Bishop Felipe Estévez ordains two men to the priesthood

John Sollee

John Sollee

Two men joined the ranks of the clergy of the Diocese of St. Augustine when they were ordained May 12 by Bishop Felipe J. Estévez at a 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

The journeys that led them to the priesthood are very different, but the result is the same. They both answered God’s call to the priesthood.

John Sollee grew up in San Jose, attended San Jose Catholic School and, after graduating from The Bolles School, enrolled at the University of Florida, majoring in finance and English. Sollee’s great-grandfather was one of the members of Immaculate Conception parish who petitioned the bishop to establish a parish in what was then South Jacksonville. His great-grandfather was an altar server at the first Mass at Assumption parish in 1913. Sollee was the emcee at the centennial celebration in 2013.

After losing trust in the church during his high school and college years, Sollee endured a personally wrenching summer in New York City, before he underwent a “reversion experience” and returned to the Catholic faith. When he got back to UF, Sollee joined the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and started a Bible study, eventually becoming a FOCUS missionary.

Martin Ibeh grew up one of eight children in Amiri, an impoverished Nigerian town, where going to school sometimes meant working in the teacher’s fields. The family walked to 8 a.m. Mass on Sundays five miles away. The trek could take two hours if they had young children in tow.

Martin Ibeh

Martin Ibeh

Ibeh knew as a young boy that he wanted to be a priest like the ones who would visit his family. But they were poor and couldn’t afford to send him to seminary. He wanted to go to college, so his older brothers went to work in the city and sent money home for his education. Ibeh majored in English and Christian religious studies at a college of education, then he earned a bachelor’s degree in information science at a university and worked as a librarian.

Still too poor to afford a seminary education, a requirement to be accepted for ordination by the diocese, Ibeh entered the Society of Our Mother of Peace in 2007. After four years of formation, they sent him to their monastery in St. Louis, Missouri, then he graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy from Kenrick Glennon Seminary.

Though they have taken very different paths, Sollee and Ibeh both studied at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. They have one more thing in common.

Ibeh will be the first priest from his village; Sollee will be the first priest from Bolles.

After their ordination, Father John Sollee will serve as a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jacksonville and Father Martin Ibeh will serve as a parochial vicar at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

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