Seminary President Paves Way for African Students

There’s an Ugandan proverb: “The path to your heart’s desire is never overgrown.”

Over the summer, seminary President Archpriest Chad Hatfield has been proving that maxim. Through recruitment efforts in both Nigeria and Uganda, he’s been clearing the path for more African students to attend St. Vladimir’s Seminary—fulfilling a desire recently arisen in his heart.

“African seminaries,” he noted, “which had been thriving under the Patriarch of Alexandria,” have lately been suffering and unable to continue to operate optimally due to the economic crisis in Greece.

“I want St. Vladimir’s to become an oasis for our African brothers during this time of hardship for them,” he explained, “and we look forward to building a stronger relationship with the Patriarchate in Alexandria as a result.

 “Moreover,” he continued, “we will be training these African students at our seminary, to afford them a certain stature due to a certain high standard of education, so that they can become faculty and clergy in their own countries, and can then help rebuild their struggling seminaries.”

As the result of his efforts, two students from Nigeria are enrolled for fall semester 2017: Fr. Chrysostom Onyekakeyah and Loveday Okafor. As well, one returning student from Gulu, Uganda, Simon Menya, will start his third year this fall as a seminarian in the Master of Divinity program.

Additionally, Fr. Chad further smoothed the way for future African students by meeting with key clergyman from Uganda during an extensive journey within that country July 25–August 5. He traveled with Seminarian Menya—who had returned home for the celebration of his marriage—and was also joined by Seminarian Cornelius Schuster, who served as Best Man at Seminarian Menya’s wedding. Father Chad’s most important meeting during his trip was with Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga, who resides in Kampala.

“We spoke about theological education in Africa,” Fr. Chad related, “and I got his input on how St. Vladimir’s can better serve the needs of the faithful in his own Metropolitanate. We also spoke about a wide range of topics: everything from the education of local children through church-sponsored schools, to the Council of Crete. Of course, I had known about his episcopate for many years, because of my 16 years on the OCMC Board.”

During his Ugandan sojourn, Fr. Chad also visited major church communities and faith-based schools, teaching and preaching, observing and listening, and using his former experience as a missionary in South Africa to bond with native Ugandans. Moreover, he celebrated Seminarian Menya’s wedding—the first ever Orthodox Church marriage service in the Village of Gulu—and visited historic sites, such as Sir Samuel Baker Fort Patiko, dedicated to the abolishment of the African slave trade, and Murchison Falls National Park, home to the five biggest mammals in Uganda. (All of the St. Vladimir’s contingent accomplished the rigorous hike to the top of the falls!)

Father George Lakony—priest of three communities in Uganda: St. Basil Orthodox Church in the Gulu District; St. Nektarios Orthodox Church in Akonyi Bedo, Gulu; and St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Christian Community in Atwomo Village, Nwoya District—expressed his appreciation for Fr. Chad’s visit, by sending an email to the Seminary, which, in part, read (unedited):

Fr. Chad one can termed him as a walking Icons which instead of venerating, you simply greet, hug and talk to. Few days he was with us, we have already gathered lots of word to says about him following his holiness, humility, diplomacy, love and care. 

One cannot meet Fr Chad and then remain without positive change in his or her heart. This is because he is so practical and speak practical words of our Lord Jesus Christ that we all witness in him when he taught about marriage in the Orthodox Church, the Dormition fast in our churches and taught the students of Archangel Michael Orthodox high school the meaning of what Christ means and how to be his followers plus the Names of all the Angeles we know and their intercession. (Read Fr. George’s entire email here).

“I’m the one who met ‘walking icons,’” said Fr. Chad when he read the touching email, “and they are the Orthodox people in Uganda. It was my privilege and honor to be with them, and to plant seeds that I hope will mature into vocations for the priesthood, and that will ‘sprout’ future seminarians, both here in Yonkers and in Africa.

“We’ve started a ‘St. Cyprian of Carthage Fund’ to sponsor the seminary education of our African brothers—and sisters too, if possible—and already we have been blessed with a $10,000 donation to that scholarship fund,” he concluded.

Approximately 30,000 Ugandans claim Orthodox baptism, and ranks of clergy currently include 48 priests and 7 deacons: read more about the fascinating history of indigenous Orthodoxy in Uganda here.

If you wish to sponsor African scholarship through the St. Cyprian of Carthage Fund, please do so here.
View a photo gallery of Fr. Chad’s Uganda journey here.