Deacon Daniel Ogbeifun has never doubted his vocation. Now, just before being ordained to the priesthood, he is more excited than ever to begin his life as a priest.
Deacon Ogbeifun's journey has been longer than most priests face. He began his seminary studies in his home country of Nigeria in 2000. From there he went to Belgium for pastoral studies, theology and catechesis. Finally he came to Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora in 2011.
After summer assignments at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lancaster, and Mary Immaculate Parish in East Bethany, Deacon Ogbeifun has spent the last six months serving God's people at St. Benedict Parish in Eggertsville. The experience has shown him that God's people also believe he is on the right path.
"Since I've been here, I must say, they have been very receptive. They made me feel at home," Deacon Ogbeifun said, shortly before his June 6 ordination. "When I have visited them or perform at something, they seem to want to listen to me."
Deacon Ogbeifun has been on active duty at St. Benedict Parish since his September 2014 ordination as a transitional deacon. In this role, he has the same faculties as a permanent deacon. He can welcome people into the faith through baptism, and preside at weddings and funerals. He proclaims the Gospel at Mass. He also serves at St. Benedict School, helping teach the kids in the Generations of Faith program. His favorite role is that of preacher.
"I like to share the Word of God," he said with a smile and sense of pride. "People need to understand and know God. I think the way we can all do this is to explain the Scripture to them. What I long to do is reach out to the people by explaining the Word of God to them."
The cultural difference between his African upbringing and the American audience, and the slight accent he retains from his homeland, do not seem to be a barrier in communicating God's Word.
"Most of the people I speak to like his homilies," said Father Robert M. Mock, pastor of St. Benedict's. "Nobody has spoken to me about an accent. He seems to have acculturated fairly well in the United States from my perspective."
Deacon Ogbeifun thinks the parishioners like to hear from different priests with different views.
"One time, somebody called and asked when I would be preaching," he said. "It is an encouragement to me in terms of the way they react positively right from the time that I came here. They were very happy about it. I am happy too with it. I cherish the people very well. They're welcoming and the hospitality that they give to me is so encouraging that it helps me to grow in my own faith. I would say they are wonderful people and they react very well, positively. They have told me they like me and want me to be here."
He also enjoys sharing the faith through close interactions with people. Visits to the sick and elderly have become a strong suit for the 40-year-old. He brings Communion and prays with them. He already has performed several infant baptisms on his own.
"The first time I was actually doing it, it was kind of joyful for me," he said. "Doing it myself gives me that joy and fulfillment that I'm on the right track and doing what I am supposed to do. The people are very happy about it too. This happens where people stick close to God and they want their own children too, to be close to God. It gives that hope for the future of our children, in Church, trying to know God and help one another."
Once he is ordained, Deacon Ogbeifun will be the first African-born man ordained in the Diocese of Buffalo. He came here, in his view, as a missionary. Due to the abundance of priests in Africa, the United States appears as a mission to Africans.
"Generally when you come to a new culture, a new place, at the beginning it is always kind of challenging," Deacon Ogbeifun said. "You don't know who is who. Not until you come close to them and spend time getting to know them. When I first came I was in the same (situation). Are they going to be receptive? Are they going to be this and that? When I began, I could see that joy, that encouragement, that support. They are ready at any time to support me. I know many of them have called me many times. 'Do you need anything? Can we help you? Can we do that?' Many have taken me to lunch, to dinner, for breakfast. They share that they like what I am doing here. It's encouraging."
"He'll be an excellent priest," Father Mock said without hesitation. "He's very kind with people. He listen's very well. He is ... 'warm and friendly' almost doesn't capture it. He really is very warm and friendly, and people respond to that very effectively."