THE IGBO CATHOLIC COMMUNITY IN RALEIGH (ICCR), NORTH CAROLINA
A BRIEF HISTORY:
An objective history of Igbo Catholic Community in Raleigh (ICCR) cannot be written without divisive conflicts that arise from the community’s nature of growth. To give equal relevance to all major factors that have shaped and reshaped the community, the history is presented in three phases, namely:
1. The Igbo Catholic Community that met at St. Joseph’s, Raleigh, 2000 – 2009.
2. The Nigerian Catholic Community that met at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Raleigh, 2005 – 2009.
3. The Igbo Catholic Community that NOW meets at St. Joseph’s, Raleigh, 2009 –
The ICCR at St. Joseph’s, Raleigh 2000 -2009:
This community first became visible between the year 2000 and 2001. At this cradle stage the Igbo parishioners in the African Ancestry Ministry and Evangelization Network (AAMEN), St Joseph’s Chapter, would organize cultural activities during the Black History Month. Such activities included fashion shows, readings and prayers in Igbo Language and children’s expose in the church.
These impressive cultural activities drew the attention of the Pastor, Reverend Monsignor John Williams, who began to initiate moves in collaboration with the organizers of those shows to celebrate the Liturgy in Igbo Language for the Igbo parishioners. The Pastor’s encouragement gave Mr. Francis U. Ezeobi of blessed memory the impetus to promise and assure him that his Igbo parishioners would take his proposal on board, and to full success.
As a follow up, Sir Emmanuel Ezeobi and Dr. Marcellina Offoha called for a meeting one Sunday at the close of an 11.30am Mass. Twenty adults and about 14 children attended. The main thrust of the meeting was to let people know that the Pastor, Msgr. J. Williams had asked for and supported the formation of Igbo Catholic Community in the parish. The parish legal status of ICC entitled the community the privilege of inviting a priest who would celebrate the Liturgy in Igbo language for the community. People were encouraged to spread the news far and wide so as to get new and more people.
With more meetings with the Pastor, the community settled for monthly Igbo Mass, on every second Sunday of the month at 1.30pm. Attempts to get Reverend Alex Nakireru, a priest from Nigeria, to celebrate for the community failed owing to the fact that he did not speak the Igbo language.
Success was recorded long after initiatives begun when on March 12, 2006, Reverend Carmilius Ugwu, a priest from Maryland celebrated the first ever Igbo Mass in the diocese of Raleigh, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Raleigh. He had earlier on celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation in English and Igbo the previous evening.
When Reverend Carmilius Ugwu suddenly resigned, after three years serving the community, the community nearly collapsed. The Pastor himself personally engaged as many as Igbo parishioners he could reach on phone to encourage and to reassure them. It was at this time that the community met and decided to elect a Coordinating Committee to reorganize and re-orientate the community. The Committee comprised Sir D.A. Isima, Sir Emmanuel Ezeobi, Dr. Marcellina Offoha, Mr. Charles Ibeziako and Mr. Emmanuel Uzo Obi. This first committee, however, did not last long as elected, giving rise to a few working volunteer co-ordinators. During this time, several other priests from different places supplied for the community. Reverend Columba Nnorom of St Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, Eboni, Virginia was always available for the community for advice and mentoring.
It is important to note that the community at the time had no finances. It became a concern how to begin as it needed to fund trips for priests who would minister to the community. The family of Bede Nnani, Boniface Maduakolam and Ositadimma Ogbonna kick-started series of volunteers who paid flight tickets for priests to come, while the Pastor saw to hospitality and stipends for about three years.
The Nigerian Catholic Community that met at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Raleigh 2005 – 2009.
The idea of establishing a Catholic worship community for the Igbo speaking people in the Diocese of Raleigh was born in the November of 2005 after Sir. Alphonsus Ekele Ngwadom and his family attended the African/Kenyan Community Mass at Doggert Center, Raleigh. The celebrant of the then African Mass was Rev.Fr. Alex Nakireru, a Nigerian priest from Delta State. After mass, Mrs. Caroline Onyedinma (Sir Ngwadom’s mother-in-law) suggested to him that it will be wise to start a Mass for our people. Sir. Ngwadom discussed with Fr. Alex Nakireru about the possibility of beginning Mass for the Igbo community. He agreed but emphasized that his term with the then African community will have to expire before such arrangement; however, he noted that we begin the process by notifying the diocese about it.
Sir Ekele encountered Sir. Ezeobi at the Ghanaian grocery store and they discussed the importance of having an Igbo Mass and Sir. Ngwadom informed him that Rev. Fr. Nakireru will soon be free to celebrate Mass and invited Sir Ezeobi to go with him to meet Fr. Nakireru since his term with the African community was ending in February. The Ngwadom and the Ezeobi families including the Late Pa Ezeobi (may his gentle soul rest in peace) and Mrs. Caroline Onyedinma met with Fr. Nakireru and this time he referred them to Msgr. Thomas Hadden who is the Vicar of the African Ancestry Ministry at the Raleigh Diocese. Sir Ngwadom discussed the issue with Monsignor Hadden in December of 2005, he advised Sir Ngwadom to apply for the Bishop’s approval since the Bishop will have to approve any Mass to be officially part of the Diocese. Sir Ekele discussed this with a few individuals and then wrote to the Bishop requesting that we establish an Igbo Mass at the Cathedral and the Bishop approved the request.
On January 2006, the Kenyan community received a priest in the name of Fr. Pius Wakessa to replace Fr. Nakireru. A handover Mass was celebrated in February of 2006 at the Doggett Center and that left Fr. Nakireru free to celebrate the Igbo Mass with our community starting March of 2006. There were some issues that erupted due to the fact that Fr. Nakireru was not an Igbo born man. Unbeknown to Sir. Ngwadom that while he was away in Washington DC., attending a Christening, a Mass in Igbo was planned and celebrated at St. Joseph’s.
The first Igbo Diocesan approved Catholic Mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Alex Nakireru in March of 2006 at 4:00 pm in the main church because the Hispanic Mass ends at about 3:30 pm. The time was too late for a lot of people so with Monsignor Jerry Sherba’s permission, we moved into the school hall to be able to celebrate our Community Mass at 1:30 pm instead of 4:00 pm.
The Igbo Community at the Sacred Heart Cathedral did not want to be part of any misconduct and since the leadership at St. Joseph had adopted the name Igbo Catholic Community, we asked to change the name from Igbo Catholic Community to Nigerian Catholic Community in the RTP in order to accommodate other Nigerian nationals in the Diocese of Raleigh. A close nit family was born with people that genuinely love God and each other. It was indeed a love community. The Nigerian community at the Sacred Heart Cathedral continued celebrating Mass in English with songs from different languages in Nigeria with the excellent leadership of our choir Mr. Louis and Mrs. Ijeoma Orji.
The leaders of the Nigerian Catholic Community requested a meeting with Monsignor Hadden which was held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Rectory. In attendance were Benson Agu, Dr. Emeka Emekauwa, Louis Orji, Ngozi Ngwadom, Emma Akpuogu, Michael Ogundele and Sir. Ekele Ngwadom. Monsignor Hadden advised us to write an official letter to Bishop Michael Burbidge requesting a Priest.
In March of 2008, with the support of Fr. Nakireru, the Nigerian Catholic Community recommended to the Bishop to accept Rev. Fr. Joseph Kalu Oji as the priest to assist Fr. Nakireru in carrying out his functions in our community. We sent the letter through Monsignor Hadden who was very instrumental in the whole process. We will also not fail to thank Mrs. Martha Bailey (the then Director of the African Ancestry Ministry and Evangelization) for her encouragement and advices throughout the process.
In June of 2008, Bishop Michael Burbidge assigned his Vicar General Msgr. Brockman and Msgr. Hadden to begin the process. One year later, on July 2009, Fr, Joseph Oji, CSSP came from Zimbabwe to be the chaplain of the Nigerian Community.
We will like to take this opportunity to thank the tireless work of the Nigerian Catholic Community in RTP especially our wonderful and tireless leader Sir Ekele Ngwadom, Bishop Burbidge, our Matriarch Mrs. Caroline Onyedinma, Msgr. Hadden (our Patriarch), Mrs. Martha Bailey, Vicar General Msgr. Brockman, Msgr. Jerry Sherba, Fr. Alex Nakireru, Fr. Wakesa, Fr. Joseph Oji for accepting to leave Zimbabwe to come and help build our community, the African/Kenyan community and many others that were instrumental in this love community that was built on God’s love.
The ultimate thanks go to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for seeing us through.
THE IGBO CATHOLIC COMMUNITY IN RALEIGH NOW
The history of the Igbo Catholic Community in Raleigh began to reshape when Reverend Joseph Kalu Oji, C.S.Sp. arrived on the scene as the Chaplain for the two communities. He was installed the Chaplain to the (Igbo/Nigeria) Catholic Community in Raleigh on September 13, 2009 by the Vicar of AAMEN. The first task asked of him by the Diocese of Raleigh, through the Vicar of the African Ancestry, Reverend Monsignor, T.P. Hadden, was to reconcile the communities into one. He started meeting with the groups from July 23, 2009 barely a week after his arrival. Beyond meeting leaders of the communities he made very wide consultations to come to some solution. He explored the activities and conflicts of Igbo Catholic Communities in Germany and in the USA. He talked to various priests including some who were connected to these Igbo communities in the diocese. He also had meetings with the Vicar of the African Ancestry Ministry and Evangelization, the Pastor of St Joseph, the Spiritual Director of ICCUSA, Rev. Msgr. Nworgu and several other individuals. The major problem hinged around Name for the Community and language of celebrating the Liturgy.
He then wrote a report to the Bishop through the office of the African Ancestry Ministry and made some recommendations.
The Chaplain noted important observations. The two communities were basically made up of the same Igbo people, especially at its leadership. The Nigerian Catholic Community had communications going between them and the diocese and the AAMEN Office. The community is said to have been officially inaugurated by the Vicar of the AAMEN, Msgr. T.P. Hadden at a Mass presided by Reverend Alex Nakireru on April 16, 2006 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Raleigh, according to an advert published for the occasion. This event took place before they had submitted a formal application, dated May 15 2006, which presumed the Igbo Catholic Community, at St Joseph as part of the applicant. On the 9/25/2007, the NCC officially requested for a designated priest for the community, namely, Rev. Alex Nakireru. At a meeting the community held with the Vicar of AAMEN on March 5, 2008 the Vicar, Msgr. Hadden announced to them that the Diocese desired a unity of the two communities, ICC and NCC.
On the contrary, ICC curiously had little records of their activities. It seems the community was confident that the authority of their own Pastor, Msgr. Williams sufficed for any other official recognition, even at the diocesan level. Verbal testimony showed that the community met with the Vicar of AAMEN only at the last quarter of 2008 to request for an Igbo speaking priest. At the dawn of 2009, the ICC put in a formal application for Igbo Liturgy in the diocese, dated January 1.
The Chaplain’s decisions and recommendation resulted from the total evaluation of all inquiries from within and outside the Diocese. The new community born from the pre-existing ones will be called Igbo Catholic Community in Raleigh. The Community will sympathize with its members who are non-Igbo speaking and will celebrate a third Mass in the month in mixed-Nigerian languages, and help them build up a community of their own. Committees existing in both communities became one large working-executive pending new arrangement. But then most of the non-Igbo speaking members of the former NCC boycotted their Mass. The Chaplain suspended the third Mass indefinitely.
The Diocese of Raleigh in North Carolina is a home for many communities which celebrate the Liturgy in their own languages. “The Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1979, established a commission of African American Ministry and Evangelization, to address the needs of African American Catholics in the diocese. In November 2002, the Office of African American Ministry changed the name of the office to reflect the community in the Diocese of Raleigh, to African ancestry Ministry and Evangelization Network (AAMEN) to include our brothers and sisters from Africa and Caribbean Islands.” There exists in the Diocese Hispanic Ministry for the Spanish Speaking people; Korean and the Vietnamese communities. Communities of the African Ancestry formally known as African Community are the Swahili Catholic Community, the French Catholic Community and the Igbo Catholic Community.
The Igbo Catholic Community like other communities has representatives at the Executive Council of AAMEN. Programs of general events for communities of the African Ancestry are planned at the executive body but, is chiefly the responsibility of the AAMEN Office. Individual communities plan their own programs for the year. Reverend Monsignor T.P. Hadden is the Vicar of AAMEN. Reverend Joseph Kalu Oji, C.S.Sp. is the Chaplain to the ICC and a Parochial Vicar at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Cary.
ICC as a Chaplaincy is still recovering from the shocks of the unity process. The administration is still on the making and will achieve stability in the near future. People were nominated and were appointed by the Chaplain to various committees like the Advisory Committee, Finance, Socials and Choir Committees. Members of these committees make up the General Council. The Chaplain currently chair the Advisory Committee and General Council and these will prepare the stage for general elections. We use the diocesan guidelines and are preparing our own in consonance with the diocese policies as contained in the guidelines. Formations of CMO, CWO, CYO are do not exist as such although men and women are very active. Their formation is one of the goals to be achieved in order go for general elections. However, we have programs for the adults as well as youths running as programmed. Meetings are held monthly, and general meeting bi-annually. Our funds accrue from offertory, annual harvest and bazaar, pledges launching. Proposed budgets are discussed in the council approved and expenses authorized by the Chaplain.
Our biggest bargain is to teach Igbo language to our children and to adults who are interested. We have a committee working on this. The committee has achieved a remarkable level of progress. They have obtained a syllabus from State School Management Board in Nigeria. Their next step is to push the program to become a part of school curricula in North Carolina so that it can be taught at school and children graded on it as elective subject. Teaching catechesis in Igbo language will wait until the program of Igbo language succeeds, or has taken off.
The choir members are few but very zealous and active. With increased number and encouragements, the sky will become their limit. Anniversaries are the Mothering Sunday, the Fathers’ Day and the Youths’ Day. These days are preceded with Night Vigils, Recollections, workshops or Retreats.
Joseph Kalu Oji, C.S.Sp.
Igbo Catholic Community in Raleigh