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Holy Ghost Parish Makurdi: The Symbol of A Glorious Tomorrow 1930-2020
In 1924 the railway in Nigeria
first reached Makurdi from the South, Father Vincent Davey used to come by
train and visit his Christians at the various stopping places until he reached
Makurdi at the end of the line. At all of these places there was a mud rest
house and many of them including Utonkon, Otukpo, Taraku and Moi-Igbo or Paka,
(Ayar-Mbalom, where two priests and worshippers were massacred by Fulani
herdsmen during Mass at St Ignatius quasi parish on April 24, 2018) eventually
had a small mud-and-grass church. The
first rest house for the priest at Makurdi was built in 1926, where we have the
current St. Joseph‘s Trade Centre or Technical College, that was the end of the
railway before the first Benue bridge was built in 1923.
Church and Education
As the future importance of
Makurdi became clearer, a permanent site for a Church and a school was obtained
nearer to the town where we have the present Holy Ghost Parish and Holy Ghost
primary school. The permanent Church that was begun in 1926 was completed in
1929; and was the first biggest Catholic Church in Makurdi. The excitement of
such an edifice led to increase in Church membership and the Church could no
longer contain the number of worshippers. The rest house at the new site was
small, only one room, but it was made of cement block walls with iron roof and
a small house was built alongside for the catechist, Christopher Ilobi and his
family. The catechist’s second son was born here on January 5, 1931 the feast
of Epiphany, so named Epiphanius and baptized on January 18, 1931. He was the
86th person in the baptismal register.
The First Public Mass and Civil Authority
the middle of 1930 it was decided that Catholic Missionary priests should live
on the permanent site in Makurdi. The first group of missionaries
to settle in Holy Ghost Parish arrived Makurdi on 30th October, 1930 by train.
The team was made up of four missionaries: two priests, Fathers Winterle CSSp
and Kirsten CSSp and two brothers; Maurice and Remigius. The priests moved into
the rest house while the brothers occupied the catechist house.
On November 1, 1930 when these
missionaries were introduced by Bishop Heerey to the people of Makurdi it was a
big celebration of the Holy Mass and reception with the civil authority
present. The missionaries were Germans and the civil authority of Nigeria under
The Missionaries quickly began
work on the new Church because the Church was too small to contain the
population at Mass. The Church which was built with mud blocks collapsed. The
construction of this present Church was started on October 31, 1931 and
completed in 1935.
On 2nd November, 1930 Esther
Rosa Anefi received baptism at the age of 21 years but Peter Paul Nwoye Ikeaba born
on 30th of June 1930 who received baptism on November 16, 1930 was registered
number one in the baptismal register by the German Holy Ghost Priest Fr. Kirsten CSSp.
Present Holy Ghost Parish Church
The initial church was built to
serve the purpose of an out station. It was therefore too small to be used as a
parish. The missionaries then decided to build a new larger church which was
spacious enough to seat all those who came in large numbers especially on
Sunday to hear about the new faith.
The church was built for
multi-purpose use; it had rooms on both sides of verandah used as classrooms,
and other rooms were occupied and used by the brothers. The church was however,
not built with permanent materials because permanent building materials were
not easily available.
that led to Primary Health Care and Block Industry
A tragedy struck the church; it was
completely destroyed by a whirlwind. Its destruction caused tears and anxiety
among the Catholic community in Makurdi, for not only did the faithful watch
their place of worship razed to the ground, but also witnessed helplessly the
death of two school boys and several others were wounded in the same
After the destruction of the church,
the missionaries decided to build a new church with permanent materials. Many
experiments were conducted to manufacture permanent materials and the discovery
was made by Brother Maurice. While meditating along River Benue he discovered
that the earth there could be used for brick making. This effort resulted in
the birth of Makurdi Baked Brick or Burnt Brick Industry in 1931.
With the help of some men, Brother
Maurice bought dry wood from North bank which was a big forest and the wood was
used as firewood. He molded the blocks and baked them into good quality bricks.
The blocks he molded and baked were used for many projects in the mission
including Father’s house, a school and other missionary buildings.
The current Federal Medical Centre,
was a clinic or First Aid Centre established by the missionaries to cater to
injured workers who were doing construction work on the Church and later it
became General Hospital Makurdi. The people of Benue must be grateful for the
missionary presence in this part of the world and what the Church continues to
do for our society. This is why we continue to plead for the full return of
schools to the original owners who knew the motive behind their inspiration.
In 1931 the new church edifice was
built by the German Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers which is being used till
this day it was completed in 1935. Fr. Donal Murray also joined the missionary
group and started a printing press in Taraku, which later became spiritan press in 1965 that published “Northern Star” now “Catholic Star”.
1939 War, the Arrival of English Missionaries and Otukpo Diocese
All developments were however,
thwarted by the outbreak of war in Europe on September 3, 1939. The Catholic
Church in Makurdi was greatly affected by this war as all the priests and brothers
were German nationals and the British administration in Nigeria had to ask all
Germans to leave since they were regarded as potential enemies.
The vacuum created, took years to
fill, we do not remember precisely how the local Church survived except that
the catechists must have held forte as local missionaries and ministers in the
absence of these missionaries. However,
things took a new turn in 1945, the English section of the Holy Ghost Fathers
was asked to take responsibility for this area forcibly vacated by the German
priests and brothers.
An English Monsignor James Hagan CSSp
was named as Prefect Apostolic and he came to Otukpo. Fathers J.O’ Neil, D.
Cart Wright and Donal Murray were among the first priests sent from England to
join him. Fr. G.F Woods joined them in 1951.
Msgr. James Hagan’s appointment
brought the Catholic Church in Makurdi back to its main stream of development
especially in the field of education. In 1959 he was made Bishop of the
Catholic Diocese of Otukpo.
and the Diocese of Makurdi
In 1960 James Hagan transferred the Cathedral
seat from Otukpo to Holy Ghost Parish Makurdi; Makurdi town had become the seat
of power for the civil authority, making the Church the First Cathedral of the
Catholic Diocese of Makurdi and becoming the First Bishop of the Diocese. Donal
Murray succeeded him, who later transferred the Cathedral seat from Holy Ghost
Church to the new Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Makurdi in 1980.
Birth of All Churches in Makurdi Metropolis
Since that first public
celebration of the Holy Mass and presentation of the missionaries by the Bishop
on November 1, 1930, the Church of Holy Ghost has never looked back. Today Holy
Ghost Church can boast of giving birth to all the parishes and pastoral units and
institutions of the Church that exist in Makurdi metropolis, and by extension
the diocese of Makurdi. On November 1, 2020, Holy Ghost Church was 90 years
and ten shy of a centenary. In the light of this milestone, we have chosen to
reflect on the labours and sacrifices of those missionaries and all who
followed in their footsteps to ensure that their labours were not in vain. And
this way, through a general assembly or synod renew our commitment to serving
God through humanity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Father Moses Aondover IORAPUU Dean, Makurdi Deanery