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The Early Christian Era in Abor

Excerpts from the book

THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF ABOR

By

Festus Madukaligwe Okolo (NzeChinyelugo 1)

Presented by

Ebubedike(on behalf of F.M. Okolo family)

It was the dawn of Christianity that provided the needed alternative. Christianity came to Abor in 1919 as a Roman Catholic Mission with its form of Western education. This was not a phenomenon peculiar to Abor but had been the case in most of the Christianised areas of Igboland. This was so because education was clearly well appreciated and most important tool of evangelisation.

The Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Joachim Correia (Cssp), a Portuguese who was responsible for the spread of his church from his residence at Eke, sent in a catechist to Chief Ozo Ngwunwagu Onodugo of Abor. Then in 1921 Chief Ozo Ukwu-Anikagu and Chief Ozo Agadangwu Ochi jointly requested Rev. Fr. Marcel Grandin who succeeded Rev. Fr. Correia to send a Catechist to them for church services. He was the Vicar General of the Diocese of Southern Nigeria who in 1928 became the bishop of Ubanji Chari. He sent in one Bernard of Abagana to assist him in his church services. He served for two years (1921 and 1922) before he left. In 1923. Rev. Fr. Vincent Davey who took over from Rev. Fr. Grandin in 1922 sent in Mazi Julius Akubue of Umuoji. This catechist was able to win more than a hundred converts who received baptism in 1923. With these baptisms, the door was opened for more converts who received baptisms subsequently. He served for three years (1923 to 1925).

An attempt was first made to build a church at a place in Ogbolo-Ofufe but it failed. Then a building was raised later with grass roof and mud walls at a place called Ugwu-na-eche-oha located on the north side and adjacent to the Afor-Ofufe public square to serve as a church. Catechists who also assisted Rev. Fr. Davey and his assistant priests in the probation of the Christian faith in St. Peter’s Church Abor included Mazi Timothy of Onitsha (1926-1929), one Andrew of Udi (1930-1932) and one John Okeke of Umuaga (1933-1934). These were known to be catechists who were strong in their faith and able to defend themselves from any attack both physical and spiritual. The priests who assisted Rev. Fr. Davey were Rev. Frs. John Mulvancy, WitticO’Donnel, John Brown, Frank Murray and P. O. Connor.

In 1932, Rev. Fr. Thomas Brosnam took over from Rev. Fr. Davey and remained in office till 1950 when he left for Sierra-Leone in his missionary expedition and became the Archbishop of Sierra Leone. He was assisted by Rev. Fr. Thomas Fox (1933-55), James Giltinan and Fr. Brady respectively. It was during his time that the church was transferred from Ugwu-na-eche-oha area to the present site at Ugwu-Ofor-Akaya. He came and chose the new site. It was cleared and graded in 1932 at a place along the 9th Mile/Nsukka oId road. There he built a solid rest house in the new compound to serve as a base for the priests who were required to extend their services from there to the other neighbouring towns in Ojebe Ogene Clan including Ukana, Awhum, Okpatu, Umulumgbe and Umuoka. He then urged the Christian community of Abor to build a church resembling the one in St. Charles Teacher Training College Onitsha. He encouraged them by giving them loan to complete the solid building as required.

Rev. Fr. T. J. Brosnan was an amiable person whose ability to learn and speak the Igbo language fluently merited him the favour of everybody among the pagans and Christians. He was able to learn and call almost everybody with whom he came in contact by name. This made it possible for him to socialise easily with the people of his parish. On his arrival however, he quickly recognised the spontaneous interest of the people of Abor in church affairs, hence he made Abor his beloved station. He brought in Chief Gabriel Adimora as his catechist in 1935. The catechist was an ex-seminarian from Agulu who mobilized the Abor people and saw to the repayment of the loan from the Reverend Father. He personally carried out the work of evangelisation of the Abor community by rendering assistance to the Reverend Fathers. His moral standard was acceptable to the people of Abor community. He was referred to as a man who could not yield to the attraction of the wayward women.

When he got married, he and his wife became the joint trainees of young ladies preparing for marriage. Those they trained were many, numbering more than fifty. He also trained many boys from his home including one Rev. Fr. John Okai, John Ezeisi, Nestor Orji, etc. Some women were included but they had changed their names after marriage.

In 1950, Rev. Fr. Brady took over the church administration in the Eke Parish from Fr. T. J. Brosnan. He was assisted by Rev. Fr. Sheeham. Rev Fr. Brady had maintained the church services with the usual monthly visits to Abor community on the second weekend of each month which normally ended on Sunday with a Mass. Church services on the rest of other Sundays in each month were left in the hands of the Catechists and their assistance. He left in 1951.

Then school administration became separated from that of the church among the Irish Missionaries. While Rev. Fr. Burke took up Church administration from Fr. Brady, Rev. Fr. Horrigan became the school manager. In 1955, Rev. Fr. G. O. Doharty replaced Fr. Horrigan as the school manager. Mazi Paul Udefune of Mgbagbu Owa became the Catechist in 1951 and since then he had relieved the headmaster of the burden of both school and church. It was during that time that one Rev. Fr. O’Keefe was roving from station to station in the old Eke Parish preaching retreat. Church services had not changed but remained the same with Rev. Fathers’ visit to Abor on monthly basis. It used to be on the second week end of the month which normally coincided with the period for the payment of salaries to miners.

Mazi Paul Udefune left after 1957 and Ichie Maurice Ukwu took up the work of Catechist. He carried out these functions till December 1961 when he left for St. Theresa Church, Abor where Mazi Patrick Nwobodo was assisting the Rev. Fr. as the Catechist. In 1962, Nze Festus Okolo of Abor become the Catechist and was assisting the Rev. Frs. in carrying on with church services. Later, Mazi Theophilius Ugwu Onodingene took up the work of the Catechist.

In 1963, Enugu Diocese was carved out of the Onitsha Arch-Diocese with his Lordship, John Cross Anyogu, as its first Bishop. In the same year Rev. Fr. Brady came back in his second missionary journey to the old Eke Parish. When Rev. Fr. Burke left the Parish, Rev. Fr. Patrick Anumba, an indigenous priest became his assistant but before long he took ill and died. Rev. Frs. Buckley and Nullan came later and jointly took over the management of the schools in the Parish. That time Rev. Fr. Paschal Keamey, an Irish priest, was posted to live and teach in Christ High School Abor as a curate. This was in response to a request for a resident priest made to his Lordship Bishop John Cross Anyogu by the Abor community during his maiden visit to Abor. The principal of Christ High School Abor, Igwe L. U. Ukwu also requested for the same favour before it was granted.

When events in the Nigerian political life continued to escalate following the military take-over of government in 1965, giving indication that civil war was inevitable, Rev. Fr. Paschal Kearney left the country and went to Sierra Leone. Rev. Fr. Brady handed over to an indigenous priest, Rev. Fr. Francis Okobo who at the outbreak of the civil war carried the Parish into exile where he remained for the duration of the war (1967-1970). He is now the Bishop of Nsukka Diocese.

After the Nigerian civil war in 1970, the administration of the church became the sole responsibility of the indigenous priests in the Catholic Church because the war had driven away the expatriate priests. His Lordship John Cross Anyogu had been dead and was buried in the Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu in 1967 just as the civil war was beginning. His position was assumed in exile during the war by his Lordship, Bishop Godfrey Mary Paul Okoye, who was displaced as the Bishop of Port Harcourt. He sent in Rev. Fr. Moses Orakwudo (Cssp) to take over the administration of the church from Rev. Fr. Francis Okobo. The new priest had refused to live at Ugwu Mkpulu-Aku now renamed Ugwu-Di-Nso. He instead rented a house inside the Eke town for fear of the armed robbers who had at that time targeted the priests. This was so because it appeared that they were richer than others whose earthly possessions were lost to the civil war. Since then, the Parish centre had remained inside Eke town. The need for catechists had become acute as teachers were no longer willing to engage in such voluntary services formerly done without remuneration. However, Mazi Theophilius Ugwu Onodingene had taken the assignment. He was the father of Rev. Sister Theresa Paula Onodingene.

In 1972 Rev. Fr. Dominic Chukwu became the Parish Priest. The Abor Catholic community was getting the attention of the expatriate priests with two masses every Sunday before the war because of the resident priest at Christ High School Abor. This time it was not possible for such attention to be given to them, when it was only one priest for the whole of the old Eke Parish. Then, in 1975, Rev. Fr. Anthony Okonkwor took over the administration of Eke Parish. He did his best to maintain the services as his predecessors had done. Priests had remained scarce because of the fear generated by the war which scared away the expatriate priests at a time when the indigenous priests were very few indeed.

Moreover, the government of the day was dominated by the Northerners who were not willing to allow the expatriate priests to come. In 1976, Rev. Fr. Donatus Odiegwu (Cssp) became the Parish Priest. He aroused and mobilised the people of St. Peter’s Church Abor to commence the building of a new big Church of a Pro-Cathedral Standard. He said that it was an assignment given to him by His Lordship Godfrey Mary Paul Okoye, the then Bishop of Enugu Diocese. It was through him that we received the sum of fifteen thousand dollars which was converted in 1980 to be equal to eight thousand, one hundred and forty two naira. This was a gift received from foreign donors as an encouragement on the Pro-Cathedral building under construction by the St. Peter’s Parish Community in Abor.

In 1977, Chief Peter Onyechi became the Catechist of St. Peter Catholic Church Abor. Rev Fr. Donatus Odiegwu (Cssp) had made serious efforts to improve on the pattern of administration of the church in Eke Parish by endeavouring to give the Abor Catholic Community one Mass every Sunday with the help of the priest at Ugwu-Di-Nso before he left in 1980. It was in 1977 that the Pro-cathedral building began in St. Peter Parish Abor and progressed by direct labour till 1980. Then it was contracted out to a building company known as Hill Top Construction Ltd. In the same year 1980, Rev. Fr. Bartholomew Nnaji became the Eke Parish Priest. He was also requesting Rev. Fr. Charles Ukagha of Ugwu-Di-Nso to help him say Masses at Abor on Sundays as his predecessor, Rev. Fr. Odiegwu did. It was the use of his services that made it possible for all stations under him to benefit from Sunday Masses every Sunday. It was at this time that the church building under construction collapsed. This was due to the contractor’s inefficiency and lack of proper supervision by the engineer who was in charge of the work.

It is true that Rev. Fr. Charles Ukagha was not given the opportunity to serve Abor as a Parish Priest but he had contributed greatly to our success in the building of the Pro-cathedral now standing to our credit. With the unexpected collapse of the church building under construction there was a gloomy atmosphere of disappointment and loss of interest among the Christians. It was Rev. Fr. Charles Ukagha who saw what was happening and quickly took measures to help us out of the doldrums. He rekindled the people’s interest by carrying out the audit of our accounts and then using the money remaining in our account to contract for the erection, of a new church building with heavy iron stations in 1982. This measure restored and revived people’s interests once more on the building project. In the same year (1980), one of our daughters Rev. Sister Theresa Paula Onodingene took her final vow in her profession at Onitsha Arch-Diocese. Then in 1983 Rev. Fr. B. Nnaji left the station. Since then there was a yearly relay of priests in their postings to Eke Parish to which we belonged.

Rev. Fr. Theophilus Anyanwu took his turn first in 1983 as he became the Parish Priest. He was hurriedly followed in 1984 by Rev. Fr. Boniface Onah. Then in 1985, Rev. Fr. Edward Kanife took over the administration of the Parish. He remained in office till he fell sick in 1989 and was consequently flown overseas for treatment. In his absence, however, Rev. Fr. Malachy Nwabuisi (Cssp) was made to cover the Parish from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where he was serving full time. In the year 1985 Chief Peter Onyechi retired from service as the Catechist and his place was taken over by Mazi Ferdinand Ikogwu.

Early in 1990 Rev. Fr. John Amuji became the Parish Priest. He was almost immediately selected for service in the seminary at Ikot Ekpene. But before he left, he was able to solve the problem of our relationship with Umuavulu people over church affairs. In order to solve the problem, he opened a new station in Abor. He christened it the Arch-Angel Michael Station of Abor. Then he began to share Sunday services among the three stations viz: the St. Peter’s Station, the St. Theresa’s station and the Arch-Angel Michael station.

Furthermore, he started to prepare us for full growth to maturity into a parish by giving us week day Masses on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, one in each of the three stations. Prior to his assumption of office in Eke Parish, week day Masses had remained the preserve of the Eke people. Other stations outside Eke town shared with her only the Sunday Masses. He also prepared the Christians for the priestly ordination of Rev. Fr. Augustine Emeh which took place on the 6th October 1990. Early in the year, one of our daughters Dorathy Ozor took her own profession as Rev. Sister John Bosco Ozor. Then Fr. Amuji left the station for Rev. Fr Dominic Aduaka who assumed office on the 25th of Sept. 1990.

After following the same pattern of administration in line with his predecessor in Abor for some time he opted to change it. He cancelled the Arch-Angel Michael Station for reasons best known to him and began to say Masses in Abor every Sunday, one in St. Peter’s church and the other in St. Theresa’s Church Abor. This system of administration had the effect of dividing the town into two. A few people who manipulated it enjoyed the separation but the majority of the people from both sections did not like it. It was later that his intention came to light when the two stationssimultaneously matured into a parish each in 1995. It was in 1994 that mention was only made of each of the stations becoming a parish but no priest was brought in to run any of them despite the fact that a parish house was ready for occupation in St. Peter’s Parish Centre. It had been understood that the reason for not sending a priest there was that the two parishes were planned by the Enugu Catholic Secretariat, to mature at the same time.

In order to actualise the two parishes together, the priest assigned to St. Theresa’s Parish was permitted to live in somebody’s house within the town, a similar favour that was long ago denied St. Peter’s Parish Abor since 1991, making it look as if the Enugu Catholic Church authorities chose to adopt double standards in dealing with their subjects. They had-their reason for doing so which they did not make public. They probably made God know their reason.

However, Rev. Fr. Dominic Aduaka had continued to act as the Parish Priest of the two parishes from his station at Eke till the 25th September 1995. It was on this day that Rev. Fr. Benjamin Mbata took up the administration of the St. Peter’s Parish Abor while Rev. Fr. Joseph Anochili took up the administration of the St. Theresa’s Parish Abor.

Rev. Fr. Joseph Anochili has been replaced with Rev. Fr. Christopher Anyanwu Azuka, as the Parish Priest of the St. Theresa’s Parish Abor in 1999. Then on 2nd September, 2000, Rev. Fr. Malachy Ezeonu took over the-administration of St. Peter’sParish Abor while Rev. Fr. Anselem Onoh became the Parish Priest of St. Theresa’s Parish Abor.

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