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home : features : people of faith

10/26/2017 9:00:00 AM
Men from Africa hope to become U.S. priests
Father Ligato shared excerpts from some recent applications from men in other countries seeking to become priests in the Albany Diocese:

•  "I am ready at any time to send any of my credentials as you may demand for further clarifications or to visit for personal dialogue if you would like me to visit. I will be very grateful if my humble application meets your favorable consideration."

•  "Greetings from Ghana! I want to join your diocese. But I will be happy if you could spend some of your time with me in order to discuss my zeal in the vocation of priesthood. God bless you and hope to hear from you."

•  "With due pleasure, I humbly wish to apply for admission into your diocese in order to spread the goodness of our lord Jesus and to help people discovers the goodness of Christ and His saving grace in their lives. I'm a young man of 35 years from Nigeria. However, I feel God is calling me to a diocesan ministry and life. I considered my diocese of origin in Nigeria but I have passed the age limit to be accepted there."

•  "I am a Nigerian and a baptized, practicing Catholic. I feel called and desire to serve both God and man through the sacred priesthood. Due to the recent vocation boom in my diocese, it's difficult to get admission. I kindly implore to be admitted in your diocese so as to answer God's call."

•  "I am an ex-discalced Car­me­lite friar, Nigerian vicariate, and have no records of scandal or crime. I am a graphics artist and have working experience in printing. [I am] not perfect, but my love for God is deep and my desire to serve Him as a priest is strong. I hope to tell you more about myself if my application is considered."

•  "I was advised recently to withdraw from the seminary formation on the ground of academics. Its my earnest desire to serve God through humanity as a Catholic priest. Please help me if you can to become one of you."

•  "I am 28 years old. I am very much touched by your way of life. I finished my theological studies in Nigeria. I wish to apply to join your congregation in Italy. Please, how can I go about it? I am ready to provide all that may be required of me." (JB)


Every year, Rev. Anthony Ligato, vicar for vocations for the Albany Diocese, gets hundreds of letters from Africans asking to become priests. It's part of his job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

"On average, I get a letter a day," he told The Evangelist, "and 85 percent of them are from Africa. It's very challenging to know whom to accept, but we have a vetting system. The vast majority are not accepted."

Some factors that keep the would-be priests out include lack of education and facility with the English language.

The first step in choosing international applicants, Father Ligato said, is the responsibility of their home diocese: "They have to be sponsored by their bishop. They have to be worthy and qualified."

After a man is recommended by his bishop, the Albany Diocese steps into the process. "They go through the same requirements as any man" applying from the U.S., Father Ligato explained. "There are background checks and recommendations from their home diocese. We verify everything."

Over the last year, the Albany Diocese has accepted eight men from other countries into the seminary. "The first thing that occurs," the vicar said, "is enrolling them in an English-as-a-second-language class," since parishioners must be able to understand their priest when he preaches, celebrates Mass and ministers in homes or hospitals.

Learning English occurs at St. John's University in New York City. Father Ligato said that "part of their formation [for the priesthood] is public speaking and accent reduction. The seminarians have to be able to speak conversationally."

Priests-to-be study American culture and society, including relationships in working with and helping women in parishes.

"For the most part, Catholics are very accepting of the priests, wherever they come from," he added. "Whether they are from Poland or Africa, the priest's accent is the biggest issue."

The Albany Diocese has been accepting priests from other countries for more than 150 years. Father Ligato pointed out that, in the 19th century and early part of the 1900s, "Italian, Irish and German priests came over with immigrants."

Clergy from overseas provide an opportunity for Catholics "to really understand the universality of the Church and experience what the priests are bringing from their cultures," he said. Those elements "can be woven into a parish through music and vestments. It's an opportunity to understand the fullness of the Church throughout the world."

The transaction also works the other way: "American priests have been going overseas for decades as missionaries to dioceses around the world."

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