The road to priesthood can be long and winding, as it was for Peter N. Bassey, who began his journey in his native Africa. But, a few encounters in ministry have shown him that the Diocese of Buffalo is where he is supposed to be. The 30-year-old will be ordained to the priesthood on June 2.
Born in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, Deacon Bassey wanted to be a priest since the first instant he understood the role they play.
He recalled the exact moment at age 9 in his home parish. "I asked my dad, 'Who is that man up there?' By that it was the priest. He said to me, 'That's the priest. He's the shepherd of the church here.' I told him, 'What does it mean to be the shepherd?' He said, 'Well, a shepherd is someone who takes care of his sheep. In this context, the priest up there takes care of all the people who are part of this community.' That really intrigued me. That is so cool to take care of so many people. I want to do that."
His father didn't take the words of a child too seriously, but saw passion and zeal in his son. He spoke with their pastor, then they sent the child to a minor seminary, typically a place where teens discern their vocations, for his high school education. He is the only one in his class of 45 to follow through and become a priest.
Deacon Bassey continued on to a major seminary in Nigeria, studying four years of philosophy and spending one year deepening his diocesan spirituality. Following graduation, he wanted to take some time off, but his father wouldn't let him sit back, so the 20-year-old came to the U.S. to continue his studies. He had an aunt in Rhode Island, so he went to Providence College, where he earned a master's in Theological Studies.
He can still recall arriving January 2013 and seeing snow for the first time.
"It was eye opening for me. Is this what I have to deal with for the rest of my life?" he asked with a laugh.
After two semesters in Providence, Daniel Ogbeifun, a friend of a friend, invited him to Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. His aunt said he would not be able to stand the cold, but after much time in adoration, spiritually rejuvenating himself, he decided to come.
"I think the answer came after summer, I just want to give God a chance to see if He really wants me to be a priest, but I never doubt that I am called. We are all called. It's how you respond to the call that matters," Deacon Bassey said.
During the standard five years in formation, seminarians will serve at different parish assignments over each summer, along with one full year of ministry and six months of diaconal work that may involve baptizing, presiding at funeral services or witnessing weddings.
Deacon Bassey has only served at two parishes. In 2014, he was assigned to the Church of the Annunciation in Elma, where he helped Father Eugene Ulrich with mission, the annual picnic, and trained altar servers. On a personal level, he tried to connect with parishioners and make a difference to them. In 2015, he was assigned to St. Benedict Parish in Eggertsville, where he served with Father Robert Mock, learning the ropes of running a parish.
"It was a different dynamic," he said. "The pastor there exposed me to how a parish is managed. He showed me this is what you do in situations like this."
Deacon Bassey learned the practical things he would be doing in ministry such as marriage preparation, funerals and youth ministry. He attended finance and parish council meetings. He visited the school and preached during school Masses to learn how to explain Jesus' work to young children.
"Most of my ministry in front of the people really happened at St. Benedict's. Not to say at Annunciation I do not have such opportunity, but it really happened more at St. Benedict's," he said.
He came back to Annunciation as a transitional deacon, where he preaches at Mass once a month, takes Communion to the homebound, and still helps out with altar server training.
One element of his formation that truly stands out is his 12-week Clinical Pastoral Education at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
"That was a graced moment for me. That was ministry," he said. "I saw a lot of human suffering when it has to do with sickness. I saw people at their brokenness, when a loved one passed away, to console them."
At the end of the day, he'd ask himself, "What did I do for others?"
He recalled being called into the operating room by a patient scared of surgery. The clinic had other chaplains, but this man wanted to talk to Peter. So he scrubbed up and went where called.
"He did not want to go through with the surgery," Deacon Bassey remembered. After talking with him and praying with him, he told the man, "'God is going to be with you. We are all here for you. I will be outside praying for you. This is going to be OK. It is God's hands working through the doctor's.' That's when he wanted to go through the surgery. And he made it. It was successful."
The two became friends during post-op care.
"That exposed me to the real deal of ministry," Deacon Bassey said. "At the end of the day I was exhausted, but I was happy that I touched other people's lives. A minister should be exhausted at the end of the day. We are called to serve. We are called to be present to people. We are not called to ourselves. We are called to something higher."