“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7).
So it was also in this city founded on the top of hills when the messengers of peace published the good tidings of salvation in Christ Jesus. So onerous was their task then, but so rewarding are their efforts that we today speak of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu. Indeed, the history of the Church in any part of the world is always associated with the story of indefatigable and dauntless missionary zeal of the lovers of the Word. The illumination of the territory of Enugu with the Word of God took various stages and turns.
Enugu was part and parcel of the Apostolic Prefecture of the Lower Niger, which His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII created in 1889 in acknowledgment of the efforts of Fr. Joseph Lutz and his team. Fr. Lutz was made the first Apostolic Prefect of this Prefecture. He and his successors made relentless efforts to spread the Good News to the length and breadth of the new Prefecture. However, it was under Fr. Joseph Shanahan (later Bishop), as the fifth Apostolic Prefect of the Prefecture of Lower Niger, that the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus had a grip on the soil of Enugu.
In 1908, coal was discovered in Enugu. This discovery brightened the beam already focused on the city, and attracted the attention of European explorers and merchants. Christian missionaries saw the opportunity to ‘put out into the deep’ in the region. They reconnoitered the area and planned the best strategy to adopt. However, the success of both colonizers and missionaries was linked to the overriding influence of the Paramount Chief of Eke, Chief Onyeama Onwusi, who was long exposed to trade relation with the Europeans.
In 1910, Chief Onyeama, the Okwuloha of Agbaje, was made a Warrant Chief in recognition of his influence in British foreign rule. At this time his interest in western education came to its peak and sought immediate realization. Thus, he invited missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to Eke to communicate the white man’s knowledge. Unfortunately, their method and content of education did not appeal to him. The use of vernacular adopted by them did not give him the impression of something new. Consequently, he made them quit and make space for another group. Then, he extended his invitation in the same year to Fr. Joseph Shanahan in Onitsha. Fr. Shanahan acted swiftly and sent Fr. Aloyse Muller, who was resident in Igbariam, to explore the new area and put up scheme for missionary activities.
Fr. Aloyse Muller arrived at Eke after his diurnal journey, and celebrated the Holy Mass there the following morning to inaugurate his activities. He started to familiarize himself with the area and draw up his plan. The blueprint designed by Fr. Muller, which consisted in the erection of a school, health centres, the use of English language, among other things, in the evangelization of the region, was happily welcomed and approved of by Chief Onyeama. This approval led to a decree that forbade missionary activity in Agbaje by any other group outside the Catholics. Thus, Fr. Muller discharged, in 1910, the spark of faith which was to grow from strength to strength. Henceforth, Eke became an outstation of Onitsha Parish.
As an outstation, Eke did not have a resident priest. Priests came periodically. Eke mission progressed, nonetheless. It gradually gained influence. In 1913, a rest house was erected at the site referred to, today, as “Old Mission”. On his part, Chief Onyeama never regretted his actions in inviting the Catholics; instead, he desired their permanent presence. Consequently, in 1914, he requested for a resident priest. In response to this request, Fr. Joachim Correia, a Portuguese Holy Ghost priest, was sent. The presence of a priest on ground quickened the expansion of Eke mission. More lands were acquired; a bigger church was built at Ani-Atta (Old Mission) in 1915; and a Parish House was erected at Ugwu Di Nso. With this, Eke became the spiritual powerhouse of northern Igboland. From here outreaches were made into the surrounding towns like Enugu, Nsukka, Awgu, Abakaliki, Markurdi, Ogoja, Oturkpo, Idah and so on.
Meanwhile, the discovery of coal in Enugu pulled people in colossal number to the city. A mission centre was established at the Coal Camp, St. Patrick’s Station, which was raised to the status of a parish in 1933. Since Enugu was the centre of political and commercial activities, coupled with its strategic position and accessibility, attention shifted from Eke to Enugu. As the Catholic community increased more stations and parishes were created. By 1961, the number of parishes increased to 17, and the stage was already prepared for Enugu to become an ecclesiastical See of its own.
On November 12, 1962, Enugu was carved out of Onitsha Archdiocese and raised to the status of a diocese. It comprised the old Enugu and Nsukka districts. Rt. Rev. Dr. John Cross Anyogu, who had been the Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha from 1957, was appointed the Chief Pastor of the new diocese. Installed on January 15, 1963, he worked assiduously to give the new diocese a firm foundation. After a period of four years, Bishop Anyogu died on July 6, 1967. His death came at the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war; consequently, Msgr. S. N. Ezeanya was asked to administer the diocese and lead it through the war. This he did very competently.
As soon as the war ended, Bishop Godfrey Mary Paul Okoye, who was the Bishop of Port-Harcourt, was appointed to succeed Bishop Anyogu in 1970. He was installed as Bishop of Enugu on March 17, 1970. He was a dynamic and foresighted bishop, and a go-getter. He acquired a lot of assets for the diocese, and was the founder of the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Love (D.D.L.). He died on March 17, 1977, being the day of his seventh anniversary as the Bishop of Enugu.
On November 10, 1977, Msgr. Michael Ugwu Eneja was appointed as the successor of Bishop Okoye. He was consecrated and installed Bishop of Enugu on February 26, 1978. Bishop Eneja was a pastor of rare qualities. As a loving father and a spiritual giant, he gave Enugu Diocese a solid spiritual foundation. His leadership inspired enormous growth. Under him, Nsukka Diocese was created in 1991 with Most Rev. Francis Okobo as its first Bishop. He retired on November 8, 1996 after 18 years of successful pastoral leadership.
The next bishop was Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji who, until his appointment, had been the Bishop of Issele-Uku. He was installed on February 8, 1997. Full of energy and experience, he piloted the affairs of the Diocese and recorded many achievements in different areas. He founded St. Paul’s International Institute of Evangelisation (SPIIEE) and St. Bernard Seminary Hostel, Nchatancha. His leadership gave birth to the Jurisdiction of Awgu on July 8, 2005 with Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye as its Chief Pastor. He initiated many other projects which would see their fruition in the succeeding administration. Bishop Gbuji retired on February 9, 2009, but handed over later in May.
Following the retirement of Bishop Gbuji, Msgr. Callistus Valentine Chukwuma Onaga was appointed the next Bishop of Enugu. He was consecrated and installed on May 2, 2009. Though his administration is still new, it has shown signs of great things to come. Already, we behold an organized and systematic administration that stresses solidification and sanitization in “going back to the root”, while paving the way for continual growth and expansion.