The prestigious Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, on Thursday, 14th November, 2019, celebrated her 95 years of existence.
The celebration which featured the ordination of 25 deacons from Onitsha ecclesiastical province, actually started on Wednesday, 13th November, 2019 with a paper presentation by a onetime Rector of Bigard Memorial, Enugu, who now lectures at Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha, Very Reverend Father Peter Damian Akpunonu.
The paper presentation which theme was: Formation in Bigard, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, attracted many dignitaries from all walks of life, many of whom were alumni of Bigard, few others, visitors.
Before Fr Akpunonu’s presentation, the Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Rev Fr Albert Okechukwu Ikpenwa, pointed out that the intention of celebrating Bigard at 95 “was and continues to be, to create awareness for the centenary celebration that would be coming up in 2024.”
“For us”, he continued, “it is important that the celebration of the centenary anniversary of an institution of this caliber should not be done overnight, taking into consideration the impact of this institution not only on the propagation of the Catholic faith but also on the cultural, sociopolitical and economic development of this part of the world.”
“Indeed, this celebration offers us the opportunity to look back, appraise and appreciate the legacies of this noble institution, in the last 95 years and the prospect for the future.”
However, during his presentations, Fr. PD, as he is fondly called, noted that “as Bigard prepares to celebrate her centenary, and pauses to reflect on her place in the history of salvation, her evangelization mission in Africa and beyond, and conducts an in-depth, soul-searching investigation into her stewardship; formation is a theme which comes immediately to the forefront, as one contemplates how pivotal it was to her success in the past, how it gives form to the ministries of her children today, and how it constitutes a launching pad into missionary activity of the Church and of her children for the morrow.”
Without going deep into the discussion of the paper, it suffices to say that the paper presentation raised a lot of questions bothering on the missionary activities of the Catholic church, the role of Bigard to this effect, and the sponsorship of seminarians.
In the evening of the same Wednesday, 13th November 2019, it was the civic reception of the papal Nuncio to Nigeria, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, who was the ordination prelate. The same night also featured the reception of the Bigard Alumni and so was also called Bigard Alumni’s night.
With the welcome party ended, the celebration officially started on Thursday, 14th November, 2019, with a holy mass presided over by the Papal nuncio. While inviting the congregation to participate actively in the mass, the Archbishop of Onitsha ecclesiastical province, Most Rev Valerian Okeke, also welcomed all present, especially the papal nuncio, for making out time to come and celebrate with us.
He enjoined the nuncio to offer the mass for the well being of the province and for Bigard Memorial Seminary as she begins her official countdown to her centenary celebration.
In attendance during the mass were many dignitaries including the Bishops of the Onitsha ecclesiastical province, some Bishops of Owerri province, the governors of the South-East zone of Nigeria.
Abakaliki Diocese was also duly represented as the Bishop’s vicar for religious, Most Rev Patrick Mary Anene Mmuo was in attendance.
The Bishop’s judicial vicar, the Senior Special Assistant to the Ebonyi State Governor on Religious and Welfare Matters, and who fortunately is a parish priest to one of the ordinands, Very Rev Fr Dr Abraham C. Nwali, was also in attendance.
Immediately after the Gospel reading followed the presentation of the candidates for the diaconate ordination, after which was the homily.
During the homily, the papal nuncio reminded the deacons the importance of the office of the deacons to the church, traced the origin of the office and enjoined them to follow in the footsteps of Christ who came to serve and not to be served.
According to the nuncio “the office of the diaconate is of service and not an office from which you dish out commands. The training you received in the seminary should help you for the service in which you have being called to. He urged all to pray for the deacons to acquire the necessary grace to discharge their functions. He also commended the fact that Bigard has continued to be a perfect representation of the Church and her mission of evangelization.
The ordination rites which followed immediately after the homily saw the transformation of 25 seminarians from seminarians to clergymen. The 25 ordained deacons were: Ojiocha Sixtus, Omenyi Peter, Oketa Gabriel, from Abakaliki Diocese; Ibe Lawrence, Ogbonna Samuel, Okechukwu Donald, from Awgu Diocese; Ndianefo Peter, Nweke Patrick, Nwude Sebastian, from Awka Diocese; Ezeonu Charles, Ogbuike Matthew, from Enugu Diocese; Onoyima Kevin, OCSO, among; Anasonye Magnus, Chukwu Evaristus, Enwelum Franklin, from Nnewi Diocese; Idoko Valentine, Nzuteigbo Emmanuel, Okeke Edward, from Nsukka Diocese,; Agbaefuna John Paul, Anonye Francis, Anyaoha Benedict, Anyaoku Stanley, Egbejiogu Valentine, Esikaikwu Ernest, Ezeonu Augustine, from Onitsha Archdiocese.
During the event, some individuals and groups received some awards of which the Bigard Medical team was among the recipients.
In an interview, the Rector of the seminary said: ” today history unfolds itself. With her Silver, golden and diamond jubilees far behind, Mother Bigard coasts towards her centenary.”
” Here is a mother that fed and feeds many with wisdom and love and continues to set her progeny at vantage points, to spread the goods news to the ends of the earth, in line with Christ’s mandate and in fulfilment of her motto, Eritis mihi Testes (you shall be my witness).
Counting the rapid increase invocation, the Rector said: ” Today we celebrate a symbol of greatness; a mustard seed that has come to be the biggest of shrubs and become a tre- from 5 seminarians in 1924 to 855 seminarians in 2019.
Recall that Bigard Memorial Seminary started as St Paul’s Seminary, Onitsha in 1922 at the initiative of Rt Rev Joseph Shanahan, the then Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Southern Nigeria. But, it was officially opened in 1924, and after her several movements in search of a permanent site, she eventually settled at Enugu in 1951 with the name, Bigard Memorial Seminary.
For the past 95 years, Bigard has to raise men of outstanding qualities for both the church and state. Today, we can proudly say that the great mother Bigard has so far produced 3 cardinals, 13 Archbishops, 34 Bishops(among whom is the Bishop of our Diocese, Most Rev M. N. Okoro) and thousands of priests as well prominent Nigerians, Sierra Leonians, Cameroonians, and beyond.