Augustinians of Villanova: Father John Abubakar


Courtesy of Father John Abubakar

Father John Abubakar came to Villanova in 2021 and has become an influential figure on campus.

Olivia Sabalaskey, Staff Writer

“Sustainability is about judiciously using resources, only taking what you need, not just what you want,” Father John Abubakar, O.S.A., said. “It aligns with the Augustinian values: collecting everything for others to serve the common good.” 

This week, Fr. John offers Villanovans a glimpse into his life as an Augustinian at Villanova University in the Augustinians of Villanova Column. 

Born in Nigeria, Fr. John grew up in a very service-oriented Roman Catholic parish run by the Order of St. Augustine. Similar to Saint Augustine and Jesus, the Augustinians at Fr. John’s hometown parish led a balanced spiritual and service life.

“I saw that simple approach to life in the Augustinians,” Fr. John said. “They planted that seed for me. Gradually, this seed grew into my decision to join the Order.”

In 1995, Fr. John began his Augustinian journey in the Province of Nigeria, the largest Augustinian province in Africa and one of the fastest growing Augustinian provinces in the world. 

“We have at least 230 Augustinian priests, with maybe 70 students,” Fr. John said. “The Province covers Nigeria, South Africa, Benin and we even have houses in England and Texas.” 

Nine years later, in 2004, Fr. John was ordained a priest. Dedicated to serving others spiritually, Fr. John served as an Assistant Pastor in a Nigerian parish and as the Vocations Director at a formation house, training and admitting students. After discovering his passion for teaching and mentoring the younger generation, Fr. John taught courses as a graduate assistant at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary Jos in Nigeria. 

In 2008, he was called to serve as a Student Priest in Rome, Italy, where he pursued higher education in biblical theology. Including Fr. John, about 60 student priests from more than 25 different countries lived together in the International House in Rome.

“This opportunity helped me understand the internationality of the Order,” Fr. John said. “During my time in Rome, I learned that the common nature of every human person is largely the same, regardless of color and culture that tend to shape how we act. At the core of it, there’s something that connects all of us. This experience really changed my perspective. I began to think not so much as a Nigerian or an African, but more so from the common good standpoint.”

Four years later, in 2012, Fr. John was asked to return to Nigeria, given his election as the Provincial of the Province. As Provincial, Fr. John led many spiritual and service projects for the Augustinians to support local communities. 

“I worked with some poorer communities in Nigeria where there are many insurgency and terrorist attacks,” Fr. John said. “Unfortunately, we dealt with some of them in our parish. During one of my visits as Provincial, I spoke with community members and I was terribly disheartened by the poverty level.”

After his visit, Fr. John returned to St. Augustine’s Major Seminary Jos and rallied his fellow Augustinians to create a center for such suffering communities. This marked Fr. John’s first large effort in sustainability and caring for the poor.

When his eight year term as Provincial ended in 2020, Fr. John traveled to Birmingham, England to study poverty, development, climate change and the larger environment. Despite being overseas, he often spoke with Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., PhD, and Rev. Arthur Purcaro, O.S.A. about joining the Augustinian community at Villanova University. 

“Long story short, they convinced me,” he said. “I came over to Villanova in August of 2021. Since then, I have been teaching two courses: ‘Catholic Studies’ and ‘The Bible and Sustainability.’ Soon, I will teach ‘Sustainability Leadership.’”

At Villanova, Fr. John works closely with the Sustainability Leadership Council to translate classroom academia into service projects on and off campus. 

“An effective way to impact the future is to infuse values in the younger generation,” Fr. John said. “I feel privileged being able to do this as an Augustinian in the context of Villanova University, which is very Augustinian. I see the values of Unitas, Veritas and Caritas everywhere on campus. It reminds me a lot of home back in Nigeria. I love the spiritual atmosphere and how it is infused into the college’s culture.”

In his spare time, Fr. John enjoys watching or participating in sports, especially soccer and swimming. Back in Nigeria, Fr. John established a small team of young soccer players, and he enjoyed playing with them often. Fr. John staunchly believes that soccer is the real football, and he encourages debates on the subject.

For those having trouble discerning what to do next in life, Fr. John offers some words of advice. 

“From a Biblical perspective, I believe that God has a purpose for why every human person was created,” Fr. John said. “Clearly, it is not always easy for us to hear His calling. Often, we simply feel drawn to things like I did regarding religious life. I would recommend visiting the Vocations Office not far from the monastery or speaking with any Augustinian on campus. Beyond that, be it the religious or the marital life, the important thing to ask yourself is if you are responding to the purpose for which God has created you. We all have our roles to play.”