After the example of the Good Shepherd

As he begins his pastoral internship this spring, Paul Edo-Aranmude reflects on his vocation

Since his early childhood days, Paul Edo-Aranmude has felt a stirring in his heart towards the priesthood.

It is a stirring that has taken his life on a decades-long journey – from hospital and prison ministries in Nigeria, seminary formation in Africa and now abroad to the northern reaches of Canada. It has not always been easy, but through each of these adventures it is trust in God that has kept him steadfast in his faith.

“God will not call you to a ministry or a work that He knows you can’t do,” said Paul, reflecting on his vocation. “So my advice is – do not be afraid, for it is the work of God. If God is calling you, He has what it takes to supply to the person whatever they need to answer the call.”

Raised by devout Catholic parents and received into the Church through baptism and confirmation at age ten, it was not long before Paul became actively involved in his home parish in Benin City, Nigeria. He took part in several ministries in his church, as a chorister, lector, and in other roles. All of this contributed to an increasing curiosity and openness to a religious vocation.

“I didn’t just see the faith as the faith of the church, but as my own faith,” said Paul. “And so I have made efforts to live out this faith, to practice this faith everywhere and anywhere I find myself.”

A particularly important influence came when Paul joined the Legion of Mary ministry in Nigeria. Each week members of the Legion of Mary would spend a few hours visiting the sick in hospitals, visiting the elderly in care homes, or volunteering with prison ministries, all in the name of being a witness of faith to those most vulnerable and in need.

Paul Edo-Aranmude and fellow seminarians lead a Stations of the Cross at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in McLennan.

With this, the contributions of his parents and the prayer life they instilled in him, the seeds of faith grew within Paul. The possibility of priesthood was more and more running through his mind, and in 2008, just over a year after he finished his high school education, he sought to enter seminary.

“So many influences have helped me in responding to this call of God,” Paul said. “I had so many priests in my life who really influenced me in their heroic life of prayer, in the pastoral love they had for the people. The examples of my parents, the Legion of Mary – all of this drew me more and more to consider the priesthood.

“I really had no opposition from my parents and my friends – that is one thing I really enjoyed. My parents just said, ‘If God is calling you, who are we to say no?’ So they were happy and they have always been there encouraging me.”

A person who has been the most constant intercessor and influence in Paul’s journey of discernment is the Blessed Mother, and his devotion to her has grown stronger throughout his time in seminary.

“The Blessed Virgin Mary is very important to me in my spiritual life – she has been and will continue to be,” he said.

Paul Edo-Aranmude at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Chateh.

Paul completed the philosophy portion of his seminary training in Nigeria. Then, in hopes of aiding the missionary work of the Church in other parts of the world, Paul applied to continue his studies abroad. He is now continuing his formation in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan. He arrived here in 2020, and has finally completed his theology courses at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton this past winter.

“In all this I can say it is Divine Providence. I believe it is the will of God for me to be here at this time,” Paul said of his move to Canada. “I felt there was a need to go beyond my diocese, to be a missionary in helping spread the Gospel of Christ. So I applied to continue my seminary formation in this archdiocese.”

Paul can still recall his first moments in Canada, particularly when his flight landed in Grande Prairie and he had his first flesh-and-blood encounter with snow and freezing cold temperatures. It took a bit of time to adjust to this new world of changing seasons.

“My family called me after my first week and said, ‘We heard you’ve got snow. We hope you are still alive!’” Paul recalled with a laugh. “It was not really easy at first, but in time I got used to it. I actually can’t wait for the next winter to come.”

The weather was only one of several culture shocks. While seminary formation is very similar in Canada, Paul notes that there is a great need for more young people in Canada to be open to the possibility of religious life, and to embrace that call if God brings it their way.

“Seminary life in Canada – I cannot say there is not much of a difference because formation is one and the Church is one. There is one particular goal that all seminaries are striving for – to form holy priests. So coming here really felt a lot like just a continuation of my formation back home.

Seminarians Thomas Wollis and Paul Edo-Aranmude are installed as lectors during the closing Mass at Camp St. Martin in 2022.

“The difference I could see was in terms of the culture and the climate,” Paul continued. “In vocations to the priesthood, we need many more vocations here in Canada, young men and women who would be happy to serve Him as priests and religious. There’s always a lot of work to be done in growing the faith.”

He especially sees how the overabundance of “noise and distractions” within Canada’s secular society creates great difficulty for discernment. The prevalence of so many different voices and spheres of influence in our world today have a way of drowning out the voice of God, says Paul.

“There are so many voices in the world today. The voice of power, the voice of wealth and riches. Some will say, ‘I don’t want to be a priest; I don’t want to live a life of perpetual obedience. I want to be a boss. I want to be a god of myself.’ And these voices can seem to be louder than the voice of God.”

While the influence of the secular culture is also a major part of life in Nigeria, Paul says the reason that vocations still remain so strong in his home country is that families there maintain a strong prayer life. As well, it is a common part of Catholic culture in Africa to encourage children to be open to the possibility of religious life.

“I wouldn’t say the influence of the secular world is more powerful here. Over in Nigeria we still have the influence of the secular world, it is just by Divine Providence that we still have a lot of vocations,” he said. “It is the contribution of families – that is why we have so many vocations. My family, we always prayed together as a family in the morning and at night before bed. These influences in the life of children really help them to answer the call of God.”

As someone who has followed his vocation from an early age, and grown up in a family that began and ended each day by joining together in prayer, Paul has been gifted with a strong foundation upon which he has built his discernment.

Picture day at St. Joseph Seminary, fall of 2022. Photo by Lincoln Ho

Reflecting on his own vocational calling, Paul says that while many people today may jump to the conclusion that a life of celibacy, of obedience, sacrifice and poverty are obstacles to a happy and joyful life, for those truly called, these things are anything but obstacles.

“The vow of poverty, of obedience, of celibacy – they are not really obstacles if we have true disposition to them. They are really there to assist us, to help us be a better priest, a more fruitful priest. They reveal that it is not about us, it is about Christ, that it is only by the power of God that we can do His will.”

But that does not mean that following the call of God is always easy. With seminary, Paul has faced the challenges of rigorous studies, the struggles of getting up at 6 a.m. for morning prayer each day, and -perhaps his greatest struggle – home sickness.

“I do miss home; I miss my mom and my siblings,” said Paul. “But I’m always in contact with them, and knowing that they are doing fine and well – it gives me great comfort. For them to come visit here to Canada – that would be my joy.”

His life in Canada has also come with an allotment of joys. The archdiocese’s pilgrimage in Girouxville in August has been one of Paul’s favourite experiences, giving him the chance to connect with many of the parishioners and priests of the archdiocese and grow further in his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Paul with Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, CSsR, with a cutout of Pope Francis at St. Thomas More Church in Fairview.

One particularly great joy for Paul was getting to spend the summer of 2021 with Archbishop Gerard Pettipas. Through this experience, Paul got to form a close friendship with His Grace and also get to join the bishop in his day to day life, travelling around the archdiocese and getting to know various parishes within the region. He was able to encounter many church communities, from the northern reaches of High Level to the eastern communities of the archdiocese like Joussard and Slave Lake.

“It was a privilege for me to be with the archbishop and to learn more about him. It was really wonderful,” Paul said. “Personally, I call him ‘grandpa’. We would pray together, cook together, play cards together, and I miss that so much. We went all around the archdiocese, and it was great for me to get to know so many people and to learn about many different places.

“The people of God here are very welcoming, very friendly, very supportive in prayers. I’ve felt welcome in so many ways. Being here is like having another family.”

As well, Paul has been able to meet with other Nigerian priests serving our archdiocese. He says getting to meet with them, and converse in their native ‘Pidgin’ dialect together, gave him a comforting sense of belonging and being at home.

Paul is now preparing for a pastoral internship at Our Lady of Good Counsel in High Level, beginning in March. Then he will make further steps towards the transitional diaconate and the priesthood. When asked what is it he looks most forward to if, by the grace of God, he becomes a priest in the near future, Paul says it is to be a good priest, to lead a holy life, and above all to help the people of God grow in their spiritual lives.

“I hope to lead the people of God in the right way and be a good pastor to them, after the example of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd,” he said. “So I am very excited to serve the people of this archdiocese, and by the grace of God to give them my best. That is why I am here.”

Procession of the oils at last year’s Chrism Mass.