KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Joseph I. Okoye, 58, whose ministry spanned two continents, was found deceased on April 7 in his room in the Vianney Suites at Savior Pastoral Center here.
Father Okoye was in medical retirement and resided in Jersey City, N.J. He returned to the area for surgery on his foot, and was planning to recuperate at Savior Pastoral Center through the end of April. Although his death is presumed to be of natural causes, an autopsy was ordered, the results of which were unavailable at press time.
Father Okoye was born on April 30, 1952, in the city of Onitsha, Nigeria, one of nine children of Matthias and Theresa Okoye. The family attended Our Lady’s Catholic Mission in Onitsha.
He was educated at Sacred Heart Elementary School, St. Francis and St. Theresa School, and All Hallows High School Seminary. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in philosophy in 1976 from Bigard Major Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria.
Father Okoye began his studies for the priesthood in the United States under Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker. The young Nigerian entered St. Thomas School of Theology in Denver in January 1978 and received a master’s in moral theology in May 1980.
“Father Okoye had a brother who was living in [the Kansas City area] and he approached Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker and told him he had a brother who was in [the] seminary in Nigeria,” said Father Bill Porter, a classmate from St. Thomas, now pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. “He told [Archbishop Strecker] that [Father Okoye] was interested in coming to the United States to serve, and the invitation was extended.”
Archbishop Strecker ordained Father Okoye to the archdiocesan priesthood on May 31, 1980, at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan. After his ordination, his first assignment was as associate pastor of Assumption Parish in Topeka. He served in a number of parishes and ministries in the archdiocese in the years that followed, and in two Nigerian parishes as well. He was the first national chaplain for the Igbo Catholic Community USA, an organization in which he was very active.
“[Father Okoye] was very proud of his family lineage, his brothers and sister, his parents and his grandparents,” said Father Porter. “He was very proud of being Igbo and proud that he was from Nigeria.”
Father Okoye was also instrumental in organizing the nonprofit charitable organization Afrimerica Global Missions, with, among others, his friends Dr. Emmanuel Uketui, of St. Joseph, Mo.; Father Joseph A. Okogba, of Philadelphia; and Francis Okwuone, of Olathe.
Although he maintained close ties to his homeland, Father Okoye felt a deep connection to the archdiocese and considered it his home, said Father Porter.
“He said to me [recently] how grateful he was to stay at Savior Pastoral Center during his convalescence, and how nice and accommodating everyone there was, and that he felt it was helping him to recuperate,” said Father Porter.
Because Father Okoye wished to be buried in the cemetery of the Basilica of the Blessed Holy Trinity Cathedral in his hometown in Nigeria, funeral plans are not yet finalized. There will be a Mass, however, held at 11 a.m. on April 29 in the chapel of Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan., to honor Father Okoye’s service to the archdiocese.
Father Okoye was preceded in death by his parents — Chief Matthias I. Okoye Sr. and Theresa U. Okoye — and a brother, Godfrey C. Okoye. He is survived by seven brothers — Dr. Matthias Ike Okoye, Dr. Francis O. Okoye, Chief Charles O. Okoye, Cyril N. Okoye, P.E., Emmanuel N. Okoye, Dr. Godwin S. Okoye, and Patrick Okoye — and one sister, Dr. Ngozi Theresa Onuh.
Father Okoye’s appointments and ministry
• 1980-81 — Associate pastor, Assumption Parish, Topeka
• 1981-82 — Associate pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Shawnee
• 1984 — Associate pastor, Prince of Peace Parish, Olathe
• 1985 — St. Francis Xavier Parish, Onitsha, Nigeria
• 2002 — Pastor, St. Odilia Parish, Onitsha, Nigeria
• 2006 — Returned to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to provide sacramental assistance at various parishes
• 2007 — Spiritual moderator of the Nigerian Catholic community, sacramental assistance
• 2009 — Medical retirement