THE BIRTH OF THE AUGUSTINIAN ORDER IN NIGERIA
Although Augustinian houses had been established in Mubi (1965) and Iwaro-Oka in Ondo State (1966), it was not until the Irish Provincial Chapter of 1974 that a firm commitment was made to the establishment of the Order in Nigeria. A site for a monastery, adjoining the Major Seminary in Jos, was acquired and Fr. Vincent Hickey was appointed to supervise the project and to act as Novice Master. When the distinctive small round chalets and large community rooms were occupied in 1976, the incipient Vice Province had a home and thereafter, as in the case of the Major Seminary, progress was sure and steady.
A year later, at the General Chapter of 1977, Nigeria was made a Vice Province of the Order and Fr. Declan Brosnan became the first Vice Provincial. He presided over the growth of the Order for the next twelve years, during which time houses were opened in Benin City (31.12.1977), Yola (31.12.1981), Lagos (31.12.1987) and Kaduna (31.12.1988). The first two Nigerian Augustinians Joseph Ekwu and Barth. Chidili, were ordained to the priesthood in 1980 and they have been followed by some 100 others to date.
During the Chapter of 1989, Fr Declan Brosnan’s long tenure as Vice Provincial came to an end and Fr Vincent B. Hickey became the Vice Provincial, the office held for eight (8) years until handing over to Fr James Daman at the Chapter of 1997 who served as the Vice Provincial till he was appointed the Bishop of Jalingo Diocese in December 2000.
As the number of Nigerian Augustinians increased, the number of their ageing Irish confreres decreased, there was a corresponding increase in number of houses across Nigeria: Zing, Kano and near Abuja. As a consequence of the appointment to the episcopate of Fr James Daman (Later Bishop James Daman) another election was held and this time, Fr. Patrick Akinrimisi, was the choice of a clear majority of the brethren. He had the honour of attending the recent General Chapter of the Order in Rome, during which a new Prior General was elected and the Order in Nigeria was accorded full Provincial status. This development made Fr Akinrimisi the first Provincial to pilot over the affairs of the young and prospective province of Nigeria from 2001-2005.
Fr Niyiring John succeeded Fr Patrick Akinrimisi, as the Provincial during the 2005 Provincial Chapter in Jos. He remained in office until his appointment as the Bishop of Kano in 2007. As a consequence, Fr McDonnell Brendan served as the Vicar Provincial from 2007-2008. And at the General Chapter of 2008, Fr Hyacinth Kangyep was elected the Prior Provincial and served till 2012.
During the Provincial Chapter of 2012, the 4th Ordinary Chapter of the Province, held from 20th – 24th August at the Augustinian Monastery, Jos, Fr John A. Abubakar, became the Prior Provincial of the Order of St Augustine of Nigeria. His commitment like those before him opened new frontiers for rapid expansion of the Province at home and at abroad. And in 2013, the Province of St Augustine of Nigeria celebrated her diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) in Nigeria: it was a celebration of the goodness of God, of the heroic sacrifices of the Anglo-Scottish and Irish Augustinians, of the faith-response of our pioneer indigenous Augustinians and of our collective commitment to continue building on the foundation laid by our Augustinian ancestors.
The 5th General Chapter of the Province of Nigeria was once again convoked by the Prior Provincial Fr John A. Abubakar who was again given the nod to a second term as the Prior Provincial of the Order of St Augustine, Nigeria Province. The Chapter was declared open on the 5th September, 2016 by the Prior General, Most Rev. Fr. Alejandro Moral Aton, OSA and was closed on 9th September, 2016. The last day of the Chapter witnessed the commissioning/opening ceremony of St Augustine College, DU, Jos by the Prior General to admiration of the Chapter Fathers.
Shortly after the Provincial Chapter was over, the Province for the first time was given the opportunity to host the Intermediate General Chapter, a meeting of Prior General, members of the General Council, all the superiors of the various Augustinian circumscriptions in the world and other invited Augustinian personalities. The meeting was well attended and took place from on the 18th – 30th September, 2016. The Intermediate General Chapter came to a close with notes of appreciation tinged with surprise at the homely atmosphere and warmth all felt during their short stay in Nigeria.
The above gives us more of a linear chronicle of our journey so far, it is not exhaustive of when other communities and institutions were acquired and established respectively. But suffice it to state that at present, we can boast of eighteen (18) Parishes in Nigeria and four (4) Parishes abroad, three (3) School communities, three (3) Formation houses with an institute of Philosophy and we now number a hundred plus. In the words of Fr Ikechukwu Kanu, “A cursory glance at the miles already covered (till date) reveals tremendous strides” and with hope in God, we look to the future with confidence believing that He who began this good work will bring it to completion in accordance to his will, for He is the author and finisher… to Him be glory and honour forever. Amen