Baltimore’s new priests come from afar

By George P. Matysek Jr. and Elizabeth Lowe
Deacon Angel Marrero was 15 when he had what he calls his “big moment.” It happened in his native Puerto Rico, while he was enjoying a film about St. Francis of Assisi.
“I was watching this part when St. Clare was taking a loaf of bread to the people who were sick and separated from the community,” remembered Deacon Marrero, 46. “I knew for some reason that that was my call. It was a call to service.”
Deacon Hamilton Okeke felt a similar call growing up in Nigeria. From an early age, even though his parents opposed it, he longed to become a priest.
After four years of seminary training in Nigeria and a period of doubting his vocation following the deaths of his parents, Deacon Okeke decided to study for the priesthood in the United States.
“I took a leap of faith coming to the U.S.,” said Deacon Okeke, 33. “I know God is always faithful.”
Archbishop William E. Lori will ordain Deacons Marrero and Okeke to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore June 8 during a 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. For the future priests, the liturgy will represent the culmination of years of training at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park, in addition to pastoral work in parishes of the archdiocese.
The two bring a wealth of international and religious experience to their new home.
Deacon Marrero, who served in the Puerto Rico National Guard in Germany during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, became a Carmelite brother in 1995 and spent 13 years in the religious community.
“Carmelites dedicate their lives to prayer – trying to bring that experience of the word into action,” Deacon Marrero said. “That’s what I bring from the Carmelites. I have this very close relationship with God that I can’t hold in myself. I have to give it to everyone else.”
With his military background, Deacon Marrero felt a call to become a military chaplain. He applied for the priesthood program in the Baltimore archdiocese because of its partnership with the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services, which allows archdiocesan priests to serve as military chaplains. Deacon Marrero is currently beginning the process of becoming a military chaplain.
During his preparation for the priesthood, Deacon Marrero ministered at St. Michael in Overlea and Church of the Resurrection in Laurel.
Following his ordination to the transitional diaconate last year – the last step prior to priestly ordination – he was stationed in Dundalk where he served mainly at Our Lady of Hope, Dundalk, and St. Luke, Edgemere. He also assisted at Sacred Heart of Mary, Graceland Park; St. Rita, Dundalk, and Our Lady of Fatima, Baltimore.
“I discovered how thirsty the people are now,” the bilingual deacon said, “especially in the Hispanic communities. They don’t have priests who can take care of them. There’s a huge, huge need there. I want to help – especially taking the body and blood of Christ to them, which is my call.”
Raised in the Igbo community in southeastern Nigeria, Deacon Okeke became acquainted with the Baltimore archdiocese after meeting and corresponding with Vincentian Father Sylvester Peterka, former pastor of St. Cecilia and Immaculate Conception in Baltimore. Father Peterka’s ministry frequently took him to Nigeria.
After deciding to pursue the priesthood in the United States, Deacon Okeke said he found support among the parishioners of Our Lady, Queen of Peace in Middle River. He has ministered as a transitional deacon at St. Ignatius in Hickory, a community that has also made him feel welcome.
“I have witnessed the love of God in my personal life and the lives of others,” he said.
During his diaconate, Deacon Okeke said administering baptism was especially meaningful.
“You make these people children of God,” he said. “It has really touched me deeply.”
Both future priests are excited about celebrating Mass and serving the people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. They are ready.
“I believe in what I have learned,” Deacon Okeke said.
It’s been a long journey to ordination day, he added, but it’s not the conclusion.
“It’s the beginning,” he said.
Deacon Angel Marrero
Age: 46
Hometown: Vega Alta, Puerto Rico
Sponsoring parish: St. Michael, Overlea
Deacon Hamilton Okeke
Age: 33
Hometown: Ufuma, Nigeria
Sponsoring parish: St. Ignatius, Hickory
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Copyright (c) May 22, 2013

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.