Bob Kerns/Catholic Sentinel
Fathers Arjie Dacua Garcia, Tetzel Umingli and Anthony Chijioke Ahamefule were ordained on Saturday, June 4, at St. Mary's Cathedral.
Bob Kerns/Catholic Sentinel
Fathers Arjie Dacua Garcia, Tetzel Umingli and Anthony Chijioke Ahamefule were ordained on Saturday, June 4, at St. Mary's Cathedral.

“He was born a priest,” says Ignatius Ugoh of his cousin, Father Anthony Chijioke Ahamefule.

Father Ahamefule (pronounced Ahem-may-fay-lay) was the first baby born to a mother in a group of women from the same Nigerian Igbo village; all were expecting. Father Ahamefule still has a gold prize given to him for arriving first, something that singled him out. “They called me the lucky child,” he says.

“As a boy growing up, he was always exemplary, behaving with humility and looking out for others,” says Ugoh. “He made us proud.”

Ugoh traveled from San Francisco to Portland for Father Ahamefule’s ordination on Saturday, June 4 at St. Mary Cathedral.

The first reading at the Rite of Ordination was in Igbo, honoring Father Ahamefule and his family.

The second reading was in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, where Fathers Arjie Dacua Garcia and Tetzel Umingli were born. They too were ordained priests on Saturday, in the cool inside the Cathedral as a nearly 100-degree heat wave gathered force outside.

In his homily, Archbishop Alexander Sample thanked the families of the three men, for giving them up to service to the people of the Archdiocese of Portland. He noted that their first duty would be to preach, to proclaim the Gospel with vigor. They must also practice servant leadership, he said.

The three men — still transitional deacons during the homily — sat in chairs set in front of the more than 400 lay people in the pews.

Dozens of priests were arrayed behind Archbishop Sample, and the Cathedral choir, 25 members strong, provided soaring sacred music for the Mass.

Cheers punctuated the service three times: during the homily when Archbishop Sample noted that the men would be celebrating their first Mass on the morrow, during the moment when the assembly gives its assent for the ordination and as the three newly ordained priests processed out.

Sacred Heart parishioner Remy Winfrey traveled from Medford for the ordination because she’d appreciated Father Garcia’s work at the parish. “He’s a people person,” she says. “And a role model for the young people, encouraging them to believe in themselves.”

Winfrey says he was a happy addition to the parish staff, always ready to make a person laugh. “He’d make your day,” she says.

Father Garcia believes his road to ordination began at a high school retreat. The sister facilitating the retreat suggested the students think about something they’d done as a child, and to take that moment, meditate on it, and imagine a possible future around it.

“The times when I’d play-acted being a priest was what came to me,” says Father Garcia.

The sister urged him to discern if he might have a vocation.

By the time he’d finished a year in college, the call to priesthood was calling him too strongly to ignore.

His first posting will be at St. Anthony in Tigard, a large parish where he’ll work with the Hispanic community. “I’m nervous about the transition, but I’m confident God will be there,” he says.

Father Umingli, also from the Philippines, will be parochial vicar at St. Anne’s in Grants Pass as his first posting.

He says he’ll always remember Holy Family Parish, Portland, where he served his diaconate year and where he celebrated his first Mass. “It was amazing,” he says. “I thought afterwards, ‘I’m not a deacon anymore. I’m actually the one consecrating the body and blood of Christ.’”

Father Umingli tells about his journey to a Philippine seminary in explaining how he became a priest. He took a bus that became delayed because of hard rain and landslides. He didn’t arrive at the seminary until 2 a.m., and found its doors closed. Seven black dogs furiously barked at him.

“I sat on my luggage and prayed the rosary,” he says. “I held onto the promise of what the seminary held for me. I had made the resolve to enter the seminary and become a priest.”

Father Umingli says discernment doesn’t end when a man enters the seminary. In 2014 he took time to discern whether his calling was to be a missionary priest with the Society of the Divine Word or as a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Portland. “Discernment is choosing between two loves,” he says.

Father Ahamefule thinks his vocation began when he was just 10. Confirmation comes at age 12 in Nigeria, and a boy cannot be an altar server before he’s confirmed. And yet, Father Ahamefule, the lucky child, was an altar server at age 11.

He loved all the outward marvels of the priesthood: the ornate chasuble, the thurible, trailing its perfumed incense. He pretended to be a priest, his sister serving as music director.

He emphasizes how respected priests are in Nigeria. “Being a priest is so meaningful that when a man becomes a priest it’s a blessing for the entire town,” he says.

Father Ahamefule attended seminary high school. There he learned that becoming a priest wasn’t just about dressing in fine vestments and incense, it was also about studying.

Then came college seminary. “There I learned that the priesthood was actually about service,” he says.

Easter Vigil in his sophomore year, he was home with his family. He assisted the parish priest with at the vigil. Then, at 1 a.m., the priest asked if he’d like to come on a call to anoint the dying.

“He didn’t anoint the sick person, instead he said that the man should be taken to the hospital,” says Father Ahamefule.

Nigerian hospitals won’t treat the ill without a deposit, and the family had no money. “The priest insisted; from his own pocket he paid the initial deposit and treatment began,” Father Ahamefule says. “I was there, I saw this, and it made an impact on my life.”

On their way home, the priest was filled with a quiet joy. “He said nothing about being tired, even though this priest would have to celebrate Mass at 6 a.m., in just a couple hours,” Father Ahamefule says. “And it struck me that this is what it means to be a priest, this kind of service.”

Father Ahamefule’s first assignement is as parochial vicar at St. Cecilia’s in Beaverton. “I prayed this morning for God to give me the grace to also serve the people with undivided attention,” he says.