History of Christianity in Nigeria: Chapter Four

Urhobo Historical Society
History of Christianity In Nigeria

© Samuel U. Erivwo, 1979
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo

Early years, 1916-1929

  As has been shown the Roman Catholic Mission was resuscitated at Warri in the second decade of this century. During the period 1914-19, it was placed on a firm footing by the efforts of Cavagnera, an italian Father, andOlier, a French, both of whom were sent by Bishop Broderick from Asaba, the headquarters of the R.C.M. in Nigeria at that time. It was not until after 1916, however, that Roman Catholicism penetrated the hinterland, through the work especially of one J. A. Eyube, an Itsekiri from Igbogidi, with an Urhobo mother from Ekiugbo, Ughelli. Eyube was attending the Government School at Warri which was under Protestant influence when he and his colleagues wee met and converted by Cavagnea in1913. They were converted by the argument that the Holy Catholic Church which they had so long been repeating in the Apostles’ Creed was none other than the Roman Catholic Church. Consequently when Eyube came to Ekiugbo in 1917 to visit his mother who was stricken with illness, Olier baptised her as a Roman Catholic. Thereafter he proceeded to Ovwo to convert a relation, one D. F. Sadjere, from the Niger Delta Pastorate, by the same argument of the Holy Catholic Church.[1] Sadjere’s conversion was so thorough going that his uncle, Chief Ovedje, who desired him to be a polygamist, proved antagonistic. But Sadjere, in the bid to avoid being coerced to life of polygamy, packed bag and baggage and fled to a neighbouring town, Ophorigbala, where he was baptised in December 1921. He returned to organise a Roman Catholic Church at Ovwo, at a time when Eyube was doing a similar thing forEkigbo. Meanwhile Roman Catholic Churches were springing up in other places, at Igbogidi, Ophori in  Agbarho, Ouname, Ovu, and Evwreni. At Evwreni, the Church was introduced by one M. Pinnick around 1917. But Pinnick died shortly after, and Sadjere was posted there as Catechist in 1921. From here he not only supervised other churches which had emerged in Ewu, Arhavwarien and neighbourhood, but also received and instructed inquirers who came from IllueOlogbo in Isoko. While Sadjere was active in this area, Eyube stationed at Ughevwughe, was organising the churches in Igbogidi,Ughievwe, Polomu, and Ughelli areas. As more hands were needed for this kind of organisation and supervision of churches, aspirants who wanted to help in this way were given some training by Eyube at Igbogidi. In Western Urhobo, now Ethiope Local Government Area Ovu became a centre of activities. Here the faith was introduced by one J. E. E. Enaohwo, who converted the AfricanBethelChurch there to R.C.M. in January 1921.[1] Next to Ovu is Eku where the R.C.M. was introduced at about the same time by one Peter U.Inweh, ofOkurekpo, after an ugly incident in which at Christmas time he and his followers beat up  Aganbi  and seceded from the C.M.S.[1]At Ephron the R.C.M. was introduced by one Okpikimu in 1927. Okpikimu had Stephen, who was to be the first Urhobo Romans Catholic priest, as second in command. Between them they organised the church here, and invited especially young children to catechism.

  Roman Catholicism was carried to Okwagbe by Obudu, Ganagana, Irorobayeghie, and Okopheghe in 1924, three years after the C.M.S. had been brought by Babeido. Here, and in many other places where roman Catholicism was introduced in Urhobo, there seemed to have been mutual understanding between traditionalists and the converts.[1] This should not be surprising because, as has been shown, Roman Catholicism did not reach the hinterland until after 1916, which was the year of great persecution. According to Ganagana, whenever Okwagbe town suspended Okpa (palm nut collecting) and intended to resume it, it was done on any day but Sunday so that Christians could participate. Even during esemo worship, says Ganagana, no attempt was made to persuade Christians at Okwagve to take part. Food prohibited by edjo, or even those held sacred by the entire community, were eaten with impunity by the Christians. A number of esedjo, we are told, even released their children to go to church while they themselves declared: Avware rue amenasherire.[1]We are already too deep in the water Much later in the period the Christians at Okwagbe were called upon to destroy anyedijo which proved unhelpful. Thus in the period just before 1961 three edijo were destroyed on the invitation of the people. These were Eloho for fertility, Arigbo for protection against lions and other carnivores, and Igegen for war. Although the Christians at Okwagbe give this as an example of cordiality between Christians and traditionalists the invitation to destroy these edjo can be accounted for on other grounds. A few hospitals and maternity homes had been built to make the people less dependent on Eloho.[1]Similarlylions and other carnivores were scarcely now existing in Urhoboland, nor were there inter-clan wars any more to require the help of Igagen.If a different situation arose, the civil war, for instance, those who had allegedly turned their backs on traditional medicines might call for a resuscitation of Igegenit is, however alleged that the Okwagve who had become aware of the possible blessings forfeited by their forbears’ legendary rejection of Crowther, cooperated with the various denominations, not least with the Roman Catholics, when the new faith was introduced there. The period 1916-29 thus witnessed a rapid spread of Roman Catholicism among the Urhobo. In the Isoko section, Roman Catholicism was neither as widespread nor as deep rooted as in Urhobo.Roman Catholicism reached Isoko in 1918, six years after the arrival of the C.M.S.AtUzere (Uze) the C.M.S. had been introduced by Eda. But when one Alexander Obuseri, an ex-service man from Ase, paid one B. Adaka of Uze a visit, both of them attended the only church then at Uzere. Since Alexander was a Roman Catholic, he made a sign of the cross-a sign unknown to the Protestants, and viewed by them as savouring of Edho practice. Alexander was therefore expelled from the Church. He was followed by his host, Adaka, and others-M. OsaOboravo, G. OriegeEgoro, P. ObraOtefe etc. these started a Roman Catholic Church adjacent to the C.M.S. compound. From Uzere the R.C.M. spread to the rest of Isoko. Through one Odhu it reached Illue-Ologbo, from where one G. Okoloko who had separated from the C.M.S. at Ozoro, took it. Together with one Erimu, a fellow secessionist from the C.M.S., Okoloko erected a hut at Alla Square in Ozoro for a place of worship.[1] In 1922, according to Itugbu, who claimed to be the first Roman Catholic Catechist in Isoko, one Stub, a Rev. Father from Asaba, visited Ozoro and baptised a few persons in Erimu’s house. In that same year Itugbu, who had been educated at Onitsha, was made a Catechist, and placed in charge of a number of Roman Catholic churches in Isoko which was at the time under Warri Parish.[1]Itugbu said that, stationed at  Olomoro, he supervised  Olomoro, Ofagba,Orien, Oleh, Irri, Ellu, Ovrode,Adadje, Oyode, Ewekpaka, Emede, and even Uzere. He mentioned B. Adaka, S. Ovuoronye, and P. Omonyowoma, as others who were his contemporaries in the field, while L. Ojakovo of Iyede, and M. IsololoofUzere, both of whom trained at Asaba under Broderick taught the new converts at Ozoro, which later became the headquarters of R.C.M. work in Isoko.

Method of Evangelisation

  As must be palpable by now, unlike the Protestant Churches, Roman Catholics did not depend on open air preaching to win members to their fold. Their method was a less emotional and more subtle one of appealing to individuals at their places of work and wherever they were met, to come to church. This method was used extensively later by members of a particular society-the Society of the Legion of Mary. Secondly, any traditionalist who was at the point of death was quickly approached and offered baptism. Once baptised, if he happened to recover, he generally became attached to the church. In this way Sadjere, during his tenure of office as Catechist, between 1921 and 1964, with a break from 1934-54, administered private baptism to the sick on the average of twelve per year! Although some of them lapsed, many became faithful. A third and more significant method employed to win converts was the school. True, the C.M.S. antedates the R.C.M in Urhobo, but it was the latter, which by 1935 planted schools in myriads of Urhobo villages and towns in most of which places the C.M.S. maintained only worshipping congregations. As pupils flocked to schools they were coaxed or compelled to attend the Roman Catholic Church.For instance, B. M. Ogagan of Ephron, who as a boy attended the AfricanChurch introduced by Omofeye, crossed tot he roman Catholic Church at Warri when in 1924, he enrolled in an R.C.M.School there. S. Umurie, who, in 1927, was assisting Okpikimu at Ephron, gave Ogagan and his colleagues notes as testimony of their attendance at church when the church was introduced to Ephron. Failure to tender such notes at school on Mondays earned the youngsters not a few strokes[1].Umurie painstakingly carried out this ministry of ensuring which of the children were regular at such services, and which were not, until 1928 when he entered IbuzorTrainingCollege. The School was thus used as an effective instrument of evangelisation. Hence also at Okwagbe, where the C.M.S. preceded the R.C.M., it was also the latter which, with a characteristic competitive spirit, introduced a school in 1932. This was through the help of Father Kelly, then stationed at Warri. The significance attached by Roman Catholics to schools cannot be over emphasised. It was in the firm belief that once the children were converted, the continuity of roman Catholicism in the land would be assured. The stratagem of the Roman Catholic authorities appeared to be “instruct the child the way to go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Once they had a child for the first seven years of his life, they were generally sure that he would remain a Roman Catholic for ever. The process of “Roman Catholicising” did not end with the alluring invitation to attend school; it was sustained by an offer of baptism and promoted by encouragement to attend confessions regularly once baptised, and to be present at Mass without fail. This contrasted sharply with the C.M.S. practice where after baptism even of adults, the baptised were expected to wail for at least another two years before confirmation, without which they were not qualified to participate in the Lord’s supper. The Roman Catholic approach was surely more effective, and in a situation where the C.M.S. were not very active, as in the Urhobo section, the former stood to gain. After the initial penetration of the hinterland the question of organisation of the churches became urgent. From what has been said, it is evident that the authorities were at first satisfied to place newly baptised converts as Catechists in charge of young churches. Hence, as we have seen, Sadjere became Catechist at Evwreni after his baptism, as was the case with Itugbu at Olomoro. But as yet all the young churches were under a single Parish—Warri Parish. For, apart from Orogu (Arhagba) Parish created in 1919,[1] there was no other parish in the hinterland. From Warri the pioneer Rev. Fathers, like Cavagnera, Olier, and their successors came to itinerate the  Urhobo, Isoko, and Ijo countries. Their itineration was obviously attended with grave difficulties. For, covering a vast area as it did, it necessarily lasted for weeks and sometimes months.

Before their arrival in any town, the Catechists went as harbingers to prepare the converts. On the arrival of the priest, candidates were presented for baptism, confessions were made, and Holy Mass said. The Catechists were therefore placed on strategic points only to hold the fort pending the arrival of a priest, whose visits needed to be frequent if the work of evangelisation was to be thorough. But covering a large area as they did, and with the scarcity of priests, these visits could not be but far between. Thee was therefore a dire need for more priests and more parishes.

Up till 1921, Father G. Kraught was alone at Warri, but in December of that year, two young Irish priests, Fathers J. Cadogan and P. J. Kelly, were sent to assist him. Eku Parish was consequently created in 1922, and Kelly was stationed there as the resident priest. From here he itinerated and supervised Eku, Ovu, and Sapele areas. Under his leadership an R.C.M.Church was planted in the Urhobovillage of Ovu in 1922. Eku Parish, was, however, shortlived. Kelly moved to Sapele in 1925. The decision to leave Eku was consequent upon the decline of the R.C.M. there. After the introduction of the BaptistChurch and the subsequent conflicts of 1927, Roman Catholic membership at Eku dwindled even further. The unavailability of properly trained workers, especially indigenous and capable priests who could compete effectively with the Baptists, for instance, was no doubt a contributory factor to the decline of Roman Catholicism at Eku.

The latter period 1929-61

To met the need for priests, particularly indigenous ones, there was a major breakthrough in 1929. In that year, it was said, Umurie implored the Principal of Ibuzor Teacher Training College to recommend him to the seminary.[1] He was happily recommended to the seminary at Asaba, from where the students later transferred to Benin. After thirteen years of training in the seminary, he was ordained on 20 December 1942, the first Urhobo Rev. Father.

At his ordination, despite the acute shortage of money which was consequent upon the continuing world war, the Urhobo Roman Catholics expressed their joy by presenting him with as much as £26. 8:9d.[1]Furthermore, they gave him a charge to keep. He was to be for ever conscious of the important role he started henceforth to assume. In the words of their Welcome Address: You are now for the public as the Master did and commanded to be done. In the execution of your official duties, we are brimful ofconfidence that you will certainly follow the Lord’s splendid examples…Obedience, Humility, Diligence, Tactfulness and otheressence of good qualities which hitherto endear and make you lovable, should still be bone in mind and  practised  continuously.[1] Although the number of priests at Warri had now increased by one, it was still not possible to create more parishes in the hinterland until 1945, when one was granted to Ozoro, and another to Okpara in 1947. In the case of Ozoro, thee was even no resident priest until 1953. Ughelli, which was the only other parish created before the end of the period, had a resident priest at the close of 1954, with one Styles as the first priest, followed in 1955 by R.O. ‘Regan who first organised the parish on a proper footing.[1] Part of the difficulty of creating more parishes in the hinterland, was, as has been shown, the unavailability of priests, which was in turn partly a result of World War II, which resulted in the withdrawal of as many as five priests from the Warri area. But it was also partly because no indigenous priests had been trained. Although Father Umurie was atWarri from 1943 to 46, he could not alone make up for the loss of five priests. Catechists and other lay helpers therefore carried out much of the work in the hinterland. It is in this connection that the Urhobo Catholic General Committee (U.C.G.C.) calls for attention. Urhobo Catholic General Committee (U.C.G.C.)[1] This body was, from the laity’s view point, a vital functionary in the government of the Church. It concerned itself with the discipline, correction and encouragement of weak Roman Catholics. Its chief aim was to work for the growth of Roman Catholicism in the Urhobo area. For this reason, this body also interested itself inter alia in settling disputes and disagreements among married couples, and between the laity and the priests. For instance, it investigated a case between one James Adjari and Clara, his wife, as it did in another case of an anonymous and scandalous letter in which two priests,  Heally  and  Umurie, were accused of various malpractices. In the latter case after a meticulous investigation the unknown writer was identified as one Orghere, and on admitting that his accusations were unfounded and based on hearsay, he was disciplined.[1] In the Adjari-Clara case, the cause of dispute was a complaint by Clara of her husband’s inability to consummate their marriage, a statement denied by the husband but used by the wife with the support of her father to justify her meeting other men, and dissolving the marriage. This case provides an example of the stresses which resulted from the African setting of Christianity. In the African context Clara would have had no difficulty in deserting her husband and marrying another man, once she was satisfied, and could convince her father, that her first husband was incapable of playing the man. But the Christian faith, particularly the Roman Catholic brand of it, did not permit divorce on any score. And this was a veritable, indeed an insurmountable, difficulty for the U.C.G.C. which had no alternative but to refer it to the Bishop.[1] This participation of the laity in church work designated “Catholic Action” was a policy which the U.C.G.C. pursued vigorously. As will subsequently be shown, this body also concerned itself with translation work. Its functions were therefore clearly varied and vital. For the purpose of its working and of organising the Roman Catholic Church among Urhobo speakers, Urhobo area was divided into eight sub division:  Urhiephron , Adagbrassah, Agbadu (Agbarho), Olomu, Ewu, Ogelle,Oginibo, and Ephron.

The Committee which at first met only at Urhiephron later decided to rotate its meetings to each of the sub-divisions. But when the Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Kelly, learnt of this decision, he, to the amazement of the Committee, vehemently opposed it, apparently because the Bishop was informed that the Committee’s rotational meeting adversely affected attendance at Mass when a priest was at Ughelli to offer Holy Mass. The Bishop consequently decreed that the meeting should hold only either at Warri or Okpara inland, neither of which places was included in the eight sub-divisions. 

The U.C.G.C. wrote several letters[1] to the Bishop to explain their own position and affirm their common intention of promoting Roman Catholicism in the area, and of carrying out Catholic Action. The Bishop remained adamant for a long time, arguing that Catholic Action was better pursued through Societies like the Legion of Mary. More through the persistence of the Committee than by his own volition, he eventually yielded but gave the Committee certain provisos. First a priest must always be present at meetings to say Holy Mass for the members. Secondly, no member to should leave his town for the Committee meeting if a priest is visiting his town for Mass. And thirdly, no bad Catholics should become active members of the U.C.G.C.

The U.C.G.C. has since then been a very powerful organ of the Roman Catholic Church in Urhobo, an organ through which the works of evangelisation, translation, and reconciliation have been carried out. Despite the hierarchy’s initial doubt of its usefulness, Catholic Action has since then been effectively pursued through it.

The Legion of Mary

  Apart from the U.C.G.C., Catholic Action also found expression in a Society like the Legion of Mary. This Society was founded by Fanrank Duff in Ireland in 1921. It was not until 1931 that it was introduced to Warri from where it reached the hinterland thorough Biakolo in 1943. The Legionaries moved from house to house convincing fallen Roman Catholics to repent and come back to the Church. They not only administered baptism to dying “pagans” but persuaded Protestants to become Roman Catholics. According to Biakolo, this lay organisation was geared specifically to the evangelisation of the masses.[1] Furthermore, the Legion of Mary among the Urhobo was concerned about safeguarding the authentic teaching of the church. Hence, when the members at Warri felt that a Catechist named Ukoli was disseminating teaching which they deemed repugnant to the church’s position, especially with regards to interpretation the Catechist gave the Lord’s Prayer, the Legionaries, in a missive addressed to the U.C.G.C. expressed their deep concern and urged that an immediate stop be put to the teaching.[1] The Legionaries demanded that “all Urhobo Catholics” should agree on a common and acceptable translation of “the Lord’s Prayers”.[1] They requested their brothers in the hinterland to send members to instruct and advise their erring of “preaching” rather than “catechising” the Christians. Moreover, those at Warri indicated that an earlier translation of the Lord’s Prayer in the first edition of the catechism, which Bishop Kelly also approved of, was to be preferred to the one in use. Together with the hinterlanders, they desired to appeal “in the  Urhobo  Voice in general”[2] to the Bishop for a peaceful settlement of the misunderstanding and a curbing of the heretical tendencies, if the present Catechist was not to be dismissed. In English this would literally read: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed is thy name thy Kingdom is come(or has come), thy will being done on the each as it is in heaven. For today give us your food for each day that is ours. The concern of the Legionaries about the authentic Roman Catholic teaching is unmistakable and laudable. Uniformity of purpose and meaning in prayers and teaching was indeed a prerequisite for a young church in need of growth, a church which must therefore be wary of uncertain doctrines and fluctuating interpretations. For to do otherwise, to permit cross purposes and diversified interpretations, was to be tossed about by ever wind of doctrine-a thing which would have been ruinous to the young Church and the struggling converts who as yet needed no more than milk.

Translation work

  The Ukoli-Legionaries conflict underlined the necessity for a translation Committee whose translation of prayers or catechism would be accepted as authoritative and final. The work of translation had started early in the twenties.[1] For like the other denominations the Roman Catholics needed to translate some songs, prayers and the catechism at least if not the Mass into Urhobo for the benefit of the illiterate converts. The Mass had always, till very recently, been said only in Latin. Igbogidi, where Eyube trained Catechists, became the first centre of translation. When in 1924 he was transferred toOphoriAgbarho, the translation committee, over which he presided, moved its activities there. In that year Little Key of Heaven was translated under the title UmusiavwreR’Oduvwu. It contained about forty prayers. At about this same time a few songs were also translated, although the Urhobo versions were seldom used during church services. The translation centre later moved to Ovu, where the catechism was translated and published in 1929 under the title Catechism r’Uyonor’Christianeheverevbe ‘Urhobo. It was not until much later that a second form of the Catechism was translated and published on 22nd March, 1954. This work was largely undertaken by the laity, although as Bishop Kelly indicated, it was necessary to submit any translation made to a priest who is adroit in the English language for vetting.[1] If there was a priest who was not only erudite in English but was also an Urhobo indigene, accuracy in translation would have been guaranteed. Because there were no such priests yet, the translations could not be regarded as classic. Hence it was possible for men like Ukoli to give their own interpretations, and for frequent changes to be made in earlier translations. In this kind of situation the need to train indigenous workers as catechists and priests was urgent. For indigenous and well trained catechists and priests would not only be in a better position to impart the correct and acceptable teaching of the church to her members; their presence could also make for the indigenisation of the church in such a way as to avert the kind of friction which sometimes occurred between white missionaries and local christians.[1] To create funds for the training of priests, a period of about four weeks, beginning from Trinity Sunday, was set apart for collecting two shillings or more from each church member. This levy was designated “seminary collection” and used by the Bishop for the training of indigenous priests. In this regard, Father Heally, in one of his general letters to the Urhobo churches, declared: “let all stations in Urhobo know that the time for “Seminary Collection” will be closed. There are many towns and villages where no contribution has yet been made. Yet you all know and understand the necessity of a native priesthood”.[1] The recognition of this necessity also impelled the U.C.G.C. to write to the Bishop of Asaba-Benin Vicariate through Heally. The Committee raised the question of the need for a resident priest in the hinterland. The presence of a priest was vital, they argued, “in order to make the propagation of faith (sic) more effective”. Again the U.C.G.C. prepared a memorandum embodying their demand, and presented it to the randum embodying their demand, and presented it to the Provincial during his visit to Warri on 21 May 1945. It appeared, however, that the Committee was asking for any priests, and not particularly for indigenous ones, which were as yet, apart from Umurie, non-existent. Heally, through whom the letter to the Bishop was forwarded, gave a discouraging, if realist reply. The extreme scarcity of priests consequent on the continuing war, and the doubtful ability of the Urhobo to support a priest needed to be carefully considered. He reminded them that if they must have a priest, then they needed a residential house for him. What was more, the Urhobo were not, according to him, even able, from their meagre collection, to support their catechists, let alone a priest. They should therefore, until possibly after the war, depend on the newly created Ozoro Parish, only eighteen miles away from Ughelli. But even the new Parish was to have no priest for a long time.[1] In view of the desire of the Urhobo for a resident priest Heally in his letter appealing for Seminary Collection trusted that they would not only contribute generously but also find “good boys who are willing to go there to become priests, and girls to become nuns”.[1] For it was not enough to demand for a priest, it was even more important, and indeed imperative, that indigenous youths should offer themselves for the priesthood. But one of the obvious difficulties was the question of compulsory celibacy attaching the Roman Catholic priesthood. Another was the long period of training involved, during which time the trainee was not only cut off from his relations but also virtually from the society.[3]

It was bad enough that there was a dearth of priests, but worse still that suitable catechists should be extremely few. In the Ughelli, Olomu, and Ephron areas no qualified resident catechist existed between 1934 and 1954. The U.C.G.C. though painfully aware of the reasons for the inadequacy of qualified catechists in these areas, wrote nonetheless to Foley, the Father Superior, at Warri requesting for catechists.[1] His obvious reaction was to throw the ball into their court. If the people were able to suggest three suitable men he would speedily test them and appoint them. He even offered to send any two willing young men for a catechist training at Ashaka. But no suitable or qualified person was available for appointment or for training.
  Since no other immediate solution was found, Biakolo[1] had to itinerate those stations (Ughelli,Ewu, Ephron, and Olomu) which wee without catechist, in addition to those stations under him in Ughievwe, until 1954 when Sadjere repented and was reappointed for Ughelli and Olomu areas. Okpara, as has been shown, was sent a resident priest, though not an indigene, on 25 October 1947, while Ughelli had to wait till after the forties. By the close of the forties there were however, at least three indigenous persons from the Urhobo section in seminaries, training for the priesthood.

Growth Towards Maturity

  The new decade opened with a bright hope. The Vatican celebrated 1950 as a Holy Year. Umure was permitted by Kelly to go to Rome for celebrations connected with the Holy Year. He therefore appealed to the church members for financial aid with which to pay his passage to Rome, which aid was readily given. When he returned to Warri, it was with renewedvigour that he resumed his ministry. Consequently Roman Catholicism witnessed considerable growth numerically[1] among Urhobo speakers throughout the fifties, a fact attested to by M. J. Bane who wrote in 1955: “In many towns pupils attending schools are now numbered in thousands. In Warri town there are over 300 catechumens attending catechism in the evenings while more than 7,000 pupils attend Parish Schools. In Sapele more than 1,200 receive Holy Communion on Easter and Christmas mornings”.[1] The growth was enhanced by the building of more schools, primary and secondary. A secondary school, St. Peter Claver’s, was opened at Aghalokpe in 1951; a Teachers’ TrainingCollege for girls (Queen of Apostles), to which was attached a minor nunnery, was opened at Ughelli in 1954, when Ughelli Parish was also created. Mother Agnes, the first Urhobo nun, was the Principal of the College. By 1960, when the Anglicans opened a Girls’ Secondary School at Ughelli, the Roman Catholics also opened one-Our Lady’s High School-at Ephron. In Isoko, after the granting of Ozoro Parish in 1945,it was not, as has been indicated, until 1953 that the first resident Rev. Father,oneCavangh, arrived. Breslim, who succeeded Cavangh, was the one who, according to Itugbu, caused two Colleges to be built: St. Joseph’s Teachers’ TrainingCollege in 1954, and Notre DameCollege in 1957. The latter was the result of rivalry with the C.M.S. who in that same year built JamesWelchGrammarSchool at Emervor. Before 1961, a new church building was started at Ozoro, and a maternity home set up. Ozoro has since then continued to function as the headquarters for all the Roman Catholics in Isoo. And from here that church has continued to struggle to maintain her own in Isoko country. But in Isoko, the Anglicans from whom the members of the R.C.M. separated, are still in a much stronger position.[1]


  The Roman Catholics had made considerable impact on Urhoboland by 1961, especially through the building of schools. But their influence was felt more in the Urhobo section than in Isoko. This was no doubt because of the gross neglect of C.M.S. work in the former place. But it was also perhaps because Urhobo was nearer to the centre of activities which for a long time was Warri. Apart from Orogun area, all other parts of Urhobo were always under Warri Parish, until first Okpara, and then Ughelli had their own Parishes[1]

. The Urhobo section did not therefore oscillate between one Parish and another as happened in Isoko. By 1961, whereas there were already three Urhobo ordained Roman Catholic priests-Umurie, Obudu, and P. Enyowheoma-there was none from Isoko, even up till the time of writing. While there was still much to be done to supply adequate personnel, the future of the R.C.M. was very promising. For by the end of the period nearly ten young men were in seminaries training for the priesthood.

[1] Interview with D.F. Sadjere, a retired Catechist, aged 80, at Ovwo, 15 April, 1971. [1] A souvenir inhonour of the ordination of Rev. Father C.F. Obieh, 29 December, 1968, pp.3ff. [2]Arawore, typed script 5, June, 1971. [2] Interview with Ganagana, one of the founders of R.C.M. (aged 80), at Okwagve, 12 April, 1971. [2] Interview with Ganagana. [2] The provision of these amenities was due to the emergence of Christianity and the philanthropy of missionaries e.g. EKU hosp. Had been built & opened in 1950. [2] Interview with S. Itugbu, one of the earliest R.C.M. Catechists, aged c. 100, at Ozoro, 14 and 20 August, 1971. [2]Isoko was later in 1929 placed under Arhagba (Orogu) parish, and in 1937 under Ashaka parish. [2] Interview with B.M. 9 Ogagan, at Ephron,16 December 1969. [2] Interview with MonisgnorUmurie, at Ughelli, 11 April 1971. [2] See U.C.G.C.-Welcome Address to Umurie, on his ordination, 20 December 1942. [2] Although today this sum appears paltry, then its value was infinitely greater. EphronNDPChurch could raise, for a period of a year, only £47: 8: 4d during the First World War. [2] Welcome Address by the Urhobo Roman Catholics to Umurie, on 20 December 1942. Since his ordination, he has served at Ashaka 1943. Warri 1943-6, Kabba 1946-8, Lokoja 1949, Warri 1949-51, Agwachuku 1951-8, and Ibuzor 1958-64. [2] Interview with Biakolo, a retired Catechist, aged 60, at Otughievwe, 18 August 1971. [2] It was also designated “Urhobo General Catholic Committee”. [2] See U.C.G.C.-Anonymous letter to Bishop Kelly, Benin City,17 September 1943. [2] See U.C.G.C.-Tuedor to Bishop Kelly, 17 August 1943. [2] See for example U.C.G.C. petition to Kelly on venue of Church Committee meetings, 15 May 1951. [2] Interview with Biakolo, a retired Catechist, aged 60, at Otughievwe, 18 Agust 1971. [2]Ukoli’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer as given by the Legionaries, reads: Oser’ambare to h’ ogyywu, Ogho ho de we wie re rhereOhore we eruovb a kponakeroba to he phaubogyuew. Orinomekavbaeemure re kedekederawbare,…[3] U.C.G.C.: J. Akusu (President, Legion of Mary, Warri) to T. Tuedor, (U.C.G.C. Secretary), 1 December 1944. Cf. Bishop Tugwell’s letter where the Bishop made a similar point in the case of the N.D.P. in 1914. [3] U.C.G.C.: J. Akusu (President, Legion of Mary, Warri) to T. Tuedor, (U.C.G.C. Secretary), 1 December 1944. [3] See E.M. Howell, Nigerian Baptist Leaders and their contributions (D. Th. Baptist Theological Seminary, Texas, 1956) p. 146. Surprisingly, Howell thought that Aganbi was the first to commit the Urhobo language to writing and that, only in 1948! He was evidently ignorant of the fact that as early as 1914, the Lord’s Prayer had been translated to Urhobo, under the guidance of Bishop Tugwell. [3] See U.C.G.C. Bishop Kelly to Tuedor 11th June 1951. [3]Itugbu narrated an incident where, in 1937 when Isoko was under Ashaka Parish, the local christians atOzoro had a scuffle with one Rev. Father Mahon over harvest money. The local christians argued that the money was being taken away to develop another area. An indigenous Rev. Father would perhaps have understood the situation and explained to the people in a language they understand. [3] U.C.G.C: J. Heally to Urhobo Churches, 20 June 1944. [3] See U.C.G.C. 1: J.J. Heally to Tuedor,21 April 1945. [4] See U.C.G.C. Heally to Tuedor, 7 May 1945. [4] The long period of training had its advantages, however. Those who go through it are properly schooled in Christian Theology and Philosophy. [4]SeeU..C.G.C. 1: Tuedor to Rev. Father Superior, 4 October 1946. [4]Biakolo was converted through an r.C.M.School at Ekakpamre in 1931. He was instructed by one Catechist Poe, and baptised in 1932. In 1933 he and others were to be confirmed by Bishop Broderick at Warri. But when Broderick arrived he was taken ill, and so sent home. Kelly, the then Vicar-General of Asaba-Benin Vicariate, was authorised to perform the ceremony. Biakolo was trained as a Catechist in 1935 by Father O’Connel, went to the field to work, and passed his final catechist examination in 1945-Interview with Biakolo, 18 August, 1971. [4] It is important to emphasise that although there was numerical growth, and a few persons were also training for the priesthood, the Roman Catholic liturgy like the Anglican, remained rigidly unindigenised. [4]M.J.Bane, Catholic Pioneers in West Africa (Clonmore and Reynolds, 1936), p. 169. [4] The Urhobo and Isoko Roman Catholics continued with Benin Diocese until 1964 when Warri Diocese was created, and Dr. Lucas Nwaezeapu consecrated its first Bishop.  

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