By Sylvester Asoya
He is easily remembered by the older generation for always praying the Rosary in front of the imposing entrance to St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, Delta State. This regular ritual associated with Reverend Father Anselm Abraham Isidahome Ojefua held when students would have entered their respective classrooms after the morning assembly. After that customary prayer session, Father Ojefua would return afterwards to the classroom to teach. This priest and monk from Igueben, Edo State, was highly respected by his colleagues, students and parishioners.
For instance, in the early 1950s, this remarkable priest already had his first and second degrees, but he remained a classroom teacher at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba under Reverend Father O’ Rouke. An amazing polyglot, though Esan by birth, Ojefua spoke perfect Latin, English, Igbo and had a working knowledge of many local and international languages.
In the old Catholic Diocese of Benin, Ojefua was a well known intellectual and radical priest who left his mark on many institutions. He was also a prolific writer and a great editor who edited Catholic Life, a very popular magazine that was very critical of the then Western Nigeria government and the ills of society.
He was without doubt, an important Catholic priest who had a very positive impact on the lives of many people. Like his Irish, American and Italian predecessors and contemporaries, he mingled freely with his parishioners and host communities, and even spoke their languages. For instance, this Esan missionary from Edo State taught catechism and even celebrated Mass in Igbo and Latin. He obviously belonged to the group of exemplary followers of Christ who came primarily to serve God and humanity. And he really lived and served God to the fullest and it is generally believed that he remained wide awake in life’s waiting room during his sojourn on earth.
Then suddenly, tragedy struck. One day, Father Ojefua had a terrible accident and immediately decided to live a more private life. He left for Illah, a coastal and an agrarian town in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta and founded a monastery where he lived, served, died and was buried.
However, on Saturday April 17th, 2021, he began his journey to Sainthood with what is known as the Inauguration of the Diocesan Inquiry led by Most Reverend Michael Elue, Bishop of Issele-Uku Catholic Diocese.
Holy Cross Monastery, Illah, Ojefua’s creation and last duty post is an entirely different world without needs, deadlines and concerns. A visitor is confronted immediately on arrival by beautiful sounds of birds chirping away, lush green vegetation, giant trees and quiet. At this monastery, excitement is already in the air as Ojefua begins his final journey of faith. There is also a collective feeling of joy among Knights of Saint Mulumba (KSM) which he founded, and at Annunciation College, Irrua, Edo State and other places where he worked in the old Bendel State and beyond.
Rev. Monk Michael Mary Omeke, Second Superior at Holy Cross Monastery expresses happiness at the turn of events for their founder and a man of great faith. “For us here in the community, we are happy to the glory of God. Just like the Blessed Tansi, the process has started and God willing, we will get there. In our Order, we have never had anything like this before, so it is a great blessing to us as a congregation. As you can see, monasteries are usually located far away, around rivers and mountains, that is why when people come here, they fall in love with the serenity”.
According to Omeke, saints are not born, they are made. Therefore, those who are alive have to work hard daily to be saints and any person who wants to be a saint must live a good life, impact the society and help his or her neighbours. The Monk says that people are free to come and visit Ojefua’s tomb on pilgrimage and anyone with challenges can also come around and pray. If any miracle happens here, it will also help in the process of his sainthood. After all, evidence of his life on earth and after life is necessary to his saintly journey.
Reverend Father Chijioke Azuawusiefe, a Jesuit, scholar and activist priest describes the development as good news for the Catholic Church in general and for Nigerian Catholics in particular. “By all accounts, Fr. Ojefua led an edifying life with his commitment among other things, to genuine rectitude and social transformation through education and the mass media. So, it is gratifying and consoling for me to know that the beatification and canonization of such a model priest and an exemplary Christian has commenced. Sadly, some of the issues that Fr. Ojefua confronted are still here with us today; issues like the social evil of corruption and moral decadence. Until, as a nation, we begin to check, for instance, our unbridled quest for accumulation of wealth at the detriment of hard work, honest labour and selfless service, we risk continuing on this downward spiral in which we currently find ourselves. Fr. Ojefua’s life is a testament that a purposeful life as well as a rewarding relationship with God is more than material accumulation”.
Apart from the clergy, the laity is also not left out.
Alexander Chiejine is a retired civil servant. His father, the late Pa Thomas Chiejine served under Ojefua as a catechist at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Onicha Olona, Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State. “Ojefua was very hard working and committed. He spoke our language fluently and mixed very well. I remember he used to personally give food to poor people. He also visited our home regularly and related with my father like his colleague. Together, they visited neigbouring communities where he celebrated Mass and helped people in need. There was also another great Esan priest, Reverend Father Irameh and other Reverend Fathers like J.C. Lyons, Patrick Ugboko and others who worked for humanity”, he says.
Canonization in the Catholic Church is the formal admission of a departed Christian person into sainthood.
Nevertheless, as Ojefua’s beatification and canonization begin, the Inauguration of the Diocesan Inquiry at home and the jurors in Rome will most likely depend on the verdict on his life and times.
This article was first published in alice, the in-flight magazine of Air Peace