South Sudanese Cleric Recounts Challenges He Overcame to Become Priest 50 Years On

Mons.Thomas Oliha in the company of other priests and altar girls at the end of Holy Mass at the Apostles of Jesus Shrine Catholic Church, Langata, Nairobi, Kenya on October 13, 2019
Credit: ACI Africa

In a country where the reciprocal interaction between Catholicism and culture still presents difficulties, with society playing a central role in shaping individual lives through family and peer pressure, a South Sudanese cleric has shared with ACI Africa the challenges he had to overcome on his journey to priesthood as he celebrates 50 years since he received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

“In my journey to priesthood, I met many challenges. The first formidable challenge I met was from my father. He wanted me to become a medical doctor,” the former Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Torit in South Sudan, Mons. Thomas Oliha Attiyah told the congregation at the Apostles of Jesus Shrine, Langata in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi Sunday, October 13.

“I told him (my father) I have a vocation to become a priest,” Mons. Oliha recalled telling his father who would react in dismay, “A priest? And you will have no children? No this is an unacceptable.”

Mons. Oliha who was addressing clergy, women and men religious and laity on his golden jubilee of priesthood celebration recalled his father’s temporary punishment saying, “He refused to pay the school fees at the minor seminary.”

His father would later change his mind and respect his son’s decision. The 71-year-old priest of the congregation of the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries recalled his father saying, “If God is calling, you go and become a priest.”

Hailing from the region of Torit in South Sudan where, like in many traditional African societies, songs are composed to ridicule community members perceived to have derailed from communal expectations, Mons. Oliha remembered lyrics composed against his desire to become a priest.

“Another challenge came from my peers in the village who called me names and sang songs against my going to the seminary,” Mons. Oliha recalled and added without providing details, “I resisted the temptation.”

As a member of the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries with formation houses in the East African countries of Kenya and Uganda, Mons. Oliha described his experience in Uganda’s Moroto town, the venue of his novitiate, as challenging.

“We started the life at Moroto and it was really tough life,” Mons Oliha shared, recalling how he got so discouraged being in the novitiate in Moroto that he contemplated quitting the journey toward joining the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries to joining the diocesan seminary before he was persuaded by a Comboni priest to keep to his initial call.

As a priest, Mons. Oliha also recalled being tempted to begin a romantic relationship.

“I was seven years into the priesthood … a girl of stunning beauty of eighteen years approached me for a hand in marriage,” he recounted an experience 43 years ago.

The cleric said he told the girl that they would “continue the conversation another day” and said he “never heard of her since then.”

“Priesthood is a journey of faith” and one meets challenges of any kind in this journey, Mons. Oliha remarked and disclosed, “My own experience to overcome challenges against vocation is prayer, prayer, prayer.”


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]