Fr Raphael’s Story

‘The priest was a very much-loved man in the community … This was the moment I began to aspire to the priesthood’.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Rev Raphael Imoni VF

‘The priest was a very much-loved man in the community … This was the moment I began to aspire to the priesthood’.

It was Lao Tzu, 6th century B.C., who said that ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. This saying resonates with me.

That step was taken when I was seven years old, that was the moment I began my inquiry to what later turned out to be the priesthood.

My parents have had a huge impact on this journey. They were the first to introduce me to the Catholic faith. As a little boy, together with my siblings, we attended mass quite regularly. It was taboo not to accompany your parents to church. However, as time passed by, my siblings and I soon developed the habit of attending daily mass on our own without being accompanied by either of our parents.

Nevertheless, Sunday was a special day and families would sit together to sing and recite the Latin mass. The priest sang the parts of mass so melodiously and I often felt a cold quiver run through my spine.

Back home, I would take my mum’s ‘wrapper’, make a hole in the middle, and throw it over my neck. This was the chasuble. Next, I would set up an altar and begin to mutter the words that I had heard earlier in the church, often without a clear understanding of meaning but with much satisfaction. During this pseudo mass, my parents and sibling would sneak in and watch me ‘say mass’.

This practice continued for a while until my first encounter with Fr William Cusack, an Irish priest of the Society of African Missions (SMA). It was one Sunday afternoon when a group of boys including myself went earlier than usual to prepare for catechism lessons. The priest emerged from the presbytery and asked if we wanted to play football with him and we obliged him.

This soon became a routine. From about eight boys, we soon increased in number. After each football session, Fr Cusack, as he was fondly known, would offer us soft drinks and snacks. Upon his return to Nigeria from holiday to Ireland, he bought us kits and rosaries. The demographic changed when we became his Altar boys serving masses for him in the parish and 32 outstations.

During his time as parish priest, the parish life and activities began to influence many young people. This church became a hub of activities and increased in numbers.

The priest was a very much-loved man in the community. His dedication to parish life endeared most young lads and they wanted to be like him. This was the moment I began to aspire to the priesthood and the inspiration was unequivocal. Although Fr Cusack had left the parish and returned to Ireland, he had a tremendous impact on my life.

Sadly, Fr Cusack died at the SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork on Saturday, 4 May 2019 without him knowing the huge part he played in my life. May his soul rest in peace.

The rest of the story is now history. I hope to be able to replicate the qualities I have imbibed to younger generations.

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