiate of canon law and doctor of canon law degrees. He also earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Brenau University, Gainesville.

During his training, Father Onyekuru served parishes in Nigeria, Cameroon, Jamaica, England and Italy. His new appointment at St. John the Evangelist is his first pastorate.

With education and ministry experiences throughout the world, Father Onyekuru brings a multicultural background to the diverse Catholic population of North Georgia. Father Onyekuru discussed his position as a first-time pastor via email with The Georgia Bulletin.

GB: What does being a pastor mean to you?

Father Onyekuru: When I reflect on the word “pastor,” what comes to mind is the daily role of an ordinary shepherd. A shepherd is one who is responsible to care for the flock, every member of the flock, the sheep and lambs. He ensures that they are led to good pastures, are nourished daily, cleansed when soiled, cared for when hurting and sick, guided when they need direction, encouraged on the journey, taught how to stay together, admonished when necessary, protected, comforted when dying and buried at the end of their earthly existence. For me, my service as a pastor is like that of a shepherd. It is a great privilege with serious responsibilities. It is a privilege because I believe that the Lord has chosen me at this particular time, to serve a small number of his flock in St. John the Evangelist Parish, which is a special part of the Lord’s vineyard.

I am pastor; I am a priest. The priesthood in our Catholic tradition is a special gift from God, through which we participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the high priest. I feel privileged to share in the priesthood of Christ and to be able to celebrate the sacraments with his people. Of paramount importance is my duty as a pastor, to feed the flock with the Eucharist, the experience of heaven on earth. …

I count on the Lord to teach and help me to become a pastor, a priest, after his own heart.

GB: What is the most exciting thing about being a pastor?

Father Onyekuru: The most exciting at this time is the realization that Christ has entrusted his flock, my parishioners, to me, to look after them for Christ and bring them closer to him. Along with that is the newness of the experience and the encounter with different groups of parishioners, getting to know them, listening to their sharing and witnessing their zeal to build Church together.

GB: What is the most challenging thing about being a pastor?

Father Onyekuru: What I find most challenging is that most of my parishioners live in communities that are distant from the parish church. It makes home visitation and the formation of a close-knit parish community a bit more demanding. Management and administration issues also pose a challenge sometimes.

GB: When did you first discern a vocation to the priesthood?

Father Onyekuru: I first thought of the priesthood at a very young age. I was an altar server, serving at Masses in my parish regularly with the Holy Ghost

Fathers. I was impressed by their way of life and wanted to be like them. They spoke to me about the priesthood, and l felt the call to follow Christ that way.  I later attended the Minor Seminary where I had the opportunity to participate in a number of spiritual activities, which included daily prayer and reflection, daily spiritual reading, discernment retreat, monthly recollection and spiritual direction.

My family also played an important part in my call.  I come from a very Catholic family in which I witnessed my uncle, cousins, and two brothers’ response to the Lord’s call to the priesthood. I was inspired by their love for God and service of others. All I desired was to do the same.