Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri
‘ A History’
By Fr. Jude C Ike and Fr. Innocent Aguwom
The Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri spreads through eight local government areas of Imo State, the heartland of Igbo land in Eastern Nigeria. It has a population of about 600,000 Catholics and covers an expanse of 2996.27 sq km. It has more than 89 parishes administered by 259 diocesan priests over some religious priests and about 300 catechists.
There are four male religious congregations working in the diocese. They include: the Spiritans, Cleretians, Don-Guanellans, Marist brothers of the School, and the brothers of St Stephen. We also have five female religious congregations: the handmaid of the holy child Jesus; the congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy; the Holy Family sisters of the Needy, a home-based group with headquarters at Nekede Owerri, and the Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood. The Archdiocese also houses a cell of the Carmelite Monastery of St Joseph of the Divine Providence. Bishop Whelan initiated the establishment of the monastery, but bishop Unegbu finally set it up in 1974.
For the training of priests, the Archdiocese has 2 junior seminaries: the St Peter Claver Seminary Okpala formally St Paul’s Major Seminary during the missionary days established in 1942, converted to junior seminary in 1951. Then Assumpta Minor Seminary established in 1990 by bishop Unegbu. The Archdiocese has also the Assumpta Spiritual year centre, a preparatory institute at Ogbaku.
The Archdiocese houses two senior seminaries: Seat of Wisdom Seminary Ulakwo for diocesan priests and the Claretian Institute of Philosophy for the training of religious clergy. The Spiritans also has a postulate house at Akabo.
The purpose of the church is ultimately the salvation of souls, but the church also seeks the establishment and consolidation of the reign of God’s kingdom in the world particularly in the hearts of men. To archive this two sided objectives for her numerous faithful and to broker this to the many others who are not her adherents the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri engages in various activities. These constitute the high points of her apostolate.
The Igbo’s as a people has love for education and knowledge. The missionaries realised this from their earliest days amongst the Igbos. This was why they employed education as a major evangelisation strategy. Their brand of education is the western formal education. They established many schools. All their stations, outposts and parishes consisted of the twin set of church and school.
Prior to the forced takeover of schools by the government in 1970, the old Owerri diocese alone had 30 secondary schools, 600 primary schools and five teacher training colleges. Under the missions the standard of education was manifestly high. The school structures were well maintained, the surroundings decorated with flowers, gardens and trees. What we have today is a caricatureof what education was then.
While awaiting the return of her school, the Archdiocese is still continuing greatly towards sanitising and upgrading the standard of education. She is proprietor to and or custodian of more than 9 secondary schools, 11 primary schools and many nursery schools. These are managed either by the parishes or by religious congregations working in the Archdiocese. Prominent among these are Christ the King Secondary School Obike, Fr. Colnan memorial Secondary School Emekuku, Stella Maris Secondary Schools Orodo, Holy Rosary International College Owerri, Holy Rosary commercial School Mbieri, Assumpta International Nursery Primary School Owerri, Madonna International primary and secondary Schools, St Paul’s International Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools Owerri.
One Institute of advanced studies has been added by the Archbishop, Rev. Dr. A.J.V. Obinna.: the Whelan Research Academy intended to be a centre for religious and cultural research.
To satisfy spiritual appetite and instil in the faithful an increased flare for the practise of the faith, the archdiocese is making profound effort. She has in place an up-to-date and standard institute for the continued and ongoing spiritual formation of the faithful: the Assumpta Pastoral Centre, centre for ongoing formation. The centre provides facilities for various forms of spiritual retreat, seminars and conferences.
The present episcopacy also initiated the Eucharistic congress outreach. The Eu-care outreach as it is called is a monthly devotional forum which is aimed at sustaining the spiritual fruits of the 2nd Nigerian National Eucharistic congress hosted in Owerri in 1992. The outreach is conducted at the congress podium behind the Assumpta Villa and in various parishes on 1st Fridays of every month. These go a long way to deepen the faith obtained by the normal life of the church’s celebration of the word and the sacraments.