For many priests, a 25th ordination anniversary far from home might be a lonely occasion. But for many Catholics in Catron County, organizing a big celebration for their priest, Fr. Anthony Dike, was just another way to appreciate a man they’ve come to respect and love.
Fr. Dike, one of six children, realized rather early in life that he was called to be a priest. His favorite Bible verse is John 15:16: “It was not you who chose Me but I who chose you.”
Now, as pastor of St. Francis, Reserve; Santo Niño, Aragon; and Santo Niño, Glenwood, much of his time is spent driving up to 400 miles throughout rural southwestern New Mexico each weekend.
Cathleen Murphy, secretary for the parishes in Catron County, was keen to start planning Fr. Dike’s anniversary celebration a year in advance.
“The reason we wanted to plan something special for Father is, in Nigeria, this would be huge – we’re talking 500 people would come to this event.”
And while only about 25% of the county is Catholic, Murphy says everyone respects Fr. Dike.
“They love him. He’s an exceptional homilist. And he has done a great deal to bring the three communities together – Aragon, Reserve, and Glenwood. We celebrate Holy Week together every year. Each church takes one day – you know, Good Friday, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. And then we all travel to the different locations. So we’ve gotten to know and be friends with our people, even though they’re 50 and 60 miles away.”
Because the church in Glenwood is so small, with room for only a few dozen people, Bishop Wall gave special permission for the anniversary Mass to be celebrated at Los Alamos Lodge in Glenwood.
Along with the Bishop, priests, and deacons from around the Diocese, there was one very special guest in attendance: Fr. Dike’s sister, Sr. Nneka Dike, who flew in from England, where she serves with the Servite Sisters.
“She contacted her family in Nigeria and they sent videos,” Murphy recalls. “And it was fabulous because these were groups of women all dressed beautifully in African dress, singing and joyful. And Father got up and danced through the whole thing. He loved that. He had no idea that we wanted to have a touch of home, you know, have him feel like his family was there.”
Murphy hopes that Fr. Dike also recognizes that he – and other priests from Nigeria – have family here in the Diocese.
“He’s like my son. He calls my husband ‘Dad’ and my children consider him their brother. I absolutely adore our Nigerian priests. They have a vitality. They have a joy. There isn’t a sour apple in the bunch. They are the happiest, most fun men there are. We’re so blessed to have ’em.”
And while his days and weeks may be busy, and with a lot of ground to cover in order to serve his parishioners, Fr. Dike can look back on 25 years and knows he’s right where God wants him.
“No life is more satisfactory than that of service to God through service to humanity,” he said. “It gives me joy doing that. I like what I do as a priest.”
Featured photo credit: David Thornburg. View the full photo gallery of the celebration here.