Brief History of Awka Diocese

Early Beginning

The Catholic evangelization of the southern part of Nigeria began when the first batch of Catholic Missionaries led by Fr. Lutz C.S.Sp. landed at Onitsha from Gabon, on Saturday, the 15th day of December 1885.

The actual history of the evangelization of Awka Diocese began when Fr. Albert Bubendorf (French priest) joined the missionary team in January 1890. He should be called the first apostle of Awka Diocese. He joined Fr. Lutz to bring the Catholic faith to Aguleri (May 28, 1890) from where it spread to outstations like Nsugbe (March 21 1892) and Nteje (November 1907). While resident at Nteje, Fr. Bubendorf and his team began to evangelize Nimo as far back as 1911. A mission was established at Adazi the following year, 1912, when Chief Orjiakor welcomed Fr. Bubendorf and Brother Joseph.

 

Adazi Mission Centre Established

Both Nimo and Adazi continued to be served from Nteje, until after some years when permanent mission was established at Adazi. The parish, which was officially opened in 1925, became a mission headquarters that served a hundred and seven stations in the old Awka and Orlu Divisions. This includes mission stations as far as Uturu in Okigwe Local Government Area and beyond. Adazi mission station was the veritable base used to evangelize the towns and villages in (today's) Awka Diocese. Mission stations were established at whichever town the missionaries visited. A teacher-catechist was installed to keep the converts together and to provide education for their children. Great tribute should be paid to missionaries like Bishop Shanahan, Archbishop Heerey, Archbishop Francis, now Francis Cardinal Arinze. Frs. Liddan, O'Neill and Clifford, to name but a few. Catechists and teachers such as late Mr S. Okaih of Adazi (1904-1949), late Sir J. U. Igboka of Nimo, deserve to be mentioned for their indispensable roles in the evangelization of this area.

 

Two More Mission Centres

Otikpo, the oldest church building in Awka Diocese with its solid stone walls still standing, was erected in 1917 to accommodate converts from far and near, though it was never made a mission centre. 1945 witnessed the erection of more centres namely, St. Matthew's Akpu and St. Charles Achina. This enhanced growth and consolidation of the Catholic faith in this part of the world.

 

The Coming of Catholic Missionaries to Awka Town

The Anglican missionaries, who arrived earlier than their Catholic counterparts at Onitsha, already had a strong foothold at Awka, almost to the point of prohibiting other missionaries. A clamour for Catholic education began to be heard when some Anglican catechists were alleged to have encouraged their catechumens to break some customs and taboos. Some people were sent to Nteje to invite the Catholic missionaries. A piece of land was donated by Chief Ofodile for a school and a church with Mr Felix Udeme as its first teacher-catechist. Awka was eventually raised to the status of a parish in 1952 and Fr. Segrave was sent to be its first resident priest.

 

The Creation of Awka Diocese

Awka parish remained part of Onitsha Archdiocese until November 10, 1977, when it was erected as a new Diocesan Headquarters to govern the area covering the then three Local Government Areas of Njikoka, Aguata, Awka and part of Oji River. Its first Diocesan Bishop, Late Most Rev. Dr. Albert Kanene Obiefuna was ordained on February 5, 1978. On May 30, 1992, His Lordship, Most Rev. Simon Akwali Okafor was consecrated the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese and was installed the Diocesan Bishop of Awka on December 17, 1994 after the transfer of Bishop A. K. Obiefuna to Onitsha Archdiocese. In the night of 29th August 2014 the Lord over life and death called his Servant most Rev. Dr. Simon Akwali Okafor to himself.

Most Rev. Dr. Solomon Amamchukwu Amatu, longtime Chancellor of the Diocese was consecrated the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese on April 28, 2001 and later transferred to Okigwe Diocese as Co-adjutor Bishop of Okigwe. He eventually became the Bishop of that Diocese. On January 20, 2007, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor was named Auxiliary Bishop of Awka and consecrated Bishop on April 28, 2007. After the Seat of the Bishop of the Diocese became vacant (sede vacante) in 2009, he was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese and became the Bishop of Awka on July 8, 2011. On December 4, 2012 Most Rev. Dr. Peter Ebelechukwu Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara Diocese; he was consecrated Bishop at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary for Ahiara Diocese on May 21, 2013 and still waiting to take effective control of the See assigned to him by the Pope. Yet another blessing for the Diocese. On 30th May 2014 the Holy Father, Pope Francis appointed Rev. Fr. Dr. Jonas Benson Okoye the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka diocese. He was ordained on the 22nd anniversary of his priestly ordination the 29th August 2014.

 

Growth

Awka Diocese has grown from 18 at its inception to 172 parishes and chaplaincies. The number of priests has grown too from 40 in 1977 to almost 558 in 2013. Priests of Awka Diocese are working in more than 25 Dioceses in the following countries Austria, Cameroun, Canada, Chad, Germany, Mali, Niger Republic, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States of America. In spite of the rising challenges from the Pentecostal churches the Diocese has experienced also tremendous growth in the population of the laity and in religious and consecrated life. (see relevant Links) With the Government handover of schools by the Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, a further area of consolidation has emerged. The Diocese has many schools and is not relenting on her effort to train personnel to manage these schools. The present Bishop is paying much attention to proper management of the schools. Another milestone is the proposed Peter University at Achina. With it the Diocese is hoping to go a long way towards the much needed human resources development in the Diocese. The Diocese boasts of many priests and Religious in many Nigerian Tertiary Institutions as Lecturers, although much is still to be done in this area.

(culled from the Brochure for the 25th Anniversary of the Diocese and up-dated)