History, says the sage, is who we are and why we are the way we are. The “Province of Nigeria” has been split into four different circumscriptions. This is a fact of history, today and future. This necessary split, however, does not in any way render extinct our collective personality as “Nigerian Spiritans.” I opine therefore that one of the practical ways of keeping our collectiveness alive is by remembering the past, for the challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. We must bear in mind too that although the tapestry of our history as Nigerian Spiritans may seem so full of tragedy when viewed from the front, yet it has countless comic scenes woven into its reverse side.
It is to this fact that I delved into our Spiritan archives and discovered how powerfully significant the month of June is for all of us Nigerian Spiritans, our present reality of a four-pronged union notwithstanding. The dates and events that occurred in these dates will speak for themselves. All we have to do is to appreciate the past, learn from the past and live the past presently with eyes optimistically fixed to the future. For, the present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.
·June 1, 1967: The beginning of the civil war in Nigeria. Subsequently, approximately 280 Irish confreres are displaced and later find work in other circumscriptions, including Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, PNG & Australia.
· June 6, 1920: The Prefecture of Lower Niger is raised to a Vicariate and Joseph Shanahan is ordained its first bishop at Maynooth in Ireland.
· June 6, 1965: Ordination to the priesthood at Isienu of the first four Spiritans who are products of the Holy Ghost Juniorate, Ihiala, by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Superior General.
· June 14, 1951: The first two Nigerians make their profession in Ireland as Spiritans: Frs. Godfrey Okoye and Anthony Nwedo.
· June 22, 1959: The Prefecture of Otukpo (Benue State) is raised to a Diocese with Bishop James Hagan in charge. He resides in Otukpo.
· June 23, 1984: At the West African Superiors’ meeting at Dakar, the three circumscriptions in Nigeria (the Province, Makurdi and Kwara-Benue) resolve to cooperate more closely with each other.
· JUNE 25, 1965: A Spiritan scholasticate is opened at Isienu in the Diocese of Enugu.
· JUNE 25, 1965: Nigerian Spiritans, Frs. Denis Ononuju and Francis Okonkwo, are appointed to work in Sierra Leone – the first Nigerian Spiritans to do missionary work outside the country.
· JUNE 29, 1924: Bishop Shanahan founds the first Seminary in Southern Nigeria in the town of Igbariam. In 1951 this Seminary took the name of the Bigard Memorial Seminary after Jeanne Bigard and her mother, Stephanie, who together founded the society of St. Peter the Apostle. This Seminary will be run by Spiritans until 1970.
· June 30, 1968: Fr. Donal Murray of the English Province takes over as Bishop of Makurdi.
Let us not forget that that the word “history” contains the word “story”. It is interesting to know, for instance, that on June 25th 1965, Frs. Denis Ononuju and Francis Okonkwo opened the doors of missionary adventure for us by been the first Nigerian Spiritans to experience missio ad extra. How pleasant it is to, from time to time, rewind the story of our history!
Chibuike OJILERE, CSSp
Director of Communications
Foundation of Nigeria South-West