HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN OKIGWE DIOCESE OF IMO STATE NIGERIA
The Diocese of Umuahia which was carved out from Owerri Diocese in 1959 consisted of 3 zones: Umuahia, Aba and Okigwe. Of the three, Umuahia had the Bishop's court and the administrative headquarters Aba had the biggest city and Okigwe had the greatest Catholic stronghold, greatest Indigenous clergy and Laity. Okigwe zone, now Okigwe Diocese, had two main streams of the advent of Catholicism: Okigwe North which was evangelised from Adazi in Anambra State and Okigwe South which was evangelized from Emekuku in Owerri.x
Before the year 1919, there were just two parishes In the present Okigwe Diocese: NSU parish (1917) and Uturu parish (1912).
The first apostolic advance was launched in 1912 from Adazi which was the then mother parish. From that moment onwards the seed of the faith was sown and inspite of initial problems it sprouted and began to grow. The missionaries first settled in Uturu, a village about five kilometers north of Okigwe Township. They established the first presbytery - Holy Cross Uturu - which is the mother parish in the present Okigwe Diocese. Having the Holy Cross as a base the early missionaries started to spread their evangelism outward.
Okigwe Township was by then the government administrative headquarters. lt was from there that the Colonial masters administered the former Okigwe District which now comprises Okigwe L.G.A, Isu-ikwuato L.G.A, Umunneochi L.G.A, Onuimo L.G.A, Isiala Mbano L.G.A, Ehime L.G.A, Ihite Uboma L.G.A and Obowo L.G.A now known as Okigwe senatorial zone of Imo state. It was therefore only rational that a parish should be set up at this administrative headquarters and the missionaries did this in 1918 thus St,-Mary's Okigwe, the present Cathedral site of the Diocese was born.
St. Mary's Okigwe is the brain child of Rev. John Murray of blessed memory. St, Mary's is also associated with great names like Rev. Fathers Tobbin, Quinn, Howell, Michael Liddy, Smithwick and a host of others. Under their apostolic zeal and sacrifice, St. Mary's parish became a mother to Isuikwuato parish, Okwe parish, St. Mary's Arondizuogu, Umuchieze, Okwelle, Isuochi, Nneato etc. Other indigenous priests who continued the work of these noble missionaries were Rev. Frs. Abiamiri, Nwachukwu, the late Very Rev. Msgr. Emerenini etc.
One of these parishes Arondizuogu parish which can now be regarded as an enviable achievement of Rev. Fr. Michael Liddy, under whom Arondizuogu became a parish, has two of its sons as Bishops, namely Late Bishop Mark Unegbu of Owerri and Bishop Anthony Ilonu. In fact as early as 1944 Arondizuogu had its first ordination - the ordination of Fr. Mark Unegbu, the former Bishop of Owerri. The second followed in 1948 with the ordination of Late Msgr. Edward Nwafor.
The story repeats itself in the southern part of the diocese. The undomitable zeal, the Lion strength and the apostolic fire brand of the white missionaries brought the true Gospel message from Emekuku in Owerri to Nsu in Mbano in the year 1917. Before then protestantism had pitched its camp at Ezeoke Nsu in 1916. But under the manly vigor of the apostles - Rev. Frs. Walsh, Dafini, Brown and Whitely, visiting from Emekuku on treck, the whole of the former Mbano and Etiti L.G.A were invaded.
Then came 1932, the great Fr. Howell resided as the first resident priest of Nsu. Go to Nsu and Umunumo today and you will hear of Howell league, an inspiring though humble association in honour of the late Rev. Fr. Howell. By the year 1933, Nsu had stood as a fully armed parish. Rev. Fr. Howell was replaced by Frs. Carter and Burckly.
The early fifties saw the first Igbo priest at Nsu: Late Msgr Edward Nwafor, Rev. Fr. T. Walsh breezed in by 1953, accompanied by Fr. Hamson (1955): Successively came Frs. Wosah, Melony (1958), then (1965), Smith (1965) and another Igbo priest, just before Rev. Fr. Peter Claver Okezie (of late memory) in 1967, popularly known as "Mme Mine". During the war itself late Rev. Msgr Edward Ahajl was briefly in charge at Nsu parish, then in March 1969, Rev. Fr. Luke Ilonu took over. Nsu post war pastors included, Frs. M. Ekwuribe, Simon Okeke, Fr. 1. Alaribe (1974-75), Fr. A. Osuchuo (1975-76), Fr. A. Nwohu (1976-79), and J. Nwankwo and Frank Nwaiwu.
The first parish to be carved out from the Iroko parish of Nsu was Immaculate Heart parish Obowo, this was followed by St. Paul's parish Osu, St. Patrick's parish Ugiri etc. Newer parishes have evolved from these daughters of NSU. Southern part of Okigwe has the following as the first native priests of Okigwe south: Rev. Fr. Gregory Ochiagha (1960) now Bishop of Orlu Diocese, late Rev. Fr. A. Osuji, Very Rev. Fr. D. Abiamiri of Ihitte, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Nwachukwu of Obowo, Very Rev. Fr. Eugene Onuoha of Obowo and so many other Rev. Frs, and male and female religious.
Today Okigwe Diocese continues to grow from strength to strength exemplifying the historic mustard seed. Now Okigwe Diocese has an enviable population of Catholic Christians, Clergy, religious houses and para-institutions. Our grand father, late Bishop Anthony G. Nwedo significantly called Okigwe area "the best part of my Diocese".
A statistical analysis brings out that Okigwe has the following?
No. of Catholic parishes - over 100 parishes
No. of Indigenous Bishops - 3( Late Unegbu of Owerri, Ochiagha of Orlu and
Ilonu of Oklgwe).
No. of Indigenous priests - 295
No. of major Seminarians - 285
No. of Minor Seminarians - 858
No. of Hospitals - 5
No of Convent Houses - 20
No. of Catholics - over 1,000,000
Apart from the above, God has continued to bless Okigwe Diocese with wonderful ministers. In July 2005 Rome considered Okigwe Diocese fit for another Bishop and so announced the appointment of a Co-Adjutor Bishop to Okigwe. He is the Most Rev. Dr. Solomon A. Amatu, the former auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese In Anambra State. He was officially received into Okigwe Diocese on Saturday, 16th July, 2005. By July 2006 he was installed as the Bishop of Okigwe Diocese after the retirement of his Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. Anthony Ilonu.
Rev. Fr. Dr. Emeka Emeakaroha
Haupt Platz 1
A – 3200 Obergrafendorf