By Precious Ukeje
The Journey of life is most times unpredictable. We sometimes, through our actions and inactions, toe the path of destiny and plans which God set for us even without knowing. In this interview with Precious Ukeje, Reverend Father Ferdinand Ume-ezeoke of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, narrated how he left the banking sector as a graduate of Accountancy from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, went to the seminary, passed through all the years of priestly formation and finally landed at Chukwunenye Microfinance Bank, Nnewi as a priest.
Fides: Let’s meet you
Fr. Ume-ezeoke: In the first place, my name is Reverend Father Ferdinand Ume-ezeoke from Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Anambra State.
Fides: Take us through your educational journey
Fr. Ume-ezeoke: I saw myself after my birth in the primary school and thereafter, when I finished my primary school, I requested from my parents, their consent to enter the seminary. That was in 1985 and they seriously adhered that if any of their children has the vocation of priesthood or the priestly life, the person has to first, pass through the secular institute so that they will be assured that the person has the vocation actually and that was what happened to me because after my secondary school, I equally went back to them, continued to make such a request but they persisted that I had to finish my secular education. Thereafter, they assisted me in getting myself employed in a commercial bank, FSB Bank now Fidelity Bank. So, it was then that having worked with the bank for nearly four years, I decided to apply to the seminary. When I applied to the seminary, they gave me admission. I had to start from my diploma in Latin which is the foundation for every seminary formation. So, I got myself admitted at a minor seminary, St. Paul’s Seminary, Ukpor, Catholic Diocese of Nnewi. After obtaining my Diploma in Latin, I went for one year apostolate work in the financial account office and thereafter, my bishop sent me to Pope John Paul, the major seminary, Awka. Before then, having finished my secondary school at boy’s secondary school, Agulu, I took JAMB and got admitted to read Accountancy at Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka which was my first Bachelors and I graduated in 1999 and got a banking job with FSB now fidelity bank where I worked for barely four years. After the creation of Nnewi Diocese in 2002, I got myself admitted and from there I studied Latin Diploma; then, one year Apostolate work and there, I served in the Diocesan accounts office for my Junior Apostolate Year. From there, I went to spiritual year; Pope Pius De Tenth Spiritual Year Seminary, Akukwu, Catholic Arch Diocese of Onitsha and from there, I proceeded to Pope John Paul the Second Major Seminary, Awka for my Philosophy. At the end of my philosophical studies, I graduated from Urban Pontifical, Rome and the equally Bachelors of Arts from Nnamdi Azikwe University Awka after which, my bishop found me worthy to proceed immediately for theology and he posted me to Blessed Iwene Tansi Seminary, Onitsha, where I studied my Bachelors in Theology and thereafter in December 14, 2013 I was ordained a deacon. On August 17, 2014, I was ordained a priest by His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Arinze in my hometown. After my ordination, the bishop still found me worthy and decided to give me apostolate at the Diocesan Bank known as Chukwuneye Microfinance Bank owned by Catholic Diocese of Nnewi from 2014 till date.
Fides: Was there a reason your parents decided that any of their children who would go into the priestly vocation must acquire secular education first?
Fr. Ume-ezeoke: Not quite. My parents are educated. My father when he was alive was quite an educated man, likewise my mum. So, they knew the value of education and as they say, ‘Priesthood is a journey that is slippery in nature’, in the sense that it is not certain that once one enters the seminary, one would be ordained and my parents found it worthy that even if you don’t make it in the seminary, you would not be a liability to them; you could find your way when God certainly did not call you so that you could still make up life with your degrees and achieve what God wants you to achieve in life.
Fides: Was your study of Accountancy your choice or that was something available since you were mandated to get secular education?
Fr. Ume-ezeoke: Actually, I am seeing this as a divine mystery because that wasn’t my intention. It’s a mystery in the sense that God had prepared what I have to do for Him because left for me as a man, having studied my post primary school education, I passed through science school called St. Charles Special Science School and there, we were established as science students and even my SSCE had to do with sciences all through; it had nothing to do with science or social science but pure science. Having passed through St. Charles Special Science School, Onitsha, I made my WAEC excellently well. When I took my first JAMB, I was not able to meet up with the standard of admission because I intended to be a medical doctor, and when I could not meet up, I had to switch to social science as a result of the elective course I took which was Economics. When I switched over, I applied for inter-course transfer and I was able to meet up with the standard of JAMB and WAEC and found myself studying Accountancy, not knowing that God will use it to evangelize his ministry. Having finished my Accountancy degree and seeing myself as a priest, God brought out what he had destined by making my bishop post me to work in the bank.
Fides: You intended going to the seminary after primary school. What was your inspiration at that tender age to become a priest?
Fr. Ume-ezeoke: Well,what inspired me then was my uncle, now, Late Reverend Father Paul Ume-ezeoke of blessed memory, together with my parish priest then, now, Msgr. Ilechukwu from the same diocese. When my parish priest was still in my hometown, he inspired me; when I see them playing lawn tennis. Every evening, Saturday, they would carry us; because I served mass in my home town. They would come and pick three of us to come and help them pick the balls where they were playing lawn tennis. So, I normally loved their way of life, their attitude, whatever surrounds that scenario; I really loved it. I was inspired to ask my parish priest how I could get admitted into the seminary and he then assisted me. Even, he took me for the interview. When I went for the interview, I passed the interview: both written and oral in 1985 and I got myself admitted then in All Hallows when we were still under Onitsha Diocese but my father refused. I really cried the day the parish priest came to take my bag to the seminary on the reopening day. He drove to my father’s house and my father prudently informed him that he could allow me enter seminary based on his policy that all his children must be educated in the secular institution so that when the person comes out, he would be fulfilled that the person will make the journey, but that was his thinking then. So after everything, I was really inspired; that inspiration came and to me, when I wish to do something, I see that thing as a covenant. So, I took it as a covenant that God, this is what I want and I want it to be my destiny. I want you to fulfill this in my life. So, having finished in the secondary school, wherever I saw myself in the post secondary school, in the university, it continued to worry me that I want to fulfill this. It is a covenant I have made with God. So when the opportunity came even after my university, my mum had started seeking a lady I would marry, but I still thank God that His desire really happened. The zeal has been there from my primary school till the time I saw myself in the secondary school and in the university and even as a banker in the commercial bank, the zeal continued to be there.
Fides: How does your banking experience in FSB affect your vocation as a priest generally?
Fr.Ume-ezeoke: In all sincerity, throughout the four years in the banking sector, the zeal was not there to work as a banker and get myself married because I wasn’t fulfilled as a banker in any ramification. I wasn’t fulfilled and to socialize with opposite sex was nothing that gave me joy even when I was there and was making moves to get myself admitted in the seminary. There was one of my co-workers then, one Yoruba girl, by the time I resigned from the bank, she was not happy. Even, at a time, this young girl popped up a question asking me, ‘Mr. Ferdinand, are you mad? At what age are thinking of going to seminary and you know it’s a formation that takes so many years, not less than twelve years? No matter how many degrees you have obtained, you must pass at least twelve years in the formation before you are being ordained.’ And when she asked the question, I did not answer the question but I continued to ask for God’s favour, that God would see me through and surprisingly when I entered that seminary, I disengaged myself and cut off every communication with any human being in that office. On the day of my ordination, I saw some of my colleagues because after my deaconate, ordination my twin sister uploaded the picture and everything on Facebook. So they came to know about my ordination through that, including this girl; she came and even some of my colleagues too. In earnest, what I’m trying to say is, when I was working with FSB, I wasn’t fulfilled because I found out that it was not a place I should be because actually, I wanted to enter seminary and if it was the will of God, then, let God call me as a priest and I thank God that His desire has been fulfilled.
Fides: What are the challenges of a lay banker and a priest banker?
Fr.Ume-ezeoke: As a lay banker actually, there are certain things your colleague will be doing in the bank and it cannot augur very well and at such points, you are facing a serious battle with them. For instance, I am working as a priest in the bank, there are certain things the lay faithful who are still colleagues in the same bank would do without seeing it as anything, but we are morally obliged to correct them when they are doing certain things that are not morally good. You see, too many lay faithful working in the bank, they can do anything dubious in nature, they can do any fraudulent act, they can do anything to make it in life but as a priest, you can’t do it and you are bound by moral conscience to correct them, to apostolate to them, to evangelize them because not only that I am working as a priest banker, but equally I am bound to evangelize them morally. You should not work as a banker alone because that is your environment, the vineyard you have to evangelize them, evangelize them so that they do not engage themselves in any fraudulent act to the detriment of the customers and the bank at large. So as a priest banker, you have more challenges.
First of all, you must checkmate certain things so that things will not go wrong and at the same time you have to checkmate the lay faithful bankers so they will have moral conscience; to bear this in mind: ‘I am working here because here is the vineyard where I am serving my God and I strongly believe that this is the place where most of my salvation will come out from because that is where I spend most of my time in the day, likewise other bankers.’ So as priest banker you are facing a huge number of challenges and you have to stand on your policies.
Fides: These challenges you have as a priest, do they in any way make you regret going into the vocation or feel like you want to withdraw?
Fr.Ume-ezeoke: No, no, no! Because I know, during any matrimonial celebration, one of the gospels tells us, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’, and I am seeing priesthood as a sacrament. Not only that I see it as a sacrament, but priesthood from my own perspective means that I am wedded in totality with the church and nobody forced me into priesthood. I desired it and I prayed for it. So, how can I withdraw from a wedding ceremony I have engaged myself through the church to God. I can say in summary, I am not regretting at all. But what I am praying is that God continues to give me the grace to stand in times of distress, in times of sorrow, in times of happiness, in every moment I see myself. Let the grace of God prevail over those ups and down. But in terms of regret, not at all. Because, I can’t see myself withdrawing from the priesthood. To me, I am wedded with the church because God has called me and I have answered and I made a vow on the day of priesthood ordination to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. So, to me, I am seeing my priesthood ordination as a wedding ceremony and nothing will make me to go back at all.
To be continued. . .