The following story appeared in the October 8 Idaho Catholic Register.
Monsignor Joseph da Silva greets parishioners at Risen Christ Parish after one of his final three Masses at the southwest Boise parish. (Photo courtesy of Ludee Vermaas and Risen Christ Parish)
By Gene Fadness
While the new sacramental minister at Risen Christ Catholic Community in Boise is, in his words, “a foreigner in a foreign land,” he is certainly no stranger to Catholicism. He comes from a family devout in its faith and a region of the world that honors both Catholicism and those who choose to be priests.
Father Remigius Chukwuemeke Ihim is the second-oldest of eight children and oldest son of a devout Catholic family from Aba, the largest commercial center in the State of Abia in southeastern Nigeria.
He was born and baptized in the Catholic faith. “My parents always made sure we were
in church and doing the right things at the right time,” he said.
He remembers as a young child participating in the Fatima Rosary Crusade, a popular event among the Catholic faithful in Nigeria, a country that is about evenly divided between the Christian and Muslim faiths. Most Christians reside in the southern portion of the nation where Father Remigius grew up.
“The rosary crusade, for both children and adults, was very popular in our area,” Father Remigius said. Now 54, he recalls marching through the town and visiting homes and bring other children to participate.
After graduating high school, he took an admissions examination to study at the local university, though he was unsure as to whether he would pursue law, journalism or international relations. His father was “shocked initially,” when Father Remigius told him that instead of any of those careers, he was considering priesthood instead.
Even though he was the eldest son in his family and his family was also caring for an uncle’s family, his parents were supportive of his decision to pursue priesthood. He applied to his home diocese which granted him admission to enroll in minor seminary, then junior seminary where he became a student-teacher, and, finally, enrolling in major seminary in 1988 at age 21.
After having received a Bachelor of Philosophy and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria, he was ordained to the priesthood on July 19, 1997 at Assumption Cathedral in Owerri.
He was parochial vicar for two parishes during the first three years of his priesthood and then became a pastor, and served as such in several Nigerian parishes for the next 20 years. From 2003-04, he was a confessor at a seminary and from 2013-21 was secretary of the Nigerian Catholic Diocesan Priests Association. From 2007-16, he was president of the Ikeduru Priests and Religious Association.
In 2019, he received permission from his bishop to take a sabbatical to the United States, primarily to Brooklyn to visit family and friends. Part of that sabbatical also included a visit to London to see his friend and former classmate, Father Onyema Okorie, who, at the time, was serving in the Diocese of Fresno as a military chaplain.
Father Okorie later came to Idaho to serve as a chaplain at Mountain Home Air Force Base. He invited Father Remigius to visit Idaho, where he also met with Bishop Peter Christensen and became intrigued by the idea of serving in the Diocese of Boise.
He arrived in Boise on July 25 of this year. “Like any other foreigner, I’m in a foreign land. But I am learning to settle down and get involved in my work,” he said.
While he loves his homeland, it is not a novel concept for him or his family to live and work abroad. His father has passed away, but his mother and two of his siblings live in London. Another sibling lives in the Czech Republic, another in Austria and three remain in Nigeria.
It is also not unusual for Nigerian priests to come to the United States and to western Europe, parts of the world where priests are needed. Nigeria has the opposite situation, with more than enough priests to minister to the Catholic population.
“Whereas some time ago there were many priests in Europe, North Africa and America, now there are many priests in Nigeria where the Church is still a vibrant one,” Father Remigius said. “Priests are so much loved, trusted, admired and respected, encouraged and supported,” he said. “They are equally influential in leadership of the people, far more than the corrupt civil and traditional leaders. The priests are trusted by the people, hence the desire to serve God by His people and the society at large,” is a part of life in Nigeria, he said.
The violence against Catholics and evangelicals is happening in the northern part of the country in Kaduna, about 700 miles from where Father Remigius served.
On Sept. 30, Catholic News Agency reported that 49 people, including women and children, were killed in an attack by Muslim Fulani herdsman. Nigeria has experienced rising insecurity since 2009 when Boko Haram, one of Africa’s largest Islamist groups, launched an insurgency seeding to turn Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, into an Islamic state.
Father Remigius is pleased to be in Boise and leading a parish on the city’s southwestern edge, but realizes, he says, there are many language and cultural challenges ahead.
“Father Remigius is very friendly and joyful,” said Richard Kulleck, recently hired as director of religious education at Risen Christ. “He eagerly takes suggestions regarding his speaking so he can be more readily understood. His impressions of our diocese are interesting. He spoke at length about how humble Bishop Peter is in contrast to other bishops he has known. His stories about Nigeria are fascinating but also sad. He is also happy to talk about his family and his upbringing, for example, why he doesn’t drink alcohol or eat meat.”
Monsignor Joseph da Silva is retiring from Risen Christ, after 15 years of leadership at the parish, including spearheading the construction of the church on Lake Hazel Road in southwest Boise.
Monsignor da Silva left very clear instructions with parish staff that he did not want a large farewell reception. Trying to be mostly obedient, the parish Women’s Group and the Knights of Columbus organized what they called a “low-key social hour,” after each Mass on the weekend of Sept. 25-26.
“Many parish members needed this time to say good-bye to him and wish him well,” said Ludee Vermaas. After one of the Masses, Norma Lloyd offered a toast and the Women’s Group presented him with letters and gift cards. “Our very introverted Monsignor took the festive cue and went around each table to thank them,” after each of three Masses, Vermaas said.
Monsignor da Silva came to the Diocese of Boise in 1980 from Brooklyn where he was serving as a coordinator of parish outreach for Catholic Charities. He came to Idaho for a “short visit,” and was impressed with Bishop Sylvester Treinen and the diocese. The short visit turned into a 41-year stay.
His bishop in Brooklyn told him he would be “ministering to cows,” but wished him well.
After arriving in Idaho, he served as an associate pastor at St. Anthony’s in Pocatello before being named administrator at the St. John’s Campus Ministry Center on the Idaho State University campus in Pocatello.
In June 1987, he was appointed pastor at St. Paul Catholic Center at Boise State. He left in June 1992 for work outside the diocese, before returning in July 1994 as administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lewiston. After a year there, he was assigned as the administrator at Risen Christ Parish in Boise. Two years later, he was appointed pastor there.
In 2005, Bishop Michael P. Driscoll tapped him to be vicar general. Bishop Driscoll and Father da Silva had an automatic kinship because of their mutual involvement with Catholic Charities.
In 2008, Father da Silva was named a “Prelate of Honor to His Holiness” with the title “monsignor” by Pope Benedict XVI.
Monsignor da Silva continued in his role as vicar general for priests when Bishop Peter Christensen arrived in late 2014 until his retirement from that position on Jan. 1 of this year. (The Idaho Catholic Register printed a larger profile of Monsignor da Silva in our Nov. 20, 2020 issue.)
Monsignor da Silva did not want a large reception to mark his retirement, but he did make the rounds after Mass to say farewell to Risen Christ parishioners. (Photos courtesy of Ludee Vermaas and Risen Christ Parish)
Monsignor Joseph da Silva
‘Monsignor Joe might be the most caring priest I’ve ever met or known. No matter your background, he truly cares for you, your life, and making sure you know you matter. When it comes to any subject, except politics, he’s truly interested in whatever you want to talk about. He’ll ask you a million questions, and if you’ve ever had to write a letter with him, good luck because he will edit it to death. He’s a joy to be around.’
-- Father Ben Uhlenkott St. Mark’s Parish, Boise
‘Monsignor Joe has been our family’s spiritual guide for almost 30 years. He is extraordinary! His friendship and guidance have helped us learn, grow, and sustain our faith during his time at Risen Christ. His homilies and our conversations with him were faith-filled and enjoyable. He is our guide, our friend, and a treasured member of the community. '
-- Joe and Teresa Harbacheck
‘Monsignor Joe, or “Mo Joe” as my husband fondly calls him, has been an amazing example of devotion to meaningful liturgy. His homilies are enlightening and stretch one’s depth of understanding. His inclusive reception and respect for others from different faith backgrounds has been evident not only in my personal journey in an interfaith marriage, but also as I worked with him on interfaith committees and services.’
-- Cathy Yoder
‘I appreciate his intelligence, his compassion and his kindness.’
‘Our family has known Monsignor Joe for almost 40 years. He is one of the kindest individuals we have met. He is humble and really tries to avoid crowds that might draw attention to him. We have observed him attend to an ill parishioner in a hospital and were so touched by what we saw. His homilies are always very pastoral, historical, intellectual, often uncomfortable and always within the context of our times.’
--Deacon Ted and Ludee Vermaas
‘What I’ve always admired about Monsignor Joe is his peaceful spirit. Talking with him is calming no matter what the subject. Things might be very hectic, complicated or contentious, but he brings wisdom and peace to every conversation. I’ve also enjoyed his dry sense of humor. When he finds something amusing, he shares his amusement with a twinkle in his eye. I also appreciate his taste in liturgy. Mass with Monsignor Joe is always quiet and prayerful. Nothing is rushed. The sense of the sacred is palpable. Perhaps most important of all for me has been his pastoral care. He was there with support and kindness when Mary, my wife of 40 years, died. He encouraged me in discernment and aided me when I made the decision to seek a dispensation so I could marry Catherine. His ministry and friendship have been an important part of my life ever since arriving in Idaho.'
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