Leonard U. Ahanotu is a parish priest studying pastoral psychology. With this PhD dissertation, he helpfully identifies areas for cross-cultural training for Nigerian Catholic priests assigned to U.S. parishes.
Ahanotu’s narrative is more engaging than the dry, narrow title suggests. His impressive literature review and analysis make a wider sweep, referencing other professions and countries, as well as human sociology and tribalism.
The Nigerian author’s interest in priests’ challenges stems from his experience coming to Oklahoma in 2001 (where he still serves) and his desire to help those like him succeed in their pastoral missions. International priests filling job openings created by the dearth of American priests were too-often failing to connect with their parishioners and feel happy in their roles.
This qualitative study of 12 Nigerian priests identifies areas where incoming priests can gain “cultural competence” before travel, to ease their transition and integration. Instruction, Ahanotu posits, should address issues such as the active role women laity play in American parishes, the weight Americans put on promptness, their objections to a strong African accent (and how to lessen it), and the prevalence of racism, or what some interviewees call “microaggressions.”
Ahanotu’s sample size was small, though he defends this by saying he sought not to generalize, but to elucidate specifics. In addition, his semi-structured interviews with the subjects (included here) were remarkably brief, each just 60 minutes or less.
Despite these criticisms, the interviews are indeed illuminating, as when one priest says he had to learn that “Americans take commitments very seriously” and another notes: “There is a sense of order and framework…from driving to behavior in the bank or restaurant.” Just as incoming priests should gain cultural knowledge of America, Ahanotu finds, Americans should learn about their incoming priests’ cultures, perhaps through online resources and Skype.
This highly relevant research can help institutions that send workers to the U.S., and perhaps prod Americans to do their part to help expats adapt and thrive, whatever their mission.
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