“Wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows” (Ezekiel 47:9; see also John 4:14).
The first Catholic missionaries arrived at Onitsha in Eastern Nigeria in 1885 through water navigation of the great River Niger. By 1888 Father Joseph Lutz the leader of the Holy Ghost Missionaries at Onitsha had celebrated the first Holy Mass at Eziagulu Aguleri (Father Oborji’s ancestral home village), and started to pay regular visits to the town through water navigation of the Anambra River – a tributary of River Niger. Aguleri became a parish in its own right with a resident priest in 1891, the first of its kind in Eastern Nigeria after Onitsha. Aguleri is the birth place of Nigeria’s most revered pious priest, Blessed Iwene Tansi. Aguleri was also the last place Father Tansi worked as Parish Priest. It was from Aguleri, his hometown that Father Tansi was sent to England by Archbishop Charles Heerey and became a Trappist Monk.
“If you don’t respect the past, you have no future” (An African Proverb)
In May 1888, the first visit of Rev. Fr. Joseph Emile Lutz, C.S.Sp. with his missionary entourage to Eziagulu Aguleri. They were received by Onyekomeli Ogbuanyinya Idigo. Later the same year, a mission station was established at Eziagulu Aguleri.
On May 27, 1890, Fr. Lutz paid a formal visit to Eziagulu Mission Station and led in the Eucharistic celebration for the formal opening of the new station.
On June 1, 1890, Fr. Lutz and Fr. Joseph Bubendorf (C.S.Sp.) visited the town again and went to choose a new site two kilometres north of the town for the nascent mission station at Eziagulu Aguleri.
On August 2, 1890, Brother Herman C.S.Sp. started to build a mission house at the new site. This was the birth of the Aguleri Christian Village later called Mbito or Ugwu Ndi Uka (Nduka). The mission organization at Eziagulu was “imported” wholesale into the Christian Village like the one at Onitsha. It became a testing ground for the practice of the Christian virtue of charity, as well as a centre for the formal study of catechism and craftwork for self-sustenance of the new converts.
In May 1891, Fr. R. Pawlers C.S.Sp. was appointed the first Aguleri Parish Priest. He was assisted by Fr. Joseph Reling C.S.Sp. This was how Aguleri Parish started. The Parish centenary was celebrated in 1991. The Christian Village (Ndi Uka) which was officially commissioned in 1891 still remains the Parish headquarter and the mother-parish of the neighbouring towns and parishes that were formerly under the Old Aguleri Parish.
On December 3, 1891 the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Onyekomeli Ogbuanyinya Idigo (along with six of his children), was baptized by Fr. Lutz and was given the name Joseph.
Towards the end of 1889 a school was established at Eziagulu Aguleri; later it got its permanent building and a permanent site in the Christian Village and became formally organised as St. Joseph’s School Aguleri in 1894. That is the present St. Raphael’s Primary School (also called Premier Primary School), Otu-Ocha (Ameze Aguleri).
In 1895 a befitting Church was built at the Christian Village Aguleri, and was extended two years later in 1897, an evidence of rapid growth.
In 1914 a more permanent Church was built. This is the present Parish Hall east of the St. Joseph’s Church Aguleri which was opened in April 1940.
In 1920 Father Lejeune constructed the St. Joseph’s Father’s House (Presbytery) measuring 22 by 10 metres. It was then an architectural master-piece and attracted the admiration of all and sundry.
In 1928, the famous St. Paul’s Seminary Igbariam was resettled at the Aguleri Christian Village (Ugwu-Ndi-Uka), though for a brief period. After the closure of the Igbariam Seminary in 1928, the Rev. Fathers and seminarians who were pulled out from there were resettled at the Aguleri Christian Village. The leaders were Fathers R. Dally and Flanigan. They came over with nine seminarians including Obelagu, Nwanegbo, Tansi, Nweze, Metu, and four others. Michael Tansi, was the procurator. Thinking that they will establish at Aguleri Christian Village, they planned for expansion by cutting down the coffee and tangerine plantations. However, they were later to learn that Onitsha was their destination.
The Father Joseph’s Memorial High School (Father Oborji’s alma mater) came to be built on that very site in the Christian Village, Aguleri that was meant for the building of the St. Paul’s Seminary after its closure at Igbariam.
Father Joseph’s Memorial High School Aguleri, although is said to have been founded in 1960, the school had a long history of evolution. It started first, as a Preliminary Training College (PTC) in 1956–1957, became Elementary College (ETC) in 1958–1959, and finally, a full-fledged secondary school in 1960. The Christian Village (Ugwu-Ndi-Uka) Aguleri where the school is situated has continued to help the school maintain its Catholic character and tradition in spite of the many years of Government Take-Over of Church Owned Schools after the Nigeria-Biafra War in1970. The Christian Village environment still gives the school a special prestige and solid Catholic foundation.
In 1937 the foundation for the present Church (St. Joseph’s Church) was laid at the Christian Village in memory and in respect for the missionaries who were buried at the cemetery there and not at Ameze (that is, Obiagu Aguleri) – as the people had wanted.
Four Rev. Fathers (Rita, Bubendorf, Engasse, and Müller) were buried at the Aguleri Christian Village cemetery. Father Joseph Thomas Delaney, the most beloved of the missionary priests and who solely through his efforts that the present St. Joseph’s Church was built, was after his death, buried in the Church. The Church and Father Joseph’s High School were named after him by the Aguleri people in appreciation of his enduring legacy in the town. On his body stands today St. Joseph’s Church, Aguleri.
In 1949 Father Michael Iwene Tansi became the Parish Priest of Aguleri. It was like a home-coming for him since he was a native of the town, was brought up and educated early in life in the Aguleri Christian Village.
It is on record that at its highest water mark in the mid 1950s, Aguleri Parish comprised about 60 mission stations, including all the towns and villages along Anambra River Valley – stretching to the present Anambra and Enugu states as well as to some towns in the neighbouring Kogi and Benue States of Nigeria.
Aguleri Town Parishes
- St. Joseph’s Parish, Aguleri.
- St. Francis’ Parish, Ivite Aguleri.
- St. Mary’s Parish, Ugwunadegbe, Aguleri.
- St. Paul’s Parish, Enugu-Otu/Mkpunando, Aguleri.
- St. Mary’s Independent Station, Eziagulu-Otu, Aguleri.