After seven years of travel in Nigeria, New Guinea and Australia, the Rev. Leo Ahanotu is glad to be at home in Krebs.

“Even though I come from a foreign country I’ve never felt like a foreigner here,” Ahanotu said. “I feel like a Krebs man, like I was born and bred here.”

Ahanotu is pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Krebs. He was ordained a priest in 1994, and spent the first years of his priesthood doing missionary work. Soon after he traveled from his own country, Nigeria, to New Guinea.

“I was a religious education professor at a Catholic college in Papua, New Guinea,” Ahanotu said.

But Ahanotu’s work didn’t stop in New Guinea, he had another job when students went home for holiday break.

“Whenever the students had a break I’d go to Sydney, Australia,” Ahanotu said. “There is a parish there, St. Monica’s, where I will always go to help.”

Ahanotu worked between these countries until 2001, when he came to the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa.

“I’m a missionary priest, we go where ever we are needed,” Ahanotu said. “The Tulsa diocese needed priests and the bishop invited me to come and work in the diocese.”

Ahanotu became associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in McAlester in 2001. Soon after, in 2002, he became pastor of St. Joseph’s.

St. Joseph’s is the oldest church in the Tulsa Diocese, and probably the oldest in the state that is still in use.

Ahanotu, along with members of St. Joseph’s , has headed a campaign to completely renovate the church.

“The church was just falling apart,” Ahanotu said. “Something needed to be done to save it.”

The project began with a new roof and waterproofing the outside walls. Members of the parish continued to raise money. The renovation has now become an attempt to restore the church to its original glory.

The walls, windows, and pews are being restored and new carpet added. The statues are also being repainted to look as they did when the church was first built in 1903.

Ahanotu said it is important to preserve the church because it was registered as a historic landmark in Oklahoma in 1982, and it’s recognized as a pilgrimage center for both Oklahoma dioceses.

“Lots of people are coming to the church because of that recognition,” Ahanotu said. “More than 1,000 pilgrims from the Tulsa diocese and Archdiocese of Oklahoma City have come to the church.”

But there are still more important reasons for the preservation, according to Ahanotu.

“The people who built this church were not very rich people, but they saw the importance of having a place to worship god,” Ahanotu said.

“Even though there were no modern machines they built it with their hands. Thinking of how hard they worked to finish it, it becomes necessary for their ancestors to maintain this hard labor of their fathers and grandfathers.”

The church is finally in the final stages of renovation, and Ahanotu hopes it will be complete by Christmas. Until then, regular services are being held in the parish hall next to the church.

“We’ve been having Mass in the hall for three weeks,” Ahanotu said. “It’s much smaller and you just don’t get the kind of feeling you get in the church.”

Ahanotu said as many as 240 families have been attending mass in the parish hall.

“Everybody is happy that the church is coming to its completion, so coming to worship in the hall is no big deal for them,” Ahanotu said.

“There is such joy that we are almost at the end of what we started two years ago.”

For more information on the St. Joseph’s renovation project, or to make a donation, call 423-6695.



Contact Trevor Dunbar at tdunbar@mcalesternews.com

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