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Graduating Student Profile: John Paul Enzeonyido MSW '11


Contact: Emily Williams
Reported by Aline Talmadge, first-year MSW student

Posted May 10, 2011


John Paul Ezeonyido is a full time, second-year MSW student from Igbo-Ukwu in Aguata local government area, Nigeria. He is part of the Igbo tribe and speaks three different languages, English, Igbo and Spanish. (He learned Spanish in Mexico in the summer of 2000 and 2001). There are four major tribes in Nigeria and over 250 spoken dialects! John Paul has four brothers, two sisters and 23 nieces and nephews living in Europe and Nigeria respectively.

What was life like in his home country?

John Paul spent the first 14 years of life in his village until his family sent him to boarding school. John Paul wanted to be a priest and so he studied philosophy and theology, graduating with a degree in philosophy from Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria in 1997. He first came to the U.S. in 1999 to participate in the Multicultural Presbyteriate through the recommendation of a priest friend and graduated in 2003 from Mt. St. Mary's University in Maryland with a dual graduate degree in theology and scripture. John Paul was then ordained and moved to Atlanta to work with the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where he has served in three different parishes. Currently, while in his second year of the full-time MSW program here in Athens, he serves part-time at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Lilburn.

Why social work?

It was John Paul's experience working with social workers and the sick and dying during his hospital ministry training that eventually led him to the UGA School of Social Work. He loved the role his social worker colleagues played in the lives of the suffering and the way they advocated for their patients. One of the things he appreciates the most about studying in the U.S. is to know that he can actually plan ahead for his degree. That type of certainty is more rare in Nigeria where strikes are common interruptions to the schooling process.

How does he stay involved with his family still in Nigeria?

John Paul calls home every day to keep in touch and is also involved in another significant way in the lives of his family. Half of his salary goes to sponsor the education of family and friends in Nigeria. John Paul also finds the time to travel home every year for a month. Christmas, celebrated from Dec. 18-Jan. 7, is a big reunion for his family, celebrated with food, dancing, family reunions, mass returns and the special Nigerian Masquerades.

What is a Masquerade?

Masquerade is an important mode of cultural expression with the purpose of entertainment, to commend achievers, to chastise evil-doers, to bring messages of hope, peace, or impending disaster, to mourn the dead, receive a special newborn, or grace a ceremonial occasion like a festival. The elaborately created costume typically evokes a great range of feelings, from approbation and appreciation to fear and awe. A good masquerade has admirable human or animal features and is a great dancer, too. Men use masquerade as an outlet for their macho energy. They, unlike women, are considered strong enough to invoke and mingle with the spirits of the dead. Traditionally, masquerades have the highest level of freedom in a village. You cannot fight a masquerade. You cannot unmask it. And you have no right to say the name of the person under the mask, even if you know who it is. Once under the mask, he becomes sacred, a person used to embody the spirit.

After graduation plans?

John Paul is passionate about social justice and wants to use the skills he is gaining in this program to find concrete ways of helping the poor. He is also studying marriage and family therapy to help couples in his parish. After getting his MSW, John Paul plans on continuing a Ph.D. in Social Services at Walden University, studying part time and working full-time at his parish. Because he was ordained here, he has committed to living and working the rest of his life in Georgia.