Finding Profound Peace by Saying “Yes” to God: Father Anthony Odiong

By Peggy Moraczewski

This is a wonderful article about St. Peter’s beloved director, Fr. Anthony Odiong, by Peggy Moraczewski.  The article will appear in the Diocese of Austin’s “Catholic Spirit” newspaper soon, but was posted by Petrus Development, a consulting firm who has been assisting St. Peter’s in their development efforts over the past two years, bringing more resources to our campus ministry so that we can reach and assist more Catholic students as they journey through their college years.  Thank you for sharing, Peggy and Petrus!  Check out Petrus at www.petrusdevelopment.com

Waco, Texas is a long way from Father Anthony Odiong’s seaside home in Calabar, Nigeria. And, serving as a Catholic Priest is quite a stretch from a childhood dream of becoming an engineer, but that is precisely where Fr. Anthony’s “Yes” to God led him.

Growing up in the large Catholic family of Chief Emmanuel Odiong and Sarah Okon Esuk, the children learned a lot about God and the world from their mother, a convert to Catholicism.   Although the children attended Catholic schools, Fr. Anthony said, his mother’s answers “shaped my faith.”

As children, Fr. Anthony and his sisters played “house,” which included going to Mass. In his role as the priest, he recalls enjoying “giving my sisters paper communion at our mock Mass.” At the time, he never imagined that someday this make-believe role would become a reality, a privilege, and his most cherished responsibility.

Fr. Anthony began setting goals for himself during high school, goals which included a future working as an engineer for Exxon Mobil. A strong student who excelled in math and science, he did not foresee anything that could prevent his dreams from becoming a reality. However, this high school junior did not realize God had other plans for him.

One day while praying the rosary in the school chapel, Father Anthony said, “I wrestled with God…I sensed very intensely that God wanted me to serve him, but that was not what I wanted. The strange thing is that saying ‘yes’ to God gave me such profound peace.” He carries that peace with him every day and shares it with everyone he meets, especially the students at the St. Peter’s Catholic Center at Baylor University.

Recent Baylor Catholic alumnus Reyna Anderson, said, “Fr. Anthony Odiong has been not only a father in a liturgical sense, but he has taken the role of my father away from home. He has guided me and taken care of me as if I was his own child and, as a senior about to graduate, that is what I will remember the most about St. Peter’s Catholic Center. When I look at Fr. Anthony I see Christ and that is what motivates me to journey further in my faith. I want to be like him. I look up to him.” Comments such as Reyna’s provide affirmation of Father Anthony’s decision to follow through with God’s plan.

Father Anthony was ordained in 1993, at the age of 25. He served in his home country for over a decade before moving to the Austin Diocese in 2006, at the invitation of Archbishop Gregory Aymond. As it turns out, serving as spiritual director for college youth attending a Baptist university in Central Texas presents a different, but equally exciting, challenge from serving tribes in a dangerous Nigerian village. However, with a life steeped in spirituality and armed with a curious mind, love of travel and a sparkling personality, Fr. Anthony finds God provides the gifts for all of life’s challenges.

For a young priest somewhat leery of his future in a new country, arriving in Texas had its perks. He was introduced to Texas barbeque ribs and country western music which have become two of his favorite things. Before finding himself at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University in Waco, his early assignments in Texas allowed him to serve parish communities briefly in College Station and, for a more extended period, in West, Texas.

It did not take long for Fr. Anthony to become a community favorite. According to Debbie Shannon, the Catholic Center coordinator, “now everyone tries to stake a claim to the fact that Fr. Anthony is ‘their’ priest. He is popular in the Waco and West communities that he has served, and is often seen sporting his famous hat with a feather sticking out of the band, burning up a dance floor. Whether he is doing the polka at the Knights of Columbus hall in West or learning a line dance with students at an impromptu ‘dance party’ after a center event, Father embraces the cultures of his communities with great affection and a desire to know his flock better.”

As for Fr. Anthony, he has found “campus ministry both engaging and challenging. It is wonderful to work with young persons who are hungry for truth and goodness and beauty.”  Students have found a nurturing spiritual home at St. Peter’s Catholic Center and developed a great respect and love for Fr. Anthony.

His sincere message of love of the Lord resonates with the congregation as substantiated in comments by Baylor University students. Angela Scully, a graduate student at Baylor University states, “through his preaching, Fr. Anthony does a wonderful job of both reminding us how much Our Lord loves us and challenging us to better reciprocate that love through a life of prayer and abandonment to Him.”

According to student Elyse Cunningham, Fr. Anthony “is always available for advice and guidance no matter how trivial or serious the issue, not to mention that his famous homilies make even the worst sinner want to convert!”

Student after student responded with enthusiasm to honor Father Anthony and show their appreciation and respect for how he has impacted their lives. One student, Alex Scheibner, a convert to Catholicism during his junior year, said, “Father Anthony means so much more to me than I can express in just a few sentences. He was a guiding light for me through the entire process.  His dedication and guidance allowed me to reach the deeper levels of the mysteries of God and more fully appreciate the beauty and wonder of the Mass.”

It is no wonder Father Anthony is such an inspiration to students. A person known for his deep spirituality, Fr. Anthony strives to guide students on their journey of faith and is quick to admit, “My favorite responsibility as a priest is celebrating the Eucharist. It defines my day and week. It was so special for me to say Mass this spring at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, right over the grave of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It felt as though the Lord was right there with me. It was a feeling I cannot put into words.”

Echoing fellow students, Celina Basaldu said, “Fr. Anthony has not just been my spiritual director and priest, but a rock of support and a friend. He has taught me, and the St. Peter’s community, to hold steadfastly to our faith and to love in a way that glorifies God’s Kingdom.” St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor has thrived under Fr. Anthony’s guidance and become a precious asset for students seeking direction in their spiritual lives; the bonus was they also found a friend who guided them to Christ.

Father Anthony’s charismatic personality, one of his gifts from God, is hard to ignore. “Even the historically Baptist community of Baylor University has embraced him as someone worth knowing and involving and he is often asked to be a guest lecturer or facilitate a special spiritual event, such as an Ash Wednesday service, for the university’s Spiritual Life department,” said Debbie Shannon.

So many blessings evolve through Catholic campus ministry, but, there is a reality that must be faced, that of program expenses and operating funds for any Catholic Center. This is a challenge Father Anthony cannot escape. He says, “Sustaining our programs in responding to the needs of our students, especially those who need help the most,” is his greatest challenge and one he has faced head-on.

As the school year winds down and campus life at Baylor University shifts to a summer pace, Fr. Anthony finds himself busy with preparations for an upcoming trip to Italy where he will act as the Spiritual Director on a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines of Italy. The tour group will visit Assisi, Loretto, San Filomena, Rome and other sites. July will bring a reunion with his family and friends in Nigeria. Previous travels for Fr. Anthony have included trips to England, Israel, Italy, Egypt and some of the West African countries.

Traveling to new countries is a favorite pastime for Fr. Anthony, but no matter where you find him, he naturally opens his heart to everyone he encounters. Debbie Shannon can attest to that, saying he is “a warm and charismatic man with a smile that flashes through to your heart and thrills you almost as much as his infectious laugh.” With a transition in their future, Father Anthony’s vibrant personality will certainly be missed. Continuing to serve under the direction of the Bishop of Nigeria, Fr. Anthony has received instructions for his next assignment.

After his summer travels to Italy and Nigeria, Fr. Anthony will temporarily return to his second home in Central Texas to assist with the transition of a new spiritual director for the Catholic Center. This transition will likely be a melancholy one for Father Anthony, as he looks forward to serving God in a new capacity, but says good-bye to a multitude of Texas friends.

This fall, Father Anthony will relocate to pursue a doctoral degree in Theology. We send our best wishes with him as he expands his personal faith journey, and have no doubt this holy man will always say “Yes” to God.

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