St. Anthony priest finds spiritual home

Odiong: ‘God has a good love for this land’

Coming to Luling’s St. Anthony of Padua was a comfortable fit for Father Anthony Odiong, who found the deeply Catholic faith of a people like his own in Calabar, Nigeria.“Already, there is a marvelous degree of faith,” Odiong said. “That foundation has been laid. People understand what the priest is saying. Some families have been in the church forever.”

Deeply rooted Catholicism was evident to him with so many homes with rosaries and religious statues, and it all reminded him of home. He said the food is just a plus.

“I hear once upon a time everyone here was Catholic … before the Baptists came from Mississippi,” he mused. “Before then, everyone was Catholic so it’s easier to work here when that foundation has already been laid. So, people understand what the priest is saying.”

But Odiong also acknowledges it also poses a challenge.

“As a priest, you have to be careful,” he said. “You have to be on top of your game.”

It was at the age of 25 that Odiong was ordained in 1993. On the way there, he took a detour from his original plan to work as an engineer for Exxon Mobil when he said God asked him if he would serve him. He served in Nigeria for over a decade before moving to Austin, Texas, in 2006 on Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s invitation. He was assigned associate pastor at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in the city of West, Texas, where he was made an honorary Czech.

Two years later, he was appointed director of campus ministry at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He also holds a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

By summer of 2012, he went to Rome to study for a doctorate degree in dogmatic theology. He’s working on his dissertation, “Spiritual Fatherhood of the Clergy,” where he seeks to recover the paternal quality of the priesthood or priest as a spiritual father rather than a paid worker.

“Fatherhood is a more intimate term,” he said. “I’m proposing that some of the problems we have by the way of the priesthood is a priest must a father’s with a mother’s heart.”

Odiong practices this belief, as well.

“For me, Christ is not a story. Christ is not history,” he said. “Christ is alive and I think the people sense that. I’m simply reminding them of what they know.”

The people are clearly drawn to his faith.

“When the people are dancing, I’m right there,” Odiong said. “People are happy or sad, I’m there. I’m not afraid to be human. It’s the only way to bring the people to Christ … to bring them from the known to the unknown.”

When Odiong came to St. Anthony’s a year ago, he recalled really just knowing about New Orleans with “all the good stuff that goes on there” with the culture and the French Quarter. But, in Luling, he soon came to feel a far reaching connection and the parishioners felt it, too.

The church’s congregation has quickly grown from 388 people at weekend masses to more than 500.

“I think God has a good love for this land,” he said. “There is something about this place. I think spirituality lies around these parts. We have an undercurrent of faith and hope and love.”


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