SENECA — Father Emmanuel Andinam relaxed in the sacristy of St. Paul the Apostle Mission on a warm, muggy August morning, having just celebrated Mass for about 50 people.
It’s what the 57-year-old native of Nigeria enjoys the most about what he does — a belief that’s confirmed by the broad smile spread across his face during the celebration and after its conclusion.
“Saying the Mass is a wonderful privilege and the most beautiful activity one can be involved in,” he said. “I’m doing this to bring others to Christ.”
Father Andinam credits Dennis O’Hara, an Irish priest and high school principal, with steering the then nine-year-old boy toward the priesthood.
“I was in primary school at the time. This would have been in the early 1960s,” he said.
He was living with his mother — his father died when the priest was four years old — and a younger brother and sister in Calabar, a city in southeastern Nigeria that now has a population in excess of one million people.
“Something moved me and I said to myself that I wanted to be like this man,” he said.
Father Andinam was ordained in 1977 in Calabar, where he worked in the seminary and later in the local parish.
His next stop was Belgium, where he attended the Catholic University of Leuven, one of the oldest universities in Europe and the oldest Catholic university, founded in the early 15th century by Pope Martin V.
While at Leuven, Father Andinam studied philosophy and anthropology and earned a doctorate in the latter in 1995.
He remained at Leuven, where he taught and worked in the local parish for the next several years. He then left Africa for a sabbatical in New York, where he served in a Jewish medical community on Long Island.
He said he was preparing to return to Nigeria toward the end of the sabbatical when he received a call from Bishop Robert J. Baker, former bishop of the Diocese of Charleston.
“I was getting ready to go home when Bishop Baker said Charleston needed some help and would I want to come there,” he said.
Father Andinam said the Paulist Fathers were leaving St. Andrew Church in Clemson, St. Francis Mission in Walhalla, and St. Paul the Apostle, and Bishop Baker needed someone to serve as Catholic campus minister to Clemson University.
In selecting Father Andinam for the Clemson assignment, the bishop tapped into his years at Leuven.
“He wanted someone with my kind of background and thought I would be a good fit,” Father Andinam said.
As it has turned out, it was a logical choice. Though he was not referred to as a campus minister while at Leuven, Father Andinam’s role there was similar to what was expected at Clemson.
“When I was in Europe, mainly at Leuven, I worked with foreign students, helping to meet their spiritual needs. So the transition wasn’t that difficult,” he said.
And, for Father Andinam, his time as campus minister has been a rewarding one since he first stepped onto the Clemson campus in 2005.
“It has been absolutely wonderful. The students here are very inspiring,” he said. “They are yearning for knowledge — to know more and learn more.”
Father Andinam said he fell back on his training and interest in social anthropology to help him make the cultural transition from New York to South Carolina.
“As an anthropologist, I’m always trying to learn and understand so I can see people’s orientation,” he said. It is an approach that has also helped him in his day-to-day affairs.
“This is a very special vocation that involves sacrifice, reflection and renewal,” he said. “Those are necessary parts of life and the discipline of the priesthood allows you to lead a reflective life, to sort things out and to know what is really important.” And, while that is a challenge for priests, “it gives you focus and is part of the daily renewal.”
Father Andinam said the collegiality that is found among priests and bishops serves a vital role in a priest’s life.
“You feel that you belong to a system that is supportive and that pays attention to you,” he said. “The structure that is there in support of your professional work is well maintained and functioning. It frees you to do your work.”
Although no immediate members of his family entered religious life, Father Andinam said a now-deceased cousin was a priest and two older cousins are religious sisters in Africa.
As for his immediate future, Father Andinam is concluding his fourth year in Clemson and hopes to return soon to his native Nigeria. His mother passed away five years ago, but his younger brother and sister still live in the country, where they both work as civil servants.
He was in Nigeria for a short visit in June, which was his first trip home in about two years.
“I need to get home,” he said.