Lukasz Kopala, Thomas M. Mahoney and Daniel Ehijiator Ogbeifun all will move one step closer to the priesthood on Saturday, Sept. 27, when Bishop Richard J. Malone ordains them transitional deacons for the Diocese of Buffalo. The ordination will take place at St. Joseph Cathedral, 50 Franklin St., Buffalo, at 10 a.m. The three men, students at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, will graduate in May 2015 and will later be ordained to the priesthood.
Although the men's desire to become priests is a common thread amongst them, their backgrounds are dissimilar. They come from different countries and their ages range from 34 to 49.
Kopala, the second of three sons born to Alfred and Zofia, was raised in a very religious and family-centered home in a small village in the south of Poland. He thought about the priesthood when he was an altar boy but it wasn't until much later in life when he realized God had special plans for him.
"I seriously started thinking about the priesthood when I attended college," the 34-year-old said. "I was very anxious during this time and constantly asked God what he wanted from me and to lead me in the direction he wanted me to go." Kopala explained that once he put his faith and trust in God, and followed the plan God had for him, his situation changed. "Joy and peace entered my heart and my doubts had disappeared. I had a turning point. Since then," he said, "I no longer thought of anything else but pursuing my call to priesthood and staying faithful.
Kopala's path to the priesthood took him to the United States where he studied at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. He began the process of learning English there and, when he came to Buffalo a few years ago, he spent his first year studying the English language at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Kopala credits his "home" parish, Nativity of Our Lord, Orchard Park, and the pastor, Father Bernard U. Nowak, as well as Father Leon Biernat, whom he worked with at Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster, as strong influences and support for him on his journey to the priesthood.
Kopala's was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Niagara Falls, for his pastoral year and previously was assigned to Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster; St. Michael, Warsaw; St. Mary's Hospital, Lewiston; and the Response to Love Center, Buffalo.
Mahoney, 49, a Depew native, graduated from Niagara University in 1988 with a degree in accounting. He had a house and a career, serving as a certified public accountant and controller for almost 20 years.
"I sold my house and gave up my career to study for the priesthood," he said, "but when I look back, I realize that God has given me so much more in return. It's a paradox and I wouldn't believe it if it didn't happen to me. But it's true, the more you give, the more you will receive in return. I have received from God so much more than I gave up in this world," he explained.
During his studies, Mahoney was assigned to several parishes, each with two worship sites -- St. John Neumann Parish, with worship sites in Strykersville and Sheldon; St. Mary of Lourdes, with worship sites in Bemus Point and Mayville; and St. Vincent de Paul with worship sites in Niagara Falls and the Town of Niagara. He is currently assigned to Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca.
Mahoney, who has two brothers and a sister, was part of a group of seminarians who visited Israel and Turkey this past summer. "I was selected by the diocese to go on a pilgrimage with other seminarians from the U.S. to go to the Holy Land. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem and then following St. Paul to Ephesus has made the sacred Scriptures come alive in my prayer life. It was the most amazing trip I ever took," he declared.
Ogbeifun hails from Nigeria and a family of seven children. His journey to the priesthood began when he was an altar boy and took him to Belgium and then to the United States.
"Being an altar server and my engagement in the church's activities drew me more closely to the beautiful hope and desire I have in serving God," he said. The 42-year-old also credits his parents and friends. "My parents taught me the way to God and they are the source of my encouragement and happiness."
Ogbeifun first attended seminary in Africa studying at St. Joseph Major Seminary and then at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, both in Nigeria. Similar to Mahoney, Ogbeifun had a career before he entered Christ the King Seminary. He taught high school religious studies for one year before working for two years in the logistics and documentation department at Lagos International Airport, Nigeria. He then spent the next two years working in a marketing firm before he was awarded a scholarship to study at Lumen Vitae Institute in Brussels, Belgium, where he earned a diploma in pastoral theology and catechesis.
From Belgium, he headed to the United States. During his time at Christ the King Seminary, Ogbeifun was assigned to St. Mary Parish, Lancaster; Mary Immaculate, East Bethany; and, currently, St. Benedict Parish, Eggertsville. In addition to his studies, his parish assignments are preparing him for the priesthood, something he looks forward to with much anticipation.
"Priesthood is the vocation that I have cherished so much as a child to this moment in my life;" he said, "a life of service, sacrifice, reaching out to the poor and the needy, helping others to find meaning in their life situation. As a youngster, my inner life and personal vocation journey involved a joyful desire to serve God. How beautiful this process was for me in my calling, my spiritual life and my journey of faith."