It is with great pleasure that Deacon Thomas serves at St. Joseph Church and Shrine in Gretna and the parishioners take great pleasure in his being a part of their community. Deacon is a candidate for the priesthood in the Catholic Church, due to be ordained in June 2021. His assignment from Notre Dame Seminary to St. Joseph’s began in the summer of 2020. He was supposed to leave in October, but due to Covid-19, he will remain at St. Joseph’s until after the New Year.
Deacon Thomas Binanbiba Bamoah is from Konjatedando a small village in the Northern part of Ghana, Africa. His parents, both deceased named him Binanbiba, but because of Western influence his dad’s name, Bamoah was added to his name. The name from his grandfather, Thomas was added through Baptism onto official documents, an act that is not a cultural practice in his community.
Born in 1976, Deacon Thomas has nine siblings who have been supportive throughout his life although they are not Christians. His parents were peasant farmers, African traditionalists who did not go to school. “It is through their enduring labor that all of us were able to survive the rampant child mortality rate and hunger in Ghana. Since I came from a purely traditional family, as a child, African traditional faith was to love other people and obey elders. I learned the Catholic faith when I went to Catholic schools.
“To put it plainly, I am African by all means. But within the bigger African culture, I belong to an ethnic group called Konkomba of Ghana.
The Konkomba people have a distinct African religious heritage. They believe in the existence of one God, whose name is Uwumbor and whose attributes are similar to that of the Christian god, Yahweh. African people condemn individualism and uphold the value of community life, not just immediate or extended family, but includes the whole village,” he said.
“This communal way of life lives within me. I enjoy reaching out to new friends, even strangers. I feel that I should treat everyone as a brother or sister. While a Catholic school student, Thomas was expected to attend Mass. His father supported Thomas by riding him to and from Mass on his bicycle and later agreeing to Thomas being baptized in the Church.
“I thought of becoming a priest since 1995 because of my deep love and commitment for the Church. Since then, my desire to become a priest has never wavered for any reason. I was tutored by many priests who were hardworking, intelligent, prayerful and preached well. They encouraged me to be diligent all my life. I borrowed the philosophy from them to not only be inspired, but also to inspire others never to give up in life,” he said.
In school, he loved music, singing and sports. He entered the first seminary in 2005, a second, major seminary two years later. It was a strict and disciplined life, 900 miles from home, bitterly cold because the seminary was in the highlands of Ghana.
Seminarian Thomas suspended his priestly formation program in 2007 in order to get a job and provide for family needs. He found various jobs including teaching Catechism in non-Catholic Schools, visiting the sick in the village, working for the aged at the Gnani Witch Village and helping with the distribution of food and water at the Gnani Witch Camp.
“Witch camps are a common phenomenon in northern Ghana. Persons, mostly women accused of witchcraft reside in the camp. Fearing for their lives, these women, and sometimes men, ranging from between forty and eighty and even older banded together for protecting in sanctuaries known as “Witch Camps.” These persons are often accused by close relatives, family members and even their own children. Incidents that normally lead to witchcraft accusations are sudden death of a family member, serious illness, bad dreams or nightmares, envy and jealousy. The stigma of being accused leads to ostracization, torture or a death sentence.
“The Roman Catholic Church in Ghani is helping to dispel some of the negative beliefs regarding the accused witches and supports the inmates in the camps. I was assigned there for a year until I returned to college to earn a degree to teach. After five years, I entered school again to earn a Bachelor of Education in 2015.
“I taught mathematics and science until the year 2016 when I decided to continue with my formation to become a priest. After being assigned to and observed by the priest in my home diocese, I was privileged to have the opportunity to come to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans to study theology and it has been an exciting time.
“My first pastoral ministry assignment at Notre Dame Seminary was at Chateau de Note Dame Nursing Home where I was assigned residents who all had various medical problems and were undergoing treatment, needing attention in pains and prayer. Being there was a wonderful experience.
Then Deacon was assigned to historic St. Joseph’s in Gretna, a parish that dates back to Christmas Eve 1857. He also performs duties at St. Anthony Church because Reverend Gary Copping, pastor of St. Joseph’s is also pastor of St. Anthony Church.
St. Joseph Parish and Pastor Copping, Father Gary as he is fondly known was short a deacon since the retirement of Deacon Jerry Labadot. With Father Gary serving as pastor for both St. Joseph and St. Anthony Churches, it was a blessing indeed that Deacon Thomas was sent to Gretna to fill the void.
“Thomas’s duties are to preach every other weekend and twice during the week. He presides over Adoration and Benediction. He participates in parish meetings, visits the sick and shut-ins, teaches adult formation classes and assists at funerals. He conducts baptismal seminars and has joyfully baptized five children since he has been here,” Father Gary said.
Deacon Thomas has led an ongoing study of the “Biblical Roots of the Mass” every Monday at 4 o’clock in the church complex where all are invited to attend. A regular attendee, Linda LaBorde said, “The study has been a real learning experience that I feel has deepened my faith. A bonus of participating in his program is getting to know better some of the parishioners that I see in church, but didn’t really know until Deacon Thomas started this program. There is a social time after the meeting where sometimes we eat together. I have noticed Deacon has learned to enjoy our cuisine. We kid him about that and he laughs right along with everyone else. He has a great sense of humor.”
So generous, Deacon Thomas presented beautiful vestments to both churches that were made by an order of nuns in Ghana, his beloved country. The vestments are the colors for royalty, Christ the King. He gave the vestments in memory of his time with Father Gary and retired Monsignor Lanaux Rareshide who celebrates Masses at both churches and is in residence at St. Anthony’s.
What’s in the works now is a drive by Father Gary! Deacon Thomas’ Lay Support Group, led by Chairman David Kalil wanted to see Deacon Thomas ordained here before his going back to Ghana.
“Thomas contacted his vocation director for permission. Father Mike asked Thomas to ask me to write a letter to his bishop with the request. I did and now we are waiting on outcome for the request. His bishop must get with his College of Consultors for their feedback and then get Archbishop Aymond’s consent to do Deacon Thomas’ ordination with the New Orleans ordinees,” Father Gary said.
“Thomas’ formation for priesthood revolves around seven persons/groups: Christ, Thomas, the Pastor/supervisor (me), the seminary director of Pastoral Field Education, the parish staff, his Lay Support Group and the laity in general. It is the seven groups that testify to his bishop that he has the right stuff for priesthood. All seven groups believe he does,” he added.
For those who haven’t met Deacon Thomas, look for him as a King in the Living Nativity sponsored by St. Joseph Church and Shrine on Friday, Dec. 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. on the neutral ground of Huey P. Long Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets.
“My living in Gretna and St. Joseph is God’s blessing and I can say it is God who chose St. Joseph Parish for me. The people are loving, caring and encouraging. Both the pastor and people are excellent people to work with. St. Joseph and Gretna is the best place God has ever given to me to live. The people are loving, caring and charitable. What I will say is thank you God for the blessing given to me,” Deacon Thomas Bamoah said.