Bishop John H. Ricard welcomes Ugochukwu Henry Ihuoma (from left), George Agwu Liwhuliwhe and Wisdom Umanah to the altar during the ordination liturgy June 3 at St. Luke Church in Washington, D.C.
Josephites welcome three new priests

By Bill Murray
Photos by Tyler Orsburn

In a joyous liturgy, three men were ordained Josephite priests June 3.

Father Wisdom Umanah, SSJ, Father George Luwhuliwhe Agwu, SSJ, and Father Ugochukwu Henry Ihuoma, SSJ, beamed with happiness and gratitude at the end of the ordination Mass.

Bishop John H. Ricard, superior general, ordained the three new priests who were welcomed by nearly 40 Josephite priests and brothers as well as an overflow congregation at St. Luke church in Washington D.C.

Attendees of the three hour liturgy included the Knights of Peter Claver, Knights of Columbus, St. Luke parishioners, two busloads of Josephite parishioners from St. Francis Xavier, St. Wenceslaus and St. Ann in Baltimore, and other friends of the Josephites.

After 11 years of religious formation that began in his native Nigeria, Father Umanah feels he has been “given a privilege” to serve the people as a priest.

When he came to the U.S. six years ago to continue his academic studies and formation as a Josephite, he said that it was hard at first to become accustomed to his new country. He learned to be open-minded about other people, cultures, and values. “To love the people is key. When you love them, everything else follows,” he said.

Father Umanah’s uncle, who came to Washington, D.C., from Switzerland, where he is serving as a parish priest, gave the homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving for the three ordained Josephites, which took place on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, June 4, at the Josephite parish of St. Joseph in Alexandria, Va.

He was the only family member of the three men present at the ordination Mass, although some family members were able to watch on livestream through St. Luke’s website.
“Even though it’s the beginning of the mission, it feels like a mission accomplished,” said Father Agwu.

He called his ordination “an emotional moment for me,” given the many “ups and downs” of the formation process.

He always had the “zeal to be a priest,” growing up in Nigeria, where a religious sister told him about the Josephites and their mission to serve in the African-American community, which led him to apply to join the Society.

One challenge for newly ordained Father Ihuoma during the formation process was getting used to the daily structure involved with religious life: daily Mass, three common meals a day, vespers prayers and other components of the day.

Getting used to the academic rigors of studying philosophy and theology, in addition, which can involve how to properly cite sources in academic writing, was also difficult.

Once all that hard work was done, perhaps there was some nervousness on the part of the candidates, who were all transitional deacons, for their priestly ordination.

As they processed into the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass, however, the young men and the Josephite priests and other clergy accompanying them in the procession were greeted by applause from the congregation.

Later, when Bishop Ricard called each man forward, there was a growing amount of applause from the congregation.

Father Ray Bomberger, SSJ, vicar general of the Josephites, presented the candidates to Bishop Ricard for ordination and informed the bishop that the three men had met the requirements for ordination and were men of good character.

Dressed in white vestments, the men later lay down on their stomachs, flat on the floor of the church, facing the altar.

The congregation prayed the Litany of the Saints over the men prostrated on the floor.
After individually laying their hands on the heads of the ordinands, just as Bishop Ricard had, the concelebrants later processed around the altar again to give hearty hugs to the newly ordained Josephites, as a sign of solidarity and fraternity.

The young men turned and faced the congregation, holding out the hands that they would use to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and to grant forgiveness for sins in the person of Jesus Christ in sacrament of Confession
More applause followed.

Following the Josephite General Chapter in June, the three priests are awaiting their first assignments as Josephite priests.