HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENTS IN AHIARA DIOCESE
When the Catholic faith was introduced in the land some 104 years ago by Irish missionaries, our people welcomed it, embraced it and zealously guarded it. Mbaise people have always been known for their personal enterprise, religious devotion, adventurism and love of education. It was these characteristics of theirs among the many others that made them very receptive to the missionary evangelization at the dawn of the 20th century.
In 1914, Fr. Daniel Walsh paid a visit to Umuopara, Nguru at the invitation of one Mr. Njoku Akpaka of Umuopara Nguru. This ground breaking visit played a decisive role in the evangelization of not only the Nguru clan but also the whole of the Mbaise area. Sequel to this visit and other interactions, the first ever recorded holy Mass in Mbaise was celebrated in the compound of Chief Anyamele of Ogbor Nguru in 1914.
In 1916, Nnarambia and few other out-stations outside of Nguru clan were opened. In appreciation of the generosity of the warrant Chief of Ahiara, Chief Onyekwere, who made a donation of a vast piece of land to the missionaries, Nnarambia station was elevated to a nerve-centre of missionary activities in the territory of Mbaise and its environs. Consequently, in December 1933, St. Brigid’s Station, Nnarambia Ahiara was raised to the status of a Parish centre with Rev. Fr. R. Foreman, C.S.Sp. as the first Parish Priest. With the arrival of first resident Catholic Priest in Mbaise, the task to ensure a total evangelization of the Mbaise people was effectively launched.
In 1947, Our Lady of Victory Parish, Amumara Ezinihitte was erected in Amumara the very heart of the protestant stronghold in Mbaise with Rev. Fr. James O’Toole, C.S.Sp. as her first Parish Priest. The following year, 1948, two more Parishes were opened in Mbaise, namely; St. Patrick’s Parish, Ekwerazu and Sacred Heart Parish, Nguru with Rev. Fr. J. Dlugnam. C.S.Sp.
and Rev. Fr. Anthony Stiegler, C.S.Sp. as their Parish Priests respectively. In 1954 St. Charles Parish Enyiogugu was inaugurated with Rev. Fr M. J Gilmore C.S.Sp. as her first Parish Priest. Three years later, St. Dominic‟s Parish Eznihiitte- East was erected. Rev. Fr F. T Flanagan, C.S.Sp. was appointed her first Parish Priest. Finally, with the erection of Holy Ghost Parish Uvuru in 1959, all the original five clans that constituted the Mbaise district: Ahiara, Ekwerazu, Agbajah, Ezinihitte and Oke-Ovoro, was gifted with at least one Parish. That became a clear indication that Catholicism had gained the upper hand in the Mbaise area. And so, with the five clans of Mbaise fully established in Catholicism, then came the period of putting out in the deep water for the consolidation of the faith, And so, the Catholic Church in Mbaise continued to record a steady and consistent growth.
On Wednesday; November 18, 1987, the Mbaise area was carved out from Owerri as a Local Church called Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise, with its Cathedral name as Maria Mater Ecclesiae (Mary, Mother of the Church). The new Diocese had a recorded population of more than 270,000 Catholics spread out unevenly in 19 Parishes.
On Wednesday, January 06 1988 His Excellency, Most Rev. Dr. Victor Adibe Chikwe, JCD, DO, was ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, as the first Catholic Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, Mbaise.
On Sunday January 31, 1988 the new Diocese of Ahiara was inaugurated with the installation of Bishop Victor Adibe Chikwe at Ahiara by HIS Excellency Archbishop Paul Tube, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria.
Since the inauguration of the Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise area has exploded in Catholicism. Now, the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, Mbaise has grown into 82 Parishes with a Catholic population of about 400,000. It is being served by an indigenous Diocesan clergy of about 140.
Mbaise, the touted ‘Ireland of Nigeria’ has from the start been blessed with numerous vocations to the effect that Mbaise Sons and Daughters working as Priests and Religious in different parts of the world today numbers in their hundreds if not thousands. God has blessed our Land! And to Him be all the Glory!!!.
Tragedy struck the young flourishing, vibrant, dynamic and highly reputed Diocese of Ahiara, with the death of her pioneer Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Victor Adibe Chikwe, after serving the diocese for 22 years, whose Pastoral and administrative acumen produced gigantic steps in all aspects of life, Pastoral, Spiritual, Educational, Health, Cultural.
On December 7th, 2012, Monsignor Peter Ebere Okpaleke was named as the Bishop Elect of Ahiara Diocese by His Holiness Pope Benedict IX, and subsequently ordained on 21st may, 2013. This appointment sparked off a great and long drawn controversy and opposition, which led to his resignation on February 12, 2018. Consequently His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Most Rev. Dr. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia, as the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese, Sede Vacante et ad nutum sanctae sedis, with „all the faculties reserved to an ordinary‟. He replaced John Cardinal Onaiyekan of Abuja Arch Diocese, who was the Apostolic Administrator during the crisis.
Catholic Diocese of Ahiara is specially blessed with vibrant and responsive laity. Our indigenous Priests anti Religious are working in the Dioceses in Nigeria and in many parts of the world.