Togolese seminarian finds strength and direction in childhood loss


By Theresa Carson

On Aug. 3, six young men professed religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. One has chosen the path of brotherhood formation. The other five are seminarians. All six will begin coursework at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in the fall. Today, we introduce you to Betenora Bako Liba.

Betenora Bako Liba, 24, grew up in a loving home in Sokode, a large city in Togo in northwestern Africa. His father taught high school French while his mother ruled the home with discipline and warmth.

“My mom was the most influential person in my life,” said Betenora, who is the youngest of three sons.

Betenora’s parents instilled in their children a desire to learn and be grounded in faith. They expected the brothers to take school seriously and to attend Mass on Sundays.

“My parents were very much interested in our future and our having a better life than they had,” he said.

As Betenora grew older, his desire to study and his interest in church life grew more intense. He recalls feeling a sense of peace while preparing for his First Communion. He would need that sense of serenity later in his young life. In 2009, his mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

As he faced his mother’s failing health, he felt an “awakening about suffering and the meaning of life.” He grew closer to God and his earthly father. Betenora said he felt called to be more responsible for his father.

“I really became more compassionate with him,” he said. Betenora was 14 when his mother died the following February.

After his mother’s death, a paternal aunt and a religious sister became second mothers to him, he said as he described Togo as having a collectivistic society.

“They helped me see a different aspect of things,” he said. “I believe they saw something in me that I didn’t see.”

He became more involved in the church, considered becoming a priest and joined a vocation group in his home parish. That discernment led him to the Society of the Divine Word.

Two years ago, his religious superiors sent him to the United States to study. He spent one year at Divine Word College for English-language studies and another year at the Theologate in Hyde Park and this past year at Techny for his novitiate.

This fall, Betenora returns to the Theologate and enrolls in Catholic Theological Union to continue to seminary studies.

He takes his mother with him. “We are separated physically, but there’s a deep sense that she’s still present. I call my brothers to share my experiences, and she’s always with us.”

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