Father Raymond Akeriwe (whose name means “In God We Trust” in his native language) was born in May 1971, and grew up in Paga, Ghana, with his parents and five siblings. His grandmother on his mother’s side was a strong influence on his upbringing. His father George was a math professor who made the mistake of getting into politics and was first-generation Catholic. His mother taught home economics in college. At 14, Raymond left home for boarding school, which was typical for young boys who “looked forward to leaving home.” In his family, “Sunday was for church.” Growing up, Raymond intended to become a lawyer and have a family. In Ghana, everyone is required to serve a period of National Service and Raymond took a teaching position at the Notre Dame Minor Seminary, which was a life-changing experience for him. Through the influence of Brother Roberts, he decided to become a missionary through the Society of African Missions. After studying at St. Paul’s Major Seminary, he traveled to Benin, where he learned French. Next, he had a spiritual year followed by a pastoral year. During this time, he gained missionary experience, studied Islam and learned Arabic in Cairo from 1997 to 1998, spent four years at the Nairobi Catholic University, and in 2003 he was ordained a Priest. That year he was assigned to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, a position he held for four years. In that role, he traveled to the United States once a year for mission appeal, and he formed relationships that eventually brought him back to America. In 2007, he visited a friend in Indiana who introduced him to Father O’Keefe, and he took a position in Indiana. At this point, he took a two-year leave of absence, earning a Master’s Degree in international relations and diplomacy simultaneously. In 2013, he applied to get back to active ministry and simultaneously the Archdiocese of Military Service called. He accepted the calling and reported to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, where adapting to the military lifestyle initially proved challenging. His first assignment was Ft. Hood, where he served in the 62nd Engineer Battalion and the 36th Engineer Brigade (where he worked for then-COL Quander). He deployed to EUCOM with the 15th Engineer Battalion and spent time in Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Georgia, where, as the only Priest in EUCOM, he had to cover a wide area. When COVID-19 hit, he was stuck for 44 days in Poland with his assault pack that he had prepared for a weekend visit. With all of his travels ministering to troops, he quickly became the “most quarantined Officer” in the Army. In 2020, he returned from EUCOM, attended the Career Course, and was selected for assignment to West Point. Chaplain Don Williamson, the West Point Garrison Chaplain, called him and made him feel welcomed. At West Point, Father Akeriwe felt like a Parish Priest, enjoying the faith of the Cadets and the families on post. Working with Cadets, he found “moments that make a difference,” helping them understand how their faith can help them become good officers. After West Point, he was assigned to Ft. Myer, Virginia.
In this interview, Father Akeriwe talks about his childhood, his road to Priesthood, and his service in the Army. He highlights the importance of his grandmother’s influence in his life. He discusses ministry in a persecuted church in Cairo, where Catholics had to make a conscious decision to practice their faith. He shares examples of both overt and subtle forms of harassment he experienced in Egypt. He describes deploying to Ghana with the U.S. Army as members of the Ghanian military were trained for peacekeeping in Mali. He describes his EUCOM experience as “the best time in the Army,” ministering to Soldiers on remote posts. He recalls time spent on the U.S. southern border with the 62nd Engineer Battalion and the friction he experienced between the Army and the Air Force. He describes trying to be a warm and assuring presence when he works with Soldiers of different faiths and his goal of sharing “human warmth.” Finally, he reflects on his most rewarding experiences as a Priest, and what his service as a Priest and in the Army means to him.