SOME HISTORICAL NOTES
The Society of the Missionaries of Africa was founded in 1868 by Charles Lavigerie, Catholic Archbishop of Algiers. It is a Missionary Institute of Priests and Brothers living in community. Its aim is to preach the Gospel to the people of the African world, and to give service to others.
Archbishop Lavigerie was created a Cardinal in 1882. The convictions of the Archbishop of Algiers were clear: on the one hand, the Gospel was to be brought to Africa by a community of missionaries; on the other hand the missionaries would only be “preparers of paths” for the Gospel. Wherever they are sent they should first acquire the language of the locals and understand their culture.
From the very beginning, Cardinal Lavigerie wanted international communities because according to his opinion, they represent a more faithful image of Christianity than communities from a single nationality.
Communities of Missionaries of Africa first settled in the Sahara Desert. Caravans of missionaries then came to East and Central Africa. Missionaries arrived in what is now Burkina Faso in 1900 (Kupela), and 1901 (Ouagadougou).
The Missionaries of Africa came to the Gold Coast in 1906. They decided to settle in Navrongo, with the encouragement of the British Colonial authorities. This first Catholic mission station in Northern Gold Coast was officially inaugurated at Navrongo in March of 1906. It was staffed by Fathers Oscar Morin and Leonide Barsalou, both from Canada, Father Jean-Marie Chollet from France, and Brother Eugene Gall, from Germany.
After setting about to learn the local language, the missionaries gave first aid to the sick, visited the sick in their homes, and gradually, slowly, and painfully they began to win the trust of the people. During those difficult initial years in Navrongo conversions were at first slow, but still the seed had been planted and would sprout in due course. In 1913 the first 6 adults were baptized.
The war years (1914-1918) stopped the expansion of all the church’s missions worldwide. The mission school in Navrongo had to be temporarily closed. After the war, Bolgatanga mission station was opened in 1925. Wiaga was opened in 1927.
On 29 November 1929, a team of Missionaries of Africa left Navrongo to open the first mission station in the Northwest in Jirapa. The team was composed of Brother Basilide Koot, from The Netherlands, and two Canadians – Father Arthur Paquet and Father Remigius McCoy, who was in charge of the team. Besides preaching the Gospel, they were quite occupied at the beginning with the treating of many sick people, who were coming from all directions. Yaws, guinea worm, dysentery, malaria, and sleeping sickness, were among the main sicknesses.
In April, 1932, a drought began. On the 5th of June, 1932 a large group of elders came from Daffiama to the mission asking for rain. Father McCoy told them they would have to ask God. So he took them into the little chapel and they prayed. Afterwards, when they finished the 15 mile walk to Daffiama, they were met by a soaking rain! And this rain fell only on Daffiama. This news spread all over the Northwest, and other groups came and prayed for rain. Their prayers were answered, and soon there were thousands of people coming to Jirapa to prepare to become Christians. People even began coming from across the border in what is now Burkina Faso to become catechumens. The first group of catechumens to be baptized in Northwest Gold Coast was on Christmas Eve, 1932. They were 12 in number.
A catechist school was opened due to the large number of catechumens. These catechists did a remarkable job of preparing the catechumens for baptism.
The opening of the second mission station in the Northwest in Kaleo in 1932 relieved some of the pressure on Jirapa. This was followed quickly by the opening of a third mission station in Nandom in 1933.
Besides the preaching of the Gospel and medical work, the early missionaries in the Gold Coast were involved in formal education. They also were constantly struggling to bring about justice and peace. They were attentive to the Muslims, and entered into dialogue and encounter with them. Now these activities are carried out in a more formal way, co-operating with diocesan personnel and others.
Many additional parishes have been opened, and most of them have been gradually handed over to diocesan priests. There are now 5 dioceses in Northern Ghana: the Archdiocese of Tamale, and the dioceses of Navrongo-Bolgatanga, Wa, Damongo, and Yendi. In the Archdiocese of Tamale, we have our Provincial House, and another house which is used mainly for meetings with our aspirants. In Navrongo-Bolgatanga diocese we have 2 parishes, and in Wa diocese we have Bishop Richard Baawobr and a parish. In the diocese of Konongo-Mampong, we have our House of Philosophy in the town of Ejisu. In the Archdiocese of Kumasi, we have one member at the Centre for Spiritual Renewal.
OUR FORMATION PROGRAMME
We start with a preparatory year in Nigeria for both Ghanaian and Nigerian candidates. Then we have our 4 year Philosophy studies in Ejisu near Kumasi. This is followed by the Novitiate or Spiritual Year. We have 3 of these, located in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, and Zambia. Then we have 2 years of apostolic training in one of our communities, usually somewhere in Africa. The theological studies are in 5 different places – Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa, D.R. Congo, and Jerusalem. After the initial formation is over, the new Missionaries of Africa are usually appointed to another country in Africa.
The young men in our Province of Ghana and Nigeria are invited to join the Society of Missionaries of Africa in Ghana and Nigeria as Priests and Brothers to help us proclaim the Good News in the Lord’s vineyard.
Author: William Curran, M.Afr.