Mercy, Unity chaplain earns U.S. citizenship

After his Oct. 2 swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Rev. Peter Yakubu Ali (left) posed with his brother Christopher Haruna and U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Tony Leung (center). Photo courtesy of Joan Kalpiers

After his Oct. 2 swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Rev. Peter Yakubu Ali (left) posed with his brother Christopher Haruna and U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Tony Leung (center). Photo courtesy of Joan Kalpiers

When he arrived in America nine years ago from Nigeria, Rev. Peter Yakubu Ali had lost all hope. Now. he’s a U.S. citizen.

Gravely ill and told he had terminal cancer, Ali’s Nigerian doctors sent him to the United States, hoping against all hope that a cure could be found.

When doctors at Fairview examined him, they found no cancer.

Instead they determined Ali had an infection. While they were able to successfully treat it, considerable damage had been done to his gallbladder and pancreas, resulting in an insulin-dependent diabetic condition and high blood pressure.

“But I was living,” Ali said, smiling broadly and seated inside the chapel at Mercy Hospital where he serves the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as chaplain for Mercy and Unity Hospitals.

“When I left Nigeria, I had no hope. I was very sick. I was told I would die. And now I’m living and sharing my story.”

Today, the chaplain ministers to patients at Mercy and Unity hospitals – many of whom have lost all hope.

“I work in the hospital because I have a story to share with people who are losing hope, who are sad, angry, anxious … Jesus never considered my case hopeless, and so I know my case was not hopeless,” Ali said. “I want to share my story with those who are losing hope.”

Jodi Barry, a fellow chaplain at Mercy, recognizes Ali’s happiness.

“He has more joy than anyone I know,” Barry said. “He loves God. He loves ministry and he loves his people.”

Rev. Peter Yakubu Ali, shown here in the chapel at Mercy Hospital, has served the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as chaplain at Mercy and Unity Hospitals for the past nine years. On Oct. 2 he officially became a citizen of the United States. Photo by Sue Austreng

Rev. Peter Yakubu Ali, shown here in the chapel at Mercy Hospital, has served the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as chaplain at Mercy and Unity Hospitals for the past nine years. On Oct. 2 he officially became a citizen of the United States. Photo by Sue Austreng

As Catholic chaplain serving Mercy and Unity hospitals, Ali practices a sacramental ministry, anoints the sick and takes confession.

He also celebrates weekly Mass at Mercy and at Unity.

And in addition to his duties as chaplain at the two hospitals, Ali serves as priest in residence at Epiphany Catholic Church, Coon Rapids.

“He is so precious to us, so humble and filled with such joy. We are blessed,” said Joan Kalpiers, a member of Epiphany.

Patients and families, hospital staff and church members had another reason to celebrate the renewed life of Ali when he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen Oct. 2.

“That was a very important day. I am very happy to be a citizen,” Ali said.

U.S. citizenship is a life-saving condition for Ali. Once doctors treated his infection, he was still dependent on medications that are not available in Nigeria – medications to treat his damaged pancreas and to preserve life.

And so, doctors wrote letters recommending that Ali be allowed to stay in the United States as a life-saving measure.

On the ministerial side of things, the Nigerian bishop worked with the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to allow Ali to work in the United States.

And then, of course, Ali had a test to pass.

“They gave me a book with answers to 100 questions – history, geography, politics, the Constitution – everything,” Ali said. “I had to read that book and study that book to take the test.”

The test consisted of 10 questions randomly chosen from the 100 questions answered in the book. To be granted American citizenship, Ali had to correctly answer five of those questions.

“The questions could be on anything. Anything in that book could be on the test, so I studied,” Ali said.

Then, when he answered the first six questions correctly, he was told he had to go no further. He was an American citizen and would be sworn in Oct. 2.

Ali wanted to share that landmark day with family and so he immediately called his brother in Nigeria.

“The very day I passed the test I called my brother to come and represent the family,” Ali said.

With proper paperwork in order, Ali’s brother Christopher Haruna and his wife Teresa and their two daughters Joy and Jennifer made the trip to witness the swearing in ceremony.

“I am so happy for him. I am so proud,” Haruna said, wrapping his arms around Ali’s shoulders and congratulating him during a reception at Mercy hospital in Ali’s honor.

Ali’s joy seems to multiply as he ministers to the parish at Epiphany and to patients at Mercy and Unity, now as a U.S. citizen.

“If there is a patient who appears sad, angry, defensive, losing hope – that’s the patient I want to see,” Ali said. “I want to share my story. I want to show them there is hope.”

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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