|Father Dominic Maximilian Ofori, better known in the Diocese of Nashville as Father Maxi, recently earned his doctoral degree in rhetoric from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Father Maxi, associate pastor at St. Matthew Parish in Franklin, said the study of language and communications helps in his priestly ministry.
After nearly five years of study, Father Dominic Maximilian Ofori, known to most as Father Maxi, has earned a doctoral degree in rhetoric from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Father Maxi, currently the associate pastor at St. Matthew Church in Franklin, was introduced to the subject of rhetoric while a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro working toward a master’s degree in English.
“Before my first rhetoric class, my understanding of rhetoric was no different than what most ordinary people conceptualize it to be, that is, deceptive communication,” Father Maxi said. Instead, his professor talked about rhetoric as persuasive or effective communication and a counterpart of philosophy that comes from ancient Greece
It only took two classes on rhetoric at MTSU for Father Maxi to know he wanted to continue studying it at the doctoral level. “I fell in love with it for the simple reason that it challenged me intellectually and gave me the tools to engage communicatively with my fellow human beings.”
Rhetoric is the intentional use of language, imbuing it with meaning, to create the desired effect in the audience, Father Maxi explained.
Father Maxi sees the use of rhetoric as an essential part of fulfilling his priestly duties. “As a priest, I am a professional user of language,” he said. “I use language in different ways to celebrate the sacraments, to engage people, and to make meaning of the Bible and other relevant literature. In all of these areas, I must choose, use and understand words in one way and not another, and therein lies the rhetoricity of my linguistic choices.”
He added: “In my homily preparation, for example, rhetoric helps me to think about my theme or message, how to construct a narrative that brings out my theme and resonates with my audience.”
Father Maxi spent three years at Duquesne as a full-time graduate assistant, and then returned to Nashville where he worked for 18 months on his dissertation, “Rebuilding the Catholic Brand in America: An Isocratean Perspective.”
“This dissertation attempts to rebuild the American Catholic brand fractured by the priests’ sexual abuse scandals, using Isocrates’ theory of self-defense and self-representation as found in his Antidosis,” Father Maxi said.
Considering the Catholic Church as a brand, it is a provider of education, health care and social welfare that wields high moral authority as a religious organization that promotes the dignity of the human person. This moral authority was heavily damaged, however, by the sexual abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church.
Father Maxi’s dissertation proposes solutions to repair the tarnished image of the Church in America by using Isocrates’ theory of self-defense, self-representation, and self-characterization. By taking actions such as to “differentiate and dissociate itself from predator priests and their episcopal supporters, establish goodwill toward stakeholders by setting up monuments to memorialize abuse victims … being more transparent in its handling of sexual abuse cases” and perhaps most simply of all “honestly confessing its complicity in the tragedy of the abuse and seeking forgiveness.”
The re-branding of the Catholic Church in America requires embracing its core identity as a model institutional citizen that promotes the dignity of the human person, he said.
Father Maxi came to Nashville from his native Ghana, located on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Knowing he was meant for the priesthood from an early age, Father Maxi attended high school at St. Teresa’s Minor Seminary in Amisano. From there he graduated to study philosophy in Accra at St. Paul’s Catholic Seminary, and then theology at St. Peter’s Regional Seminary in Cape Coast, Ghana.
It was on Dec. 11, 1999, that he was ordained for the Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi. However, this was only the beginning of Father Maxi’s education in order to better fulfill his vocation.
His first introduction to the Diocese of Nashville was in 2004 at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro under the late Father Wiatt Funk’s pastorship. It was here that Father Maxi was introduced to professors at Middle Tennessee State University who assisted him in enrolling in the university’s English graduate program. He was accepted into the program but did not receive graduate assistantship, making attendance impossible.
It would not be until 2007 that Father Maxi received the assistantship that allowed him to relocate to the United States to begin his graduate studies. He found great support here in Bishop David Choby and Father Dexter Brewer, pastor of Christ the King Church in Nashville, he said.
After graduating with his master’s degree in English from MTSU, Father Maxi moved on to Duquesne.
Father Maxi continues to use his extensive education in the subject of rhetoric to serve St. Matthew parishioners and the Diocese of Nashville as a whole for what he hopes is years to come.