Gulf Pine Catholic

Volume 41, Issue 1 September 1, 2023 G ulf P ine C atholic Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Biloxi Father Ugochukwu, longtime hospital chaplain, dies at 73 BY TERRY DICKSON Father John Ugochukwu, who ministered for 15 years as chaplain at Memorial Hospital, died unex- pectedly Aug. 1 at age 73. A native of Nigeria, Father John, as he preferred to be known, heard the call to the priesthood at an early age. He was ordained in 1984 and ministered in several parishes in his homeland before being sent to the United States to further his education. He earned a master’s in religious education at Fordham University in New York and was working in a hospital there when he came across an online ad for the chaplain job at Memorial; he was offered the position and began working there in 2008. In an interview with the Gulf Pine Catholic shortly after his arrival to the Diocese of Biloxi in 2008, Father John talked about the influence of the Irish in establishing Catholicism in Nigeria. “The Irish missionaries brought the Gospel to Ibo land and other tribes of the eastern part of Nigeria, and they really planted the seed that has now grown tremendously, because in that part of Nigeria we have one of the largest major seminaries in the world,” Father John said. “In my diocese, for instance, each year for the past 15 years, we’ve had an average of 24 young priests ordained and the women religious congregations in Ibo land are also booming largely. So, the Irish mis- sionaries came and evangelized, and God blessed their ministry. They were prominent and successful in school administration and apostolate, and were very dedicated in pastoral ministry. I am just one product of their min- istry in Nigeria and much of my style of ministry I learned from the Irish missionaries.” Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III was principal celebrant and homilist for Father John’s funeral Mass, which took place Aug. 25 at Most Holy Trinity Church in Pass Christian where, until recently, Father John had regularly celebrated the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass, one of the many parishes where he served as a supply priest. “His ministry in his home diocese in Nigeria was blessed by the Lord. There are two schools there that are prospering that he was instrumental in forming and shap- ing,” said Bishop Kihneman. “Then the Lord called him to the United States and he began to see that the Lord was really calling him to a special ministry as a priest, and he lived out that special ministry in the Diocese of Biloxi as a hospital chaplain.” Through his ministry, Bishop Kihneman said, “Father John touched souls that are hurting, bodies that are hurt- ing, spirits that are hurting. “He was able to reach out to people in very difficult times and be there for them, to touch them, to love them ,and to give them the love of Jesus Christ and, if they were in our tradition of faith, to anoint them in the name of Jesus Christ to bring healing to them. That touch he gave to the hundreds and hundreds of people he minis- tered to at the hospital, as well as the hospital staff, was the touch of the love of Christ. That touch is for those who are in need -- the poor, the destitute and the lonely, those who truly need God’s love and God’s touch. “In the end, that invitation is an invitation to all of us, to really make Christ present in the world, to make his love present in the world. That was something Father John really tried to do.” Father Gerald Azike, a representative of Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, bishop of Ekwulobia, expressed his gratitude to Bishop Kihneman and the priests, religious and laity of the Diocese of Biloxi for their love and support of Father John. “When I go back to Nigeria, one thing I will tell the cardinal and everybody there is that Father John was very much loved here in the Diocese of Biloxi,” said Father Azike, who works in the Diocese of Memphis. “Ever since I came here yesterday, everybody I met said, ‘Father John is great. He is the best priest you can ever think of.’ How I wish people will also say that about me when I am lying in the casket like him.” Father Azike called Father John “a meticulous soul who took his spiritual life very seriously.” “He was quiet but a very friendly person when you encountered him,” said Father Azike. “He was good at counseling, advising, and guid- ing souls that went to him. He was also a compas- sionate man who identified with people, especially in their pains and sorrows. I experienced his com- passion about three years ago in a special way when I lost my eldest brother.” Something that many people might not have known about Father John, said Father Azike, was that he was also a musician who composed liturgical music. Also in attendance for Father John’s funeral were two of his nieces, Sister Elanna Ugochukwu and Dorothy Moneke. Sister Elanna, who is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Love, thanked God for her uncle’s “selfless life of service to God and humanity.” She also expressed her gratitude to Memorial Hospital staff for the “wonderful solidarity” he shared with them and, to the people of the Diocese of Biloxi for “their various influences and sacrifices to make sure that my uncle accomplished his God-given mission in this part of the world.” SEE FATHER JOHN, PAGE 20 Father John Ugochukwu