Brief history of the Catholic Diocese of Warri

Bishop John Okeoghene Afareha

It remains true that prior to the creation of ecclesiastical territory in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria there was a missionary enterprise. The first wave of missionary contact was under the protectorate of Portugal, between the 15th and 18th centuries mainly by Capuchin and Augustinian missionaries. Following the pattern of church – state relations, missionaries who called at king’s court, sought to convert the kings and from king, they attempted to make the populace Christians. At times the rulers encouraged mission work, paid for the maintenance of the missionaries.

Indeed, as at the 16th century, Warri had a flourishing Christian community as many of the populace were professing Christians. This truth is contained in the following testimony recorded in 1644 “In the city of Warri there was a church with an altar, a crucifix, status of Mary and the Apostles and two candle sticks alongside. The black people come into this church with rosary constantly in their hands, just as the Portuguese do.” This initial missionary enterprise crumbled due to various factors and a new missionary endeavour emerged in the 20th century and was powered by the S.M.A. Fathers of the Irish Province. It is pertinent to remark here, that the S.M.A Fathers adopted the school system as a means of evangelisation, as they taught the people how to read and write, they also included religious instructions as part of the school’s curriculum. Some of these schools include: St. Joseph’s Ozoro, St. Peter Cleaver Aghalokpe, St. Kelvin’s Kokori, St. Vincent’s Okwagbe, St. Ita’s Sapele, St. Ambrose Usiefurun, St. Edna’s, Agbarho, St. Theresa’s Ughelli, Notre Dame Ozoro, Our Lady’s Efurrun, Mater Dei, Ashaka amongst others. Priest like Fr. Luigi Cavegnera, Patrick Shine, Danny O’ Connell and Folley were pioneer missionaries.

In this light, Missionary priests and teachers in the schools were also involved in pastoral activities within and outside the schools, Chapels and Churches were built to cater for the spiritual well being of the students and the villagers in the neighbourhoods. It was such stations that gradually evolved into parishes in some places, thus evangelisation and growth of the church blossomed.

Therefore, with a flourishing Christian community, His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, created the diocese of Warri from the then Old Benin Diocese on the March 10th 1964. At its creation, Warri diocese had a total of eight parishes, in Warri, Aragba, Ashaka, Sapele, Okpara Inland, Ozoro, Ughelli and Bomadi. When the diocese was created, it had late Msgr. A Obine, late Msgr. J. Efebe, late Fr. P. Garriaga, late Msgr. S. Umurie, late Fr. P. Onogwe, late Fr. V. Obudu, Msgr. S. Ogbeide and Msgr. P. Nyowheoma as diocesan priests. These together with S.M.A priests like Frs. Sean Ryan, Bill Power, Dan Cashman, F. Convey, J. Brown, J. Cadogan James Higgins, B. Dunning all assisted late Bishop Lucas Nwaezeapu (the first bishop) in the work of evangelisation and to put the new diocese on strong footing.

With the growth in the Catholic population, the three Local Government Areas of Bomadi, Burutu and Patani were excised from Warri diocese to form part of what is now the Apostolic Vicariate of Bomadi. Therefore, geographically, the diocese which is both land and riverine covers sixteen Local Government Areas of Delta State, which are Warri South, Warri South – West, Warri North, Uvwie, Ethiope West, Ethiope East, Sapele, Okpe, Ughelli North, Ughelli South, Isoko South, Isoko North, Ndokwa West, Ndokwa East and Ukwani. It embraces landmass of 10,650 squares. Out of a total of 2,614,857 (approx), it has a Catholic population of 186,298 (approx). On March 17th 1991, Since its inception, the diocese had got the following Bishops, late Most Rev. Dr. Lucas Nwaezeapu, Late Most Rev. Dr. Edmund Fitzgibbon, Most Rev. Dr. Richard Burke, and our Bishop Most Rev. Dr. John Oke Afareha ordained May 14th 1997 as auxillary Bishop and installed as the Bishop of the Warri on March 30th 2010. Today to the glory of God and the new evangelisation in the diocese as implemented by the Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. John Afareha, there are 116 diocesan priests, 35 religious Priest and 75 Religious Sisters working in the diocese with 91 parishes and Chaplaincies. She also has 89 Major Seminarians, 215 Minor Seminarians and 236 salaried and voluntary Catechist, Seven deaneries of Warri, Sapele, Ughelli, Kwale, Oleh, Udu and Effurun. Thus a better pastoral care of God’s people in Warri Diocese, and the promotion of a more effective administration, pastoral planning and activity are fostered.

Warri Diocese also enjoys the presence and ministry of priests from the congregation of the Holy Ghost (C.S.Sp.), the Augustianians (O,S.A), the Redmptorists (C.SS.R.), Society of African Missions (S.M.A), Missionary Society of St. Paul (M.S.P), and the Female Religious Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles (O.L.A.), the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters (I.H.M.), the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Sisters.(E.H.J.), the Religious Sisters of Charity (R.S.C), the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul (D.C) the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate (P.V.M.I), the Franciscan Sister (OSF), and Sisters of the Society of Holy Child Jesus. To God be the glory, the diocese continues to strive towards greatness, and by the grace of God will continue to strive. Hence may His name be praised both now and forever. Amen

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