HISTORY OF THE CHARISMATIC RENEWAL OF NIGERIA
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Nigeria owes its origin to the Dominican Order. The coming of the Order itself was the fruit of the desire of Archbishop David Mathew, the Apostolic delegate to English Speaking East and West Africa for its presence in West Africa. On 4 October 1949, he wrote to the Provincial Fr Edward Hughes O.P. asking for Dominicans of the Province of St. Albert the Great in the United States of America to come to Nigeria. This request prompted Fr Hughes to visit Lagos in November 1949. Following his recommendation, the Provincial Council approved the Lagos foundation. The pioneer team comprising Frs. Dempsey, Lawton and Kinsella flew into Lagos on 27 February 1951. The following day, the Archbishop of Lagos formally requested the Dominicans to take responsibility for the Yaba mission then on the outskirts of Lagos. On 18 May, 1951, Archbishop Mathew renewed his earlier request to Fr. Hughes for the Dominicans to take a mission prefecture comprising the old Sokoto Province. After two years of groundwork, the prefecture of Sokoto was established on 29 June 1953.
With a house of the Province at Yaba and the Prefecture of Sokoto, Nigeria became a vicariate of the Dominican Province of St. Albert in September 1957 with Fr. Dempsey as Vicar. On 1 May 1965, the Vicariate was raised to the status of Vice-Province. Archbishop Mathew's desire for the presence of the Dominicans in West Africa to start a centre of higher studies in philosophy and theology began to be fulfilled when in 1967 the novitiate at Ibadan was opened. By 1969, there were four American Dominicans in the house, including Frs. Ed. Riley, Mathias Walsh, Bertrand Ebben and Brother Gilbert Thesing. Another American Dominican, Richard Farmer, was assigned as chaplain to the University of Ife, Ile-Ife.
Some of them that went home on leave in the United States came back with news about a new Pentecostal experience in the Catholic Church in the United States and which was spreading across the country. Catholics were reported to be gathering in prayer groups to pray for the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, which they received with obvious charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing and so forth, an experience, which was called "baptism in the Holy Spirit".
Before coming to Nigeria in 1968, Fr. Riley had been teaching at Xavier University in New Orleans. It was there that he heard from a colleague named Fr. Kilian Downey of the charism of "speaking in tongues". He had his own experience when he went on home leave in 1970. It was really out of curiosity that he participated in a group meeting in Wisconsin and asked to be prayed with. The next day on passing by a church, he was moved to go in and pray. There he had a wonderful experience of God's presence and a deeper awareness of His love and goodness. Thereafter, the desire to read the bible and to praise God remained strong in him
On returning to Nigeria, he gave a talk to the novices about the Renewal. The interest generated by that talk led to the decision to hold a Pentecost novena in 1971. The novena was concluded on the eve of Pentecost, and the participants, including Frs Riley and Fr. Walsh, Sr. Maura, and Brothers Nonye, Calistus Iheme, Gilbert Thesing, Chukwubikem Okpechi, Clement Tyulen, Jude Mbukanma, John Ekekwe-Nwanze, prayed with one another on Sunday evening. There were no spectacular outcomes from that novena but a weekly prayer meeting followed. Before long, some individuals from outside the Dominican house started participating in the prayer meeting. By the middle of 1972, the group had outgrown the classroom in which it had been meeting; and, so, it moved to a more spacious place called the Hall of Martyrs. Among the early lay people that joined the group were, Justina Odogwu, Fred Isichie, Pius Molokwu, Akin Otiko, and Mrs Chinwuba. The growth of the group was facilitated with the two series of Life in the Spirit Seminars that were organized in 1973. Clear manifestations of charismatic gifts followed.
Among the regular activities in the prayer meeting were songs, reading of the Bible, teachings, testimonies, and intercessory prayer. Those who needed prayer for any intention were prayed with at the end of the prayer meeting. Counselling service was also provided principally by the Dominicans in the group. These activities gradually assumed such level of importance that "ministries" developed around them. The healing ministry emerged quite early as the demand for prayer for specific personal needs, especially healing and counselling, could no longer be met with the time available during and after the prayer meeting. Another evening in the week was needed; and, so, the healing ministry started to attend to people on Friday evening. Other ministries, namely, teaching, singing, greeting, and steward came into being with time.
It must be noted that the Prayer Group at the Dominican Institute in Ibadan, which adopted the name "Glory Bound Community" became a watershed for the spread of the Renewal to parishes in and outside the present Archdiocese of Ibadan.
Also significant in the history of the Renewal in Nigeria was the starting of a prayer group at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in October 1972. The Catholic Chaplain, Fr. Richerd Farmer, O.P., had experienced the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" earlier that year when he went on leave in the United States. When he invited some staff members and students to a prayer session, none of the persons invited knew what it was all about. Nevertheless, a few people turned up. They included Mr Basil Amaechi, Mr Simeon Malaka, one expatriate reverend sister, and several students including, Fabian Ehikhamenor, Vincent Ekeruche, and Rev. Srs. Evangelne Ezeanya, and Claire Idahosa. The chairs were arranged in a circle with a fat candle in the middle offering a small wavering flame to the classroom. Fr. Farmer led the group in solemn songs of praise and adoration, bible readings and prayer. That was the beginning of a weekly prayer meeting at the University of Ife.
The attendance at the weekly prayer meeting grew gradually. By March 1973, when the first series of the Life in the Spirit Seminars was organized, the weekly attendance had grown to about twenty-five. The outcomes of the Seminars were spectacular, not only in terms of manifestations of charisms but also in terms the reactions that they generated. Of course, Fr. Farmer was firmly in control. Nevertheless, a couple of members rushed forward in a wild excitement and a desire to explore into deeper spiritual experience. The Renewal did not seem to take them far enough, and, so, they left the Church when they left the University. Many others left the University and carried the torch of the Renewal with them to other places. Fr. Farmer himself played a crucial communication role that took the news about the Renewal across the country. He wrote a column in the weekly Catholic Newspaper "The Independent" entitled "Life in the Spirit'. He also circulated a bulletin entitled "Praise God" beginning from 1975.
The third prayer group to come into existence was the "Upper Room Community" at St. Dominica's Parish in Yaba, Lagos. The founding of this group early in 1973 was the work of Frs Gilbert Thesing, O.P. and Ed Riley, O.P., Sr. Jean of MMM, and Bro. Stephen Lucas. For several years, Bro. Stephen Lucas rendered assistance to the prayer group on a weekly basis. On retiring from the University of Ife, Fr Farmer was transferred to the parish, where he continued to provide the needed guidance and leadership to the prayer group. The growth of this group was far more spectacular than that of the two earlier groups. The impact of the Renewal in the parish was quite tremendous, sending ripples to other parishes.
The Catholic Church in Nigeria was obviously ready for the Renewal, and indeed prayer groups started springing up in quick succession across the country. One started in Gusau at our Lady of Fatima Church in Sokoto Diocese in September 1973. It would be recalled that the Sokoto Prefecture of the 1950s was the responsibility of the Dominicans. The Prefecture had become a Diocese with Bishop Edward Lawton, O.P. in charge. Our Lady of Fatima Church was administered by the Dominicans and it was the Dominicans that facilitated the founding of the group. The prayer group at SS Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan was started about October the same year by the students who had been attending the prayer meeting at the Dominican Community, Ibadan. The role of that prayer group in the history of the Renewal in Nigeria has been very significant, especially in producing priests that are active in the Renewal. These have not only helped in supporting and spreading the Renewal but have taken the teaching healing and deliverance ministration to greater level of success and acceptance than lay people could ever achieve. Before the end of 1973, a number of prayer groups sprang up in other places in Nigeria, including, Uturu Okigwe, Benin City, Onitsha, and Kano.
From October 1974, the history of the Renewal in Nigeria entered a new phase. At the invitation of Fr Ebben, O.P., a team of five Americans visited Nigeria and conducted workshops on the Charismatic Renewal and healing ministry in Ibadan, Benin City, Onitsha, and at the University of Ife. One beautiful thing about the team was its ecumenical thrust. It comprised Catholics, including Fr McNutt (the leader), Sr Jeanne Hill, Fr Gus Biehl, Fr John Healey, and a Methodist, Rev Joe Petree. Many people, both clergy and lay, attended the workshops and healing sessions and contributed to the growing awareness about the Renewal. A rapid proliferation of prayer groups and growth of membership followed.
This growth was not without some problems. Some non-Catholics that joined the prayer groups and Catholics who participated in non-Catholic fellowships precipitated doctrinal controversies. A few prayer groups had to be closed down across the country. Nevertheless the Catholic Church in Nigeria, recognizing the positive potential of the Renewal, gave cautious support to it. In order to enhance the relationship and communication between it and the Renewal, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria appointed in 1977 the Bishop of Benin Diocese, Rt Rev. Dr. Patrick Ekpu, the Episcopal Liaison for the Renewal.
Another landmark event in the Renewal in Nigeria was the First National Leaders' Conference held in Benin City in August 1976. The highpoint of the conference was the decision to create the National Advisory Council and the National Service Board for the Renewal in Nigeria. The former was to be the national policy making body. It was to serve as a coordinating and an advisory body as well as a bridge between the Renewal and the Catholic Bishops Conference. The National Service Board was to be the executive organ of the Renewal. A National Service Centre, headed by a director, had earlier been created to serve as the secretariat of the Renewal and to provide various services such as communication and distribution of literature and cassettes. The first director, Fr Ebben O.P., was in office from 1974 to 1978. He operated from Funtua in the present Katsina State. He was assisted by Mr. Paul Anie, who later succeeded him and moved with the Centre to Ibadan, and then to Benin City. Fr Jude Mbukanma, O.P. took over from Paul Anie in 1983 and operated from the Dominican Community for the duration of his tenure. By the time he left office in 1989, the Renewal had become a dominant force in the Catholic Church in Nigeria. It was during his tenure that Bishop Anthony Gbuji of Isele-Uku Diocese donated acres of land at Ubulu-Uku to the Renewal for the site of the National Service Centre. There were also regional champions among the clergy and religions, who contributed a great deal to the growth of the Renewal. These included Fr Jim Birmingham in Lagos, Frs G. Abiebhode and Bob Dundon in Benin, Fr Martin Obiukwu in Onitsha and Rev. Sr. Terence in Yelwa in Sokoto Diocese.
The period 1989 to 1996 was that of structural changes in the Renewal in Nigeria at the national level. Bishop Gabriel G. Ganaka of the Diocese of Jos had succeeded Bishop Ekpu as the Episcopal Liaison and National Chaplain, a position he held until his death in 2000. In 1989, Fr. Stephen Nagba took up a national coordinating role in succession to Fr. Mbukanma, not as Director of the National Service Centre but as National Coordinator. In effect, the office of the Director of National Service Centre became vacant until it was re-designated as that of "Executive Secretary" with Mr. Francis Mary-Okwum, as the first incumbent from March 1996. The responsibilities that belonged to the Director of National Service Centre were redistributed between the office of the National Coordinator and that of the Executive Secretary. Within the same period, the national policy body, the National Advisory Council (NAC), and its executive arm went through a process of redefinition and restructuring. The name National Advisory Council was changed to National Administrative Council and later to National Service Team. The National Service Board became the National Executive Committee (NEC). The diocesan chaplains who had been a prominent voice in NAC formed the Committee of Chaplains.
The administrative structure of the Renewal has evolved closely along with that of the Catholic Church in Nigeria. Presently, there are nine ecclesiastical provinces in the country. Below the National Service Team and contributing to its life and functioning are nine Provincial Service Teams, one in each ecclesiastical province. Each diocese in a province has a Diocesan Service Team (Or Archdiocesan Service Team), which has the function of coordinating and regulating the activities of the prayer groups in its area of jurisdiction.