Christian Churches in Ihiagwa
There are several Churches in Ihiagwa, the most popular ones are the St. Michael’s Catholic Parish, Ihiagwa, The Anglican Church and Baptist Church, Ihiagwa. Below is a historical review of the catholic church in Ihiagwa and her struggle.
The Catholic Churche Ihiagwa
The St Micheals’ catholic church Ihiagwa which ranks as one of the progressive parishes in the catholic diocese of Owerri was founded on the sweat and titanic effort of men and women, dead and alive who showed extraordinary courage, sustained struggle and a determination to reach the promised land which we celebrate today. Some pioneers of blessed memory which include :
- Late Dennis Onyeanu Nzuruike
- Late Alfred Nwagbagwa Opara
- Late Nwagbagwa Nwosu
- Late R.S Asoluka
- Late Patrick Anokwuru
- Late Johnson Emeana
- Late Hyacinth Udokpor
- Late Simeon Okochi.
All these men showed extraordinary courage and braved the terrible wrath of fearsome chief Anoruo of blessed memory the then king i.e. the first king of the Ihiagwa autonomous community, and planted the mustard seed in God’s vineyard which has today grown into an oak tree.
The successors of these pioneers of blessed memory held the faith of their predecessors , endured and overcame the frustration of the World, and pursued single mindedly the creation of a parish out of the church. This successors are determined soldiers and should therefore say “Deo gratis” for having achieved that goal of attaining the parish level.
History of the catholic church
The advent of the Roman catholic church in Ihiagwa autonomous community later christened St Micheals’ Catholic church, Ihiagwa is credited to three young men then, now of blessed memory. They include :
- late Onyeanu Nzuruike.
- late Nwagbagwa Opara and
- late Nwagbagwa Nwosu all of Umuemeze kindred in Umuezeawula village of the Ihiagwa autonomous community.
These youths instead of attending the Anglican church as recognized by the ruling warrant chief, chief Anoruo Ibekamanwa of Ihiagwa (1903-1919) preferred a more distant church in the town of “Okwu Ameze” in Obibiezena. These three young men after attending services in Okwu Ameze Obibiezena for sometime, decided to hold their own prayer meetings at home and also incorporated their kiths and kin’s who wished to join them. Furthermore, these three young men, held their prayer meetings in secret and shifted it from place to place so as not to incure the wrath and punishment of the then warrant chief who might tag them as being disloyal to him by introducing a different kind of church. This activity continued until 1919 when the Govt withdrew the warrant of chief Anoruo. Ibekamanwa.
After this withdrawal, the members of the church decided to bring the church to the open and by this they dispersed messrs R.S Asoluka, Patrick Anokwuru and Johnson Emeana Mgbachi to the then warrant chief of Nekede, chief Nkwazema to ask Rev Fr D.Walsh based in Emekuku to send them a teacher in Ihiagwa who will conduct church services for them at Ihiagwa. This mission by this young men turned out fruitful as it resulted in the posting of the first teacher to Ihiagwa in the same year in the person of Mr. James Eleghele Oparaocha a native of Azaraegbelu Emekuku. Prior to this as earlier said, they had conducted their prayer meetings in make shift structures which could be easily destroyed upon discovery by Chief Anoruo. But after the withdrawal of chief Anoruo’s warrant, he no more had powers for such, so they approached an elder from the community Mr. Elekwachi Okereafor for land. He Mr. Elekwachi willingly obliged and readily offered them a site not too far from the community market ( Nkwoukwu) Ihiagwa. it was on this little piece of land that the first structure of the catholic church- a small church of mud walls and thatched roof was built. With long moulds of mud inside that served as seats for this worshipers.
Also on this land they put up the teachers house which was a one room with verandah. On completion of this, the then faithfuls stayed on the verandah at night to learn prayers and catechism as thought by the teacher Mr. Eleghele. by this, they also kept guard at night. Mr. Eleghele also brought with him formal education.
It is a thing worth mentioning, that the catholic church was brought into the Ihiagwa autonomous community by the people from the Umuezeawula village of the Ihiagwa autonomous community. It is also due to this that the first catholic church was built on the Umuezeawula ground, and was thus nick named Umuezeawula peoples’ church. Hence the Umuezeawula people are the pioneers of the catholic church in Ihiagwa autonomous community.
The list of teachers in Ihiagwa as at the inception of the catholic church include :
- Mr. James Eleghele Oparaocha: Azaraegbelu Emekuku
- Mr. Ekenjo: Mbaise
- Peter Opara: Ezeogba Emekuku
- Mr. Peter Abba: Orlu
- Mr. Francis Nwagwugwu: Umunamma Mbaise
- Mr. Beneth Ndukwu: Okwu Emekuku
The origin of name St Micheals’ catholic church
The church was christened St Micheals’ catholic church to replace it’s old name roman catholic church. The choice of Archangel Micheal as the patron saint of the catholic church in Ihiagwa autonomous community is due to a very significant role played by the Arch Angel Micheal. The Ihiagwa people was thought by their teachers that the Arch Angel Micheal conquered Satan and drove him and other bad spirits out of heaven into hell. Based on this, and also on the fact that Ihiagwa then was intensely immersed in traditional religion usually associated with the gods which were considered by the church to be bad spirits.
It was therefore on this fact and in the bid to overwhelm the traditional religion, that the people unanimously agreed to Christian the church St Michaels’ Catholic Church believing that as the Archangel chased Satan and the wicked spirits among from heaven so also will he chase all those supposedly bad spirits away from Ihiagwa, to facilitate the conversion of the people to Christianity.
After the christening of the church, the people started adopting Christian names even without being baptized. This was done to identify themselves with the church and also to boost their ego. All this marked the formal emergence of catholism in Ihiagwa.
Rise of St. Micheal catholic church to parish level
Even after the christening, the church still remained a village church in Umuezeawula. At this level, it was still working from the root and gradually laying the foundation for full emergency on the community level.
At this time, the villagers rallied round their church all in a bid to make it grow. In a bid to achieve this, they formed a committee that saw to this rise and also kept close contact with the teachers.
They also encouraged their adolescent children to go to school as was organized by the teachers and the adults to also attend catechism classes, in the evening. Also this time, there were visitation by white Rev. fathers from Emekuku on their motorcycle to know what was going on in the church, and also examine candidates for baptism.
All this led to the increase of the church in size, infrastructure and organization so as to meet up with the new challenging demands of the church. Following this, a bigger church building was put up to accommodate the steadily increasing number of the faithfuls and also a rent house erected for the visiting Reverend fathers, also a nearby traditional spirit forest called “Agwuishi Nwangaji” was completely cleared and converted to a grave yard.
Also a church committee was set up to look into issues as regards the church. This committee included representatives from other villagers and comprised the following people as at then.
- Alfred Opara and Dennis Nzuruike: Umezeawula
- Luke Ahumibe: Umuokwo
- Michael Uboh : Mboke
- Amos Agumanu ofoha : Iriamogu
- Nicholas Iheanacho : Ibuzo
- John Ihemedu & Hyacinth Udokporo : Umuelem
- Simeon Okochi : Umuchima
Thus it was as a result of all this and upon the visitation of one of the Reverend father’s, his lordship Dr Charles Heery then bishop of onitsha/Owerri, vicariate in 1933 from onitsha to Ihiagwa on a pastorial visit, that he promised the people that he would elevate them to a parish level if only they would build a suitable house for the resident priest, and to concretize this promise, the church was given a plan of the house to be erected.
The church worked so hard to achieve this, their first cause of action was seen in the acquiring a larger site which would serve as headquarters since the site at umuezeawula was now too small to accommodate them. Following this, a large site more central to the Ihiagwa autonomous community was looked for and Umuokwo and umuelem villagers donated the present site on the Nkwo ukwu-umuchima road, and the parish house was completed in 1988 and church house in 1985.
After all this effort, it was not until after the Biafra – Nigerian war that Ihiagwa was given the level of a parish priest and its first parish priest assigned to it, in the person of Rev fr. Dr. B.S Obiukwu.
Milestones Achieved by the church ever since inception
- The church gave so much moral and spiritual support to its members and thus encouraged them (it’s converts ) to participate actively in the church activities.
- Introduced the first missionary schools in Ihiagwa
First converts of the church
- Mr. Joseph Awulonu Anokwuru was the first full convert and first to be baptized in the church. his baptismal certificate as issued from mount Carmel Emekuku shows that he was baptized on 21st April 1921 i.e. two years after the inception of the church at Ihiagwa.
- Mr. Alfred Nwagbagwa Opara and Mrs. Priscilla Nwagbagwu Opara were the first couple of the church i.e. the first people to be wedded in the church. This couple were closely followed by Mr. Hyacinth Nkwocha Udokporo and his wife Helen in 1930.
- It is also worthy of note that Mr. Alfred Nwagbagwa Opara was amongst the 3 courageous youths to bring catholic church from Okwu Ameze Obibiezena to Ihiagwa.
Mr. Hyacinth Nkwocha Udokporo was the first Anglican to be converted to catholism in 1930 and he also married in the catholic church that same year.