Brief History of the Missionary Society of St Paul of Nigeria
Foundation and Establishment: The Missionary Society of St Paul of Nigeria was founded by His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem of Blessed memory, and was established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in response to the decrees of Vatican II Council, affirming that the whole Church is, essentially missionary. The vocation to be missionary comes to the individual and the community from Baptism. To be a Christian is to be missionary. A Church which is not missionary in its outlook is not a church of Christ. “The grace of renewal cannot grow in communities unless each of them expands the range of its charity to the ends of the earth, and has the same concern for those who are far away as it has for its own members.” (Ad Gentes, 37). “God wishes that all men and women must be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:4. Therefore, all people have an equal right to possess the Gospel of Christ and come to know themselves as children of the Father.
Dominic Cardinal Ekandem’s zeal to found a Missionary Society was fired by the call of Pope Paul VI for the commencement of a new era of evangelization in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In 1969, Pope Paul VI in his address to African Bishops in Kampala, Uganda said, “The Church in Africa must, in turn, become a missionary Church.” In support of that idea, Cardinal Ekandem in his letter to the Bishops’ Conference in May 1976 had pressed that: “It’s timely; the Church in Nigeria by reason of her bright future in vocations has a responsibility towards the whole of Africa…, to bring the Good News to all places in the Continent and even further afield.” However, it was at the Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Kaduna, Nigeria in September 1976 that he first mooted the idea of a National Seminary.
On Mission Sunday, October 23, 1977, the Seminary opened at Iperu Remo, Ogun State, in Western Nigeria. Thanks to Most Rev Dr Anthony Sanusi, then Bishop of Ijebu-Ode diocese, who offered the new institute its first home in the grounds of St Mark’s Teacher Training College, which had been abandoned during the Nigerian civil war. These premises have remained the Mother House of the MSP to date. Bishop Anthony Sanusi was appointed the first Ordinary of the Seminary and Society. However, both the Seminary and Society are placed under the patronage of the great Missionary, St Paul. Msgr Godwin Pius Akpan, the Vicar General of then Calabar diocese, (now Archdiocese) was appointed the pioneer Rector of the Seminary from 1977-1985. In 1988, he was appointed the Acting Superior General of the Society, a position he held until 1995.
In February 1978, the CBCN unanimously erected the Missionary Society of St Paul into a Pious Union. This action of the CBCN received the approval of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in October 1978 (prot.4652/78). In May, 1979, the National Missionary Seminary of St Paul was formally opened by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria at Iperu-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria in a two-day event (May 26-27), which brought together over two thousand clergy, religious and Laity from every diocese in the country as well as visitors from abroad. From October 1977 to October 1984, all the Seminarians of the Society’s young Seminary were accommodated at the Iperu-Remo campus, which is now the Campus for the two-year Spiritual Formation programme and other departments like Publications, Promotions, Vocations and Mission Affairs. Early in 1983, a Suitable land was acquired for the New Campus at Gwagwalada, in the Abuja Federal Capital Territory, and construction work commenced. On October 13, 1984, the Bishops formally opened the main campus of what became the National Missionary Seminary of St Paul, at Gwagwalada, in the Abuja Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which houses the Philosophy and Theology Faculties. In order to be erected into a “Society of Apostolic Life of Diocesan Right,” the same Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples granted “Nihil Obstat” on March 17, 1994 (Prot. 5374/94), in accordance with the prescriptions of Canon 579. Consequently, His Grace, Most Rev Dr John Onaiyekan, the Ordinary of the Missionary Society of St Paul and Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, approved the Society’s Constitutions and Directives in Abuja on Easter Sunday, April 16th 1995 and erected the Society as “Society of Apostolic Life of Diocesan Right” on July 1, 1995. The First General Chapter which produced Very Rev Fr Felix Elosi as first elected Superior General took place in September of the same 1995. The Second General Chapter took place in September 2001 and produced Very Rev Fr Hyacinth Egbebo as the second elected Superior General. From September 3rd to 21st 2007, the Third General Chapter was held. This Chapter saw the re-election of Very Rev Fr Hyacinth Egbebo, for a second term as Superior General of the Missionary Society of St Paul.
The year 2007 will remain memorable in the history of the Missionary Society of St Paul because, one of its priest members was appointed bishop. The bulk of nominations for Monsignor Anthony Ademu Adaji, MSP, former Bursar general of the Society, as Auxiliary Bishop of Idah Diocese was given on June 28th 2007 and his Episcopal ordination took place on September 22, 2007. Within two months of Bishop Adaji’s Ordination as bishop, Very Reverend Fr Hyacinth Egbebo, who had recently been re-elected as MSP Superior General was also nominated Auxiliary Bishop of Bomadi Vicariate. His ordination took place on 2nd February 2008.