Ordination Class of 2022: Deacon Maxwell Chukwudiebere

This is the seventh in a series of articles profiling the seven men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 21.

BRIGHTON -- Deacon Maxwell Chukwudiebere found his vocation through his experience as an altar server at daily Mass.

"I started feeling drawn to the altar, like each time I see priests celebrate Mass, I feel happy, like I had a longing to be at the altar forever. So that's how everything started," he said.

He grew up in Nigeria, one of three boys and three girls born to his parents, who were both teachers and people of strong faith. His mother was part of a charismatic movement and sought to instill her faith in her children.

When he told his parents he wanted to become a priest, they refused to consider the possibility. He was their eldest son, and there was a cultural expectation that he would take care of his parents in their old age.

Instead of letting him attend a high school for boys on track to become priests, they sent him to a co-ed school in the hope that he would start dating. However, after he graduated, Deacon Chukwudiebere insisted that he still wanted to pursue the priesthood.

His pastor spoke to his parents, and they finally agreed to support his decision.

Deacon Chukwudiebere spent four years in seminary and earned a degree in philosophy. But his mother's death left him shaken, and he gave up his pursuit of the priesthood for a time.

He decided to travel and came to the U.S. to study psychology at Rhode Island College. But whenever he went to church, he felt his old zeal coming back. He kept making excuses to himself, but after talking with a priest and a young-adult group, he decided to return to seminary.

While researching religious communities, he discovered the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. He thought they might be a good fit for him since he loves "anything that has the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Deacon Chukwudiebere entered the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Boston in 2017. He took classes at St. John's Seminary, and he found himself feeling more at home at the seminary than in the religious community.

"That was when I realized God is actually calling me to be a diocesan (priest). Because as a kid, that was my desire, to be a parish priest, to walk among the people," Deacon Chukwudiebere said.

His superiors had also noticed that he was happier at St. John's. He spoke with Father Dan Hennessey, who was the archdiocese's vocations director at the time, and was accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston.

He was serving a pastoral assignment at St. Agnes in Middleton and St. Rose of Lima in Topsfield, where Father Hennessey is now the pastor, when the coronavirus pandemic began. Deacon Chukwudiebere said he missed his fellow seminarians, who were scattered across the parishes, and felt bad for the teachers, who had to conduct their classes virtually. Now that they have returned to the seminary, he said, he cannot imagine going back to virtual instruction.

The pandemic prevented his family from attending his ordination to the transitional diaconate. That very week, his father was diagnosed with cancer. His fellow seminarians were "a great support" to him during that time. His father underwent radiation treatment and is now in recovery.

Deacon Chukwudiebere was later assigned to the collaborative of St. Agnes and St. Rose of Lima again as a deacon. His experience there was different than before, as restrictions were lifted and families returned to Mass in person. He said he has enjoyed getting to meet and talk with parishioners after Mass.

"They love their seminarians, they love their deacons. And you can see in them that this is a sincere love. They love seeing their seminarians and priests around," Deacon Chukwudiebere said.

He said his diaconate has been a blessing, especially working with Father Hennessey.

"He has taught me a lot about how to be a priest, how to serve people well, how to put the needs of (the) people first," Deacon Chukwudiebere said.

After being away from his family in Nigeria for the past seven years, he hopes to visit after his ordination.

One thing he wants to do as a diocesan priest is to promote the role of altar servers since he discovered his own vocation through that service.

"It's from serving Mass (that) I got my own vocation, coming close to the altar, staying there, that I was able to realize God is calling me," Deacon Chukwudiebere said.

He said he prays for people to have the courage to say "yes" to their vocation, whether it is marriage, priesthood, or religious life. If someone is unsure whether they are called, he would advise them to determine if the thing holding them back is what he calls an "internal crisis," such as doubt, or an "external crisis," such as circumstances that pose obstacles.

"The best thing is, don't be scared," he said.