By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published Friday, August 30, 2013
Father John Paul Ezeonyido has answered Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s call in June to serve as pastor of Christ Our Hope Church, a position to which he is still adjusting.
“I have always understood being a pastor as being a shepherd, helping to bring people closer to Christ,” said Father Ezeonyido. “And I understand that being a shepherd comes with a lot of challenges.”
A native of Akukwa Village, Ngo, Igbo-Ukwu, in Anambra State, Nigeria, Father Ezeonyido comes from a large family of his two parents, six siblings and more than 25 nieces and nephews. Initially interested in becoming a doctor, the young man heard God calling him to priesthood, and after earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria, he began discerning traveling to the United States as a missionary priest. His missionary call was affirmed as the Atlanta vocations office asked to meet him and invited him here, recognizing that the Nigerian Igbo Catholic community in the Atlanta area needed more spiritual support.
He came to the United States in 1999 and continued his seminary formation, earning a master of arts and a master of divinity in theology with a specialization in Old Testament Sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. During his seminary training, Father Ezeonyido lived and worked with Hispanic and multicultural communities in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as part of an immersion program, picking up some Spanish along the way.
Ordained by the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue as a priest of the archdiocese in 2003, Father Ezeonyido, 41, has served the Catholic Church in Georgia in various capacities, working with both American and African immigrant communities.
He earned his third graduate degree, in social work, in 2011 from the University of Georgia, Athens. Father Ezeonyido earned certification in marriage and family therapy during his time at UGA.
He has also earned certification as a hospital chaplain and previously served as chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
Father Ezeonyido’s previous assignments in the archdiocese include serving as a parochial vicar at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta; Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City; and St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn. He has served as chaplain of the Nigerian Igbo Catholic Community of Atlanta for the past eight years.
He enjoys traveling, playing tennis, working out and preaching.
As he makes the shift from student and parochial vicar to pastor of the Lithonia parish, he admits he is still adjusting to the responsibilities of his new assignment. While his previous duties have prepared him in certain ways, he is still learning the business side of the pastoral duties.
“Being a pastor does not mean being comfortable,” said Father Ezeonyido, who likened being a pastor to a literal shepherd, who must protect his sheep from outside dangers.
A pastor must do what is best for the good of his flock, he said.