Deacon Ebuka Mbanude was prepared for the rhythm of seminary life at a young age, when his family would wake up at 5 a.m. to get together for morning prayer, and would gather again in the evening to pray.

“That was my first school of prayer,” he said. “…It taught me the importance of prayer, the need for prayer, and the effectiveness of prayer.”

At his home in Nigeria, his parents would wake up first and ring a bell, summoning their seven children and any guests staying at the house to gather together to read Scripture and pray. Deacon Mbanude recalled how no one said “good morning” to each other until after prayer was over, because they were supposed to “say good morning to Jesus first, and then to parents later.”

When he is ordained on June 15 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, his parents Edwin and Regina Mbanude, his first teachers of faith, will be there to share in the joy of the celebration.

“Because my vocation has been well influenced by my parents, it is a blessing for me to have them there…I also think it is a great source of joy for them,” said Deacon Mbanude. “…Seeing their prayers they made for me over the years and their unrelenting support…it is proper for them to be here to witness not the end, but the beginning of my journey.”

He still wakes up around 5 a.m. each morning to pray before going to 7 a.m. Mass in the seminary, and he hopes to continue that habit as a priest before the business of the day begins.

Deacon Mbanude also found spiritual inspiration in the life of St. John Paul II. Around the time that pope died, Deacon Mbanude read a series about the pope’s life in Word Among Us, and was struck by the “courage with which he proclaimed the Gospel.”

In addition, Deacon Mbanude said he admires St. John Paul II’s intelligence, his prayer life, and his ability to relate to people from all walks of life, whether they are young or old, rich or poor. He said it was a blessing for him to spend the first two years of his seminary time in the St. John Paul II Seminary, and he hopes to emulate the pope’s courage and outreach as a priest.

“He inspired a generation of priests in his lifetime,” said Deacon Mbanude.

Deacon Mbanude moved from Nigeria to Washington, D.C., in 2007, and first stayed with a family member from his village. He now hopes his experience as an immigrant will help him to minister in a special way to the immigrant community in Washington.

“What I can offer others is a listening ear,” he said. “…Everyone has a different story as to why they immigrated…they want someone to understand.”

Deacon Mbanude said this listening ear “gives us a sense of, ‘I’m worth something, even though I might not fit in yet with everyone else.'”

In 2013, Deacon Mbanude graduated from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in biology, and had a scholarship offer to pursue a Ph.D. program. Instead, he let go of that offer and followed God’s call to enter the seminary.

“Even when I was thinking about other things, God still seriously imprinted in my mind the call to the priesthood,” said Deacon Mbanude.

His time in the seminary, first at St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington and then at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, “helped me grow in my love for Christ, my relationship with God, and my understanding of the priesthood,” said Deacon Mbanude, also noting, “I learned I need to change.”

“I need to shed some bad habits; I have to shed some sins I became aware of,” he said.

In addition, he said he had to learn “how to be dependent on others.” While he paid his own bills and did everything independently before entering the seminary, he now has to rely on other people’s generosity.

“I learned to be open to receive other people’s generosity and to be humble about it,” he said.

Deacon Mbanude also grew in his Ping-Pong skills, as he would frequently play against his fellow seminarians whenever they had spare time.

While he entered seminary thinking he wanted to be a priest to give his life to God and to help people, he said he now understands in a deeper way how the sacraments make a priest’s ministry distinct.

“For a lot of us, the reason why we entered the seminary is not the same reason we stayed,” he said. “…When I give my life to God, I also give my life to the Church,” including the sacraments, which are “how I [will] feed people.”

As he approaches his ordination, Deacon Mbanude said he is “looking forward to being available to people,” in his preaching, in administering the sacraments, and in office hours.

“I think that’s what Christ did,” he said. “He was available for his disciples and the people around Him even when they didn’t expect Him to be. That availability of Christ is what I hope to give to the people.”