For some priests, the desire to take up the cloth comes late in life. For Father Paschal Ezurike, the call came early.

“As a child growing up, I always nurtured the desire of becoming a priest,” wrote Father Ezurike in a letter to his parishioners at St. Philip Benizi in Oregon City. “I happily enrolled as an altar boy immediately after my first Holy Communion.”

When his primary education was complete, he sat for an entrance exam to minor seminary.

“God took care of everything,” Father Ezurike told the Catholic Sentinel.

Born in 1967 in Orlu, a city in the east of Nigeria, Father Ezurike was the oldest of eight children. At 13, he entered a minor seminary before moving on to St. Joseph Major Seminary in Ikot Ekpene where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He completed his studies at Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu.

Father Ezurike was ordained in August of 1995 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Orlu. The priest was ordained to serve in the Diocese of Orlu and worked as parochial vicar and pastor in many parishes in the diocese.

My greatest pride and treasure as a priest are anchored and tied to the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” wrote Father Ezurike in his letter. The priest said he has been fortunate to be able to celebrate Mass across the world.

In the fall of 2007, Father Ezurike took up his bishop’s call to minister in the United States. Since then, he has served at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, St. Joseph in Salem, St. Anthony in Tigard, St. Anne in Grants Pass and now as administer at St. Philip Benizi.

As priests promise obedience to their bishops, there was never a question for Father Ezurike about coming to the U.S.

“We should be open to go anywhere,” he said. And in his foreign ministry, he’s found spiritual fruit in learning about the world outside of his home. Learning is something the priest cherishes and hopes to continue to do.

Personally, the priesthood has been an interesting journey and a school of learning,” Father Ezurike wrote in his letter to the parish.

“My priesthood is my treasure and my pride,” he said. The priest’s joys come in being with the people, serving the people and loving the people.

In his letter, Father Ezurike reflected on the Bible passage John 20:12-19, when Jesus asks the apostles if they love him and then requests that they feed his sheep.

“Jesus in the gospel passage speaks of sheep and lambs, but he was really referring to people,” he wrote, adding that Jesus was instructing the first priests.

Christ “is constantly asking, ‘Do you love me, my priest?’ … ‘If you love me take care of the people entrusted in your care. Be available, be present, attend to them, feed them, above all love them,” wrote Father Ezurike. “This great mandate from Christ has been a motivating factor since 25 years that I was ordained a priest, because the place of the priest is in the Church. This is the least a priest can do for his people.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org