This is the sixth in a series of seven profiles of the men to be ordained new priests for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 20.
“I wasn’t paying attention, just like St. Paul,” says transitional Deacon Kenneth Ifeanyi Omeke. While growing up in Nigeria, Omeke says he felt a “zeal and desire for becoming a priest.” Yet the dutiful son put aside dream of the priesthood in order to help his large family financially.
Omeke was born and raised in Enugu State, Nigeria, the second oldest of eight sons of Simon and Victoria Omeke.
As a boy, Omeke “loved playing soccer” and also enjoyed being an altar server. “I loved serving Mass,” he says. That’s when his interest in the priesthood first began.
His father was a driver before passing away in March 2023. His mother, who died in 2017, had been a dressmaker. “She liked making dresses, and that’s what gave me the motivation to go into business” later on, he said.
Although both of his parents are now deceased, Omeke has Grandmother Theresa, who is 105 years old and still lives in Nigeria.
As a teenager, Omeke completed his secondary school studies and decided to go into business to help support his family.
“I was selling clothing, shoes, and bags,” he said. He traveled frequently to China to purchase items to sell.
“While I was doing that, I still had the will to go into the seminary,” though he kept putting these thoughts aside in order to continue in business.
Omeke says he started having dreams nightly where 3 priests “used to speak to me that I had to go into the seminary. This continued for many years.”
One morning, Omeke was on another business trip, and while saying his morning prayers, he saw the three priests again. “So it wasn’t like a dream, it came to me like more a trance,” he said.
When he returned home to Nigeria, the business owner for whom Omeke worked told him that she had experienced a vision of Omeke celebrating Mass. “Now I knew this was God definitely calling me,” he said.
Since Nigerian seminaries have had an over-supply of applicants, Omeke at 28-years old was told that he was too old to join the seminary. “I had to join a new religious order that didn’t have an age limit,” he said.
Omeke spent six years with the religious order and also earned dual bachelor’s degrees from the Claretian Institute of Philosophy in Nigeria and the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.
The religious order disbanded however when its founder died in 2016. Realizing he couldn’t go back to the business world, and he still could not join the seminary in Nigeria because of his age, Omeke “didn’t know what to do again.”
During this time, Omeke came to the United States initially to visit a cousin who lived in Texas. A friend recommended Omeke consider St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, so he attended a “Come and See Weekend.” Omeke became a seminarian at St. Charles in 2018.
Omeke adopted as his home parish Saint Margaret of Antioch Church in Narberth, which is located nearby St. Charles. Omeke’s first Mass as a priest will be held there on May 21.
Homilist will be Fr. Sean English, pastor of Saint Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in Lansdale, who Omeke came to know through his summer assignments. Omeke says of English, “I like his character, and I like his jokes.”
Omeke says he “looks forward to becoming a priest and serving people with an Apostolic spirit.”
Reflecting on his spiritual journey, Omeke said, “I was a full-time businessman, traveling from one country to another searching for goods, but I never knew that God was interested in me and wanted me to search for human beings and to be a magnet of souls rather than searching for goods until I said, ‘yes’ to him.”
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