A Drummer’s Path to Service at St. Vincent’s

A Drummer’s Path to Service at St. Vincent’s

Joseph Ita-Sam , CM had no idea as a teenager that drumming would lead to a life of service. I am sure neither did his parents when he banged on whatever was available. Fast forward… This talented newly ordained priest has just arrived in the United States to serve as a pastoral assistant to Fr. Sy Peterka, CM in St. Vincent’s Parish, Philadelphia. (He is expected to be followed by Fr. Bendel Nnabuife, C.M. in the near future.)

Drumming at a confrere’s Mass of Thanksgiving

This is the story of a young Nigerian who grew up in Lagos, a city of 15 million (fourth largest city in the world, twice the size of New York City). He is no stranger to large cities. As a teenager, he sang and drummed in a Gospel band in his local parish St. Benjamin Catholic Church. His life changed when at 20 he and his companions went to serve in music ministry at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Retreat Center. There he met Vincentians and Daughters of Charity for the first time.

He speaks simply about being part of the monthly all-night adoration at the shrine. He often asked Mary to help him discern if he was called to spend his life serving the poor. (Thank you Mary!) He felt very much at home today with his first experience of the Monday Miraculous Medal Novena.

Already a skilled drummer, he was judged by his peers as one of the best Instrumentalists at the Vincentian Retreat Centre Ojodu, Archdiocese of Lagos. There he experienced the Vincentian Fathers working with the poor. As he describes it, in expressing his God-given talent he fell In love with caring for the poor. The rest is, as they say, history. He was drawn by Vincentian simplicity, joy, and service of the poor.

Over the next 10 years, he absorbed Vincentian spirituality in a variety of formation programs. (Ironically, Fr. Sy had served as our Superior General’s Special Advisor developing many of these programs.) During these years he also earned a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy from Urban University Rome and Bachelors in Art from the University of Uyo. He has completed requirements for a Bachelor of Divinity in Sacred Theology.

A few months before his ordination in July 2018 he was “shocked and shivering” when his Provincial asked if he was willing to serve in the United States. Shocked, because he had expected to go to Sierra Leone. On behalf of the Eastern Province, Fr. Sy returned to Nigeria exploring the possibility of pastoral assistance. His request of the Provincial was direct and simple. He hoped for someone who was adaptable, zealous and had a deep love for people. Two weeks later the Provincial said he was willing to send Fr. Joseph.

Fr. Joseph’s hope is to continue to learn from the people he serves and fit in a new culture. With his loving eyes, infectious laughter and a cheerful smile he will no doubt be a welcome addition to St. Vincent’s parish.

A bit of background about this missionary province that has already sent men to 12 countries serving the poor. Among these countries… Chad, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Mozambique, Russia, Soleman Islands, Ukraine, and India. All countries with large impoverished populations.

There are many similarities of this Province today with the storied mission past of Ireland. Blessed with abundant vocations, Ireland sent out missionaries to many countries. As the Eastern Province has declined in recent decades the Nigerian Province has blossomed. They are now larger than the Eastern Province but with an average age that is half that of the Eastern Province.

The abundance of vocations shows up in the fact how difficult it is to get into the seminary. They do not have sufficient housing and other facilities to accommodate all candidates. So they must turn away the vast majority of those who apply. They are committed to making the best use of their limited facilities.

As mentioned, in 2002 Fr. Sy Peterka of the Eastern Province was named by then Superior General, Greg Gay, to serve as an advisor for formation for Africa. Fr. Sy’s thrust was to form the formators and do himself out of a job. In this capacity, he set up month-long programs and established a two-year program leading to certification. He trained local confreres to take over this program under the sponsorship of COVIAM, the organization of all the Provincials of Africa.

Little did he know that ten years later he would be reaping the fruits of this program.

See slideshow below.

The Province of Nigeria has 11 houses in Nigeria and houses in England and the United States

For more on the ministries of the Vincentian Family in Lagos see Fr. Flavio visited the Vincentian Family in Nigeria/

Lagos archdiocese

Other facts about Catholics in Nigeria

  • The Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches comprise the world’s largest Christian Church and its largest religious grouping. In 2005, there were an estimated 19 million baptized Catholics in Nigeria [2] and 22.6 million in 2010.[3]
  • The boom in vocations to the priesthood in Nigeria is mainly in the eastern part (especially among the Igbo ethnic group) which accounts for over 70 percent of the country’s Catholic population.
  • The second papal visit to the country in 1998 witnessed the beatification of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene TansiPope John Paul II proclaimed him blessed at Oba, Onitsha Archdiocese, a local Church established by the apostle of eastern Nigerian, Bishop Joseph Shanahan, CSSp.


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