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Winning Move for Economist Priest

The Rev. Onwu Akpa lists neuroeconomics as his favorite class to teach, but he’s been longing to introduce a new course, which will debut in the fall

“I will be teaching Issues in African Development. I already have 14 students signed up,” says the Norbertine. “African voices are kind of mute when it comes to development problems. I want to look at why Africa is poor.”

In addition to being a faculty member at SNC, Akpa (above) serves the college parish as a priest celebrant at Old St. Joe’s. Growing up in Ngbowo, Nigeria, though, he envisioned a future on the soccer pitch. He came close to reaching a high level in the sport through recruitment to a first division club in his country, but was called to the priesthood.

Akpa traces his religious vocation back to high school where he formed a bond with a group of classmates who were engaged in their faith. “It was a group of people who were very pious,” he says. “We stuck together. It was a state high school. At that time, the government had taken over the Catholic schools, so every school was public.”

Akpa did win a soccer championship. “In Nigeria, unlike here, the major seminaries have competition in soccer, basketball, all kinds of sports, even cultural dancing,” he explains. “In 1987, I was part of the winning team of the seminary I attended. It was a glorious time in my seminary career.”

Formation for the priesthood began for Akpa with the Claretians in Nigeria. He then studied with the Missionaries of Africa, known as the White Fathers for the garments they wear. Akpa discovered the Norbertines through the help of a friend, a Claretian priest. “I had a few pamphlets,” he says with a laugh. “I trusted my friend and, of course, the Holy Spirit.”

Akpa moved to the United States in 1998. He did his novitiate at the Abbey of Santa Maria De la Vid in Alburquerque, N.M., and then attended the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago for three years. The Windy City was his first introduction to cold weather.

“I love Chicago,” he says. “Chicago has everything you need in the world: Lake Michigan, a big city, people from all over the world. If you want to eat any food from my village, I can get it in Chicago.”

Akpa was ordained a deacon in Jackson in 2003. A year later, he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Norbert Abbey. He ministered in Mississippi and continued his studies before moving to the De Pere abbey in 2018. St. Norbert Abbey “is home,” he says. He taught at schools in Nigeria and Zambia, so working with college students is a joy: “The students are taken care of here. I like it. [Universities and colleges] are bigger in Nigeria. We need to learn from here about how people are treated. They are human beings.

Akpa returns to Nigeria each year, usually in December, a festive time when family members gather.

He also looks forward to that time of year for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Watching soccer is a passion for Akpa. “What would I do without it,” he says with a laugh. “Like a Westerner wakes up in the morning with hot coffee, if I don’t get to watch soccer, I’m miserable.

June 30, 2022