– celebrates 12 years of the existence of “Friends of St. Bernard” and commissioning of projects.
By Chikezie Ogbonna
In the Epistle of Ephesians 2:20, the bible said “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto a holy temple in the Lord”. These beautiful words of the scripture came to bear on Thursday, 20th August as St. Bernard Seminary Hostel, Nchatancha celebrated 12 years of the existence of “Friends of St. Bernard” and commissioning of projects.
Founded in 2003 by the Emeritus Bishop of Enugu Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji, with the vision to expand the scope of the vocation of Priesthood and evangelization in Enugu Diocese and beyond, it has become a cradle of joy beaming with the beacon of every shades of inspiration veneered in an epithet of God’s glory.
According the Auxiliary Bishop of Enugu Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Ernest Obodo, “If God inspires ideas, he will inspire prophets also who will see them through”.
His Lordship said that, St. Bernard by the inspiration God and through his servant, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji became necessary because of the need to help ensure that would be Priests experience a closer formation as seminarians and as well have the adequate platform to be closely engaged in all the many facets of formation in their journey towards Priesthood as well as Evangelizers.
In his homily, Bishop Obodo, while acknowledging the vision of the Emeritus Bishop, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji in setting up a place like St. Bernard, called for more prayers and support for the seminary as it keeps focus on the vision of its founding Father and the purpose of God for the church.
Giving the historical account of the tortuous journey the seminary has gone through since its inception, as well as extending heartfelt gratitude to the many God used as vessels to assist the seminary in one way or the other, Bishop Obodo said;
“This seminary is the brainchild of Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji. We’ve handled this seminary since 2003. Bishop Okonkwo Gbuji is a man of vision and mission. At a time in the history of our local church here, the seminaries in our provinces were filled up that seminarians were asked to wait.
“For two years running, seminarians were asked to stay back because there were no accommodations for them.
“During this time, Bishop Gbuji decided to set up a seminary hostel of Bigard memorial seminary, Enugu, where the students could stay for their accommodation and go for lectures and other academic functions. He made Very Rev Fr Raphael Egwu caretaker who built a very spiritual foundation for this seminary.
“He was there for 13 years and stamped his feet on the sands of time. I want to thank Bishop Gbuji for his intelligent and holy thoughts in saving occasions.
“The first Priests were produced in 2012, and since then, about 126 priests have been produced from St Bernard seminary hostel.
“I also want to thank Bishop Onaga who is the direct successor of Bishop Gbuji and Bishop John Okoye who decided to continue the legacy of their predecessor, after Awgu diocese was carved out of Enugu in 2005.
“They continued the legacy of having a place where the seminarians would be formed under the Pastoral influence of St. Pope John Paul II and under the priest training spirituality prototype found in America where 20 seminarians would be attached to one Formator whom they take as a father.
“There are 30 seminarians to one spiritual director, so that twice in a semester the seminarians would have the opportunity of talking with their spiritual Director. This is the idea behind St. Bernard Seminary hostel. The seminarians have the opportunity to be known and not hide in the crowd.
“Initially, there were just 4 Formators; Rev. Fr Egwu, Rev. Fr Anthony Agbilibeazu, Rev. Fr Ernest Okonkwo, and Rev. Fr Akajiaku. They started with a very small accommodation at Maryland, but under one year, they moved to this place. Then, 3 other formators joined them; Rev. Fr. Ernest Obodo, Rev. Fr. Belonwu Okpe and Rev. Fr. Adolphus Anuka.
“Earlier, the road to this place was terribly bad. The building was merely an uncompleted building.
Continuing, His Lordship said “Bishop Gbuji with the help of the curia members, parishes, some individuals and groups, the members of the CWO, led by Lady Ngozi Agu, the then President of CWO, Enugu Diocese, was able to build the dining hall. Other parishes took up other projects.
“The friends of St. Bernard have also helped a lot here; since 2008, every month, they donate food items worth not less than 200,000 naira to the seminary. We want to thank them specially.
“The Governor of Enugu State cannot be left out in this queue of gratitude. He provided a transformer for the school and fixed the electricity for the school.
“We want to thank all those who have made the dream of St. Bernard a reality.
“We want to appeal that you don’t relent in praying for the Seminary, so we can continue in meeting up with the dreams of our founding Father.
Since 2016, we have produced food worth about 65% of our expenses here, so we can say “the seminary is also self reliant-
“In 2017, we made 120 bags of rice at Ugbawka, processed Garri too. And since then, we have never bought a grain of garri from the market.
“We have also cultivated cassava, maize, and vegetables. Since we started producing these things, the expenses on them reduced”, said Bishop Obodo.
The Auxiliary Bishop further made a call for charity and charged all to be their brother’s keeper
He said; “Let us extend our invitation to the poor and hungry of our world, and more so, prepare for the wedding feast, as God wants us to be ready, we must love our neighbor, be charitable, help the poor and the church in whatever way we can.”
What inspired me – Bishop Gbuji
In an interview with the Communications Director, Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi , the Emeritus Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji, , expressed his deep feeling of gratitude over the growing successes recorded in the seminary 17 years after its establishment. Bishop Gbuji attributed it to the unfailing actions of the Holy Spirit.
“God used me to perform miracle, it was a miracle. I feel so fulfilled, very happy and I say, thanks be to God and to all those who cooperated”, said His Lordship.
Speaking further on what inspired him to establish St. Bernard Seminary Nchatancha, Bishop Gbuji went down memory lane to reveal the major events that informed his decision to think towards the direction of expanding the horizon of evangelization through creating a broadened platform for seminarians. This he attributed to the passion as well as the need to have more Priests who have been adequately trained so as to meet both the spiritual and other needs of the faithful and the society at large.
“About 37 years ago, I was challenged to promote the new evangelization in Nigeria as a response to the new era of evangelization to which St. Pope John Paul II has challenged the Church in Nigeria in 1982. So during my study, I went to Malta, Poland and other Eastern European countries and some places in Africa like South Africa and Kenya particularly to study with another international group known as Evangelization 2000.
“The new era is full of challenges, of pitfalls and abuses. There is need the Holy Father said for us to prepare Priests for the new era, who will change the whole situation.
“St. Bernard came into place because of the need to put Priests into proper use. I was inspired by
Pastores Dabo Vobis, the exaltation written by St. Pope John Paul the second. St. Bernard was a gift from God”, said His Lordship.
Survived against all odds
Armed with a simple dream in 2003 which afterwards blossomed through thick and thin amidst many challenges and setbacks, Bishop Gbuji as the founder believed that the success stories recorded for 17 years now has only just begun. According to His Lordship, he foresees greater things for the seminary while further revealing the other many visions he has in place for the seminary.
Narrating his experience at the early days of the seminary, his Lordship said;
“The place was a bad bush before we came. We came in, went into the work and I am happy now that everything is taking shape. St. Bernard is just beginning. The whole idea of integral formation of Priests came up. Humane, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and liturgical, they are all integrated to completely form a Priest who is a saint, gentle man and intellectual. That is the whole Trinitarian vision.
“Now, we are doing the human development here, they are just at the periphery of the real thing. In the middle of it all, it’s the spiritual which is paramount.
“The pastoral level is taken from Jeremiah Ch. 3 vs15, ‘I will give you Priests after my heart’. That was Jesus Christ speaking during the Old Testament time through Jeremiah the prophet.
“It means that the Priest is going to be for the new generation, for the third millennium, that is this millennium now. It’s a very strategic important millennium we are now in till the year 3000. Now, what are the types of Priests we are going to have? You are either a Priest or you are not a Priest.”
The vision of a Pontifical University
His Lordship further revealed the expansion vision for the Seminary into a Pontifical University. A pontifical university is an ecclesiastic al university established or approved directly by the Holy See, composed of these main ecclesiastical faculties (Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law) and at least one other faculty.
“We have not started the ecclesiastical and intellectual formation in St. Bernard, it is part and parcel of our vision of the new Evangelization, the dynamics of it is to deepen the spiritual life of our people through the Priest.
“We have already approached the Holy See, we want to make this place a real pontifical university.
“Godfrey Okoye University is the spring board that will serve as a trajectory to the next step we want St. Bernard to be.
“We applied to Rome to give us an ecclesiastical institute. It is made up of five faculties, Philosophy, Theology, Biblical Missiology, Canon Law etc
“Before you can start any of these faculties you must have professionals trained, because it is a place of research.
“They have also given us the go ahead to form this place out of Godfrey Okoye University, to formulate an ecclesiastical university.
“So the program is ongoing. This place will be an ecclesiastical university.
“We are focused on raising a pontifical university out of Godfrey Okoye University and St. Bernard is our focus on it.
“We intended to buy more lands outside to build class rooms while here still remains a hostel. It will also allow other Dioceses to join us and lay people could join as well”, His Lordship said.
Meanwhile, the leader of the group, ‘Friends of St. Bernard’, Ambassador Grace Nwobi who have been leading a sustained campaign to drum up support for the Seminary since 2008 attributed her drive to the need to help in expanding the horizon of evangelization.
She recalled how she was motivated to form the group in June 2008, when a Priest came to their Parish in Seat of Wisdom Catholic Church, Housing Estate, Abakpa Nike, asking for assistance for what she described as mere cooking condiments for the Seminary.
According to her, she picked up the challenge from there and mobilized friends and like minds with the aim to help seminarians stay comfortable so as to focus on their vocation trainings.
Ambassador Grace Nwobi, whose daughter was instrumental to the construction of the seminary entrance gate, however, lost same daughter a day after she donated towards the construction of the gate. She however thanked God for the successes so far and further called for a sustained support for the seminary from all and sundry as the seminary gears towards erecting a befitting chapel.
The anniversary celebration also witnessed the official blessing by The Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Calistus Onaga of the seminary main entrance gate, a new electricity transformer donated by the State Government amongst other projects.
Present at the event were His Excellency, Most Rev. Calistus Onaga, the Bishop of Enugu Diocese and Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okorie Bishop of Awgu Diocese, represented by Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Agbilibeazu, Vocations Director, and Rector of Michael Ugwu John Eneja Memorial Spiritual Year Seminary.
Also present were Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji Bishop Emeritus of Enugu Diocese and the founding father of St. Bernard Seminary Hostel, members of the courier of Enugu and Awgu Dioceses, Chancellor/Secretary of Enugu Diocese Very Rev. Fr. Ambrose Agu and Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Very Rev Fr. Albert Ikpenwa.
Also, the Founding Rector of St. Bernard Hostel, Rev. Fr. Raphael Egbu, Chairman of Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH, Igwe Laurence Agubuzu as well as the Vice Chancellor of Godfrey Okoye University, Rev. Fr. Prof. Christian Anieke was among the special guests present.
Pictures from the Celebration