Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Father Charles Okeke, scientist and priest, dies at 61

Published March 22, 2018

ATLANTA—Father Charles Nwora Okeke, a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, died Monday, March 5. He was 61.

The son of the late Christopher Okeke and Florence Okeke, he was born in Abatete, Anambra state, Nigeria, on April 11, 1956. He attended Government Secondary School, a boys’ high school located in Afikpo, Abia state, Nigeria.

He earned a doctorate in medical microbiology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he lived and worked for 10 years. He also taught microbiology at the university.

He worked as a medical research scientist in universities across the world, from Germany to Japan to Toledo, Ohio. It was the study of science that eventually brought him to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

In a 2011 interview with The Georgia Bulletin, Father Okeke wrote about discovering his vocation for religious life.

“Studies in molecular genetics set me wondering about the power behind creation, but science was not answering the questions I posed,” he said. “So I turned to my Catholic faith for answers. I began to attend Mass daily and receive holy Communion. That was when I felt the vocation to serve God in a special way.”

In 2005, he entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, to discern a possible vocation as a Trappist monk, but further prayer led him to apply as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.  He left the monastery while a novice in March 2007.

As a seminarian for the archdiocese, he earned a master’s degree in divinity at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts.

At the age of 55, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 18, 2011, by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.

In the Atlanta Archdiocese, he served as parochial vicar at St. Benedict Church, Johns Creek, from 2011-13; St. Patrick Church, Norcross, from 2013-15; and St. Monica Church, Duluth, from 2015-17. In July 2017, he was assigned as chaplain for prison ministry.

Father Okeke stayed connected with friends from around the world through his Facebook page, on which he shared spiritual lessons, calling for continued prayer and devotion to God. A 2017 post included this advice: “To safely walk the narrow path and arrive at the Pearly Gate, let our thoughts, words and deeds be guided by two key thoughts: the glory of God and the good of souls, ours and that of our neighbor.”

Father Okeke is survived by his siblings, Victor Okeke, Dr. Daniel Okeke, Finna Okoye and Cordelia Chiemelu, all of Nigeria, and his cousins, Adaeze Agu, of New York, and Okechi and Rita Nwachukwu, of Nigeria, and Nkiru Okolo, of Chicago.

The vigil for Father Okeke is to be held Thursday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at St. Benedict Church, 11045 Parsons Road, Johns Creek. The Nigerian Community will lead an overnight prayer vigil at St. Benedict from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, March 23, at 10 a.m., at St. Benedict. Interment will follow immediately at Arlington Memorial Park, 201 Mt. Vernon Highway NW, Sandy Springs.

Condolences may be sent to the Office of Priest Personnel, Archdiocese of Atlanta, 2401 Lake Park Drive, SE, Smyrna, GA 30080. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Archdiocesan Seminarian Fund, in care of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.