A BRIEF HISTORY OF BIGARD MEMORIAL SEMINARY
Early Years at Onitsha
Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu started as St. Paul’s Seminary, Onitsha in 1922, at the initiative of Rt. Rev. Joseph Shanahan, the then Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Southern Nigeria. The seminary was, however, officially opened in 1924. The first senior seminarian that began his philosophical studies in the seminary was John Cross Anyogu, who was accepted by the Vicar in 1912 and sent to London for his secondary education. The pioneer students comprised five school teachers who started with the study of Latin language. From here, the seminary began its peregrination, which lasted several decades, and eventually settled permanently at Enugu in 1951 with its present name.
Bigard Moved from Onitsha to Igbariam
The seminary was first moved from the “distractions” at Onitsha to remote Igbariam in the Anambra valley, North‑East of Aguleri and officially opened on 29th July, 1924 as both junior and senior seminaries in one, with Rev. Fr. William O’Donnel, C.S.S.P as its first Rector. Between 1924 and 1926, twelve candidates were admitted, among whom was Michael IweneTansi in 1925. The second Rector was Fr. Charles Heerey, assisted by Fr. Philip O’Connor; and the third was Fr. Richard Daly, assisted by Fr. Finigan.
Bigard Returns to Onitsha and movement to Eke
The seminary moved back to Onitsha beside St. Charles’ Training College, with Fr. Dennis Kennedy as the fourth Rector in 1929. Then due to lack of accommodation at Onitsha, the theology campus was opened at Eke in 1934, where Fr. John Cross Anyogu was ordained on December 8, 1930. At Eke, the seminary faced serious challenges of lack of water and personnel. It had only one person teaching all the Theology courses.
Bigard Moves from Eke to Enugu and then to Okpala
In January 1939, the seminary was moved to the present Holy Ghost Cathedral grounds, Ogui in Enugu, with Fr. Louis Kettels as its fifth Rector. In January 1942, it was situated at Okpala, with Fr. Patrick Walsh as its sixth Rector, and Fr. Joseph B. Whelan as the seventh in 1946. In 1948 when Fr. Joseph B. Whelan was consecrated bishop of Owerri, he handed the administration of the seminary over to Fr. Patrick Walsh.
Bigard Relocates to the Present Site
With the decision of Propaganda Fide to build one regional seminary for both Western and Eastern Nigeria, Archbishop Heerey got permission and fund to build a seminary in the East. Work started at the present site and the seminary was officially opened on March 4, 1951 by the then Delegate to British East and West Africa, Archbishop David Matthews. The name became Bigard Memorial Seminary to perpetuate the memory of two French ladies: mother and daughter‑Stephanie and Jeanne Bigard, foundresses of the Opus Sancti Petri Apostoli that supplied the fund for the building. There were 25 seminarians and the eighth Rector was Fr. James O’Neill, the longest reigning Rector (1951‑1965). Fr. John Daly who stayed into the civil war succeeded him.
The Young Seminary at the Outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War
During the civil war, 1967‑1970, the seminary sojourned now at Umuowa, then at Awo‑Omamma, now at Afaha Obong, then at Amakohia, according to shifts of military strategy at the war fronts. It eventually returned to Enugu in 1970 and was handed over to a staff of seven indigenous professors, with Msgr. John N. Ogbonna as the first indigenous Rector on March 12, 1970. A new phase began. Bigard trained priests for the Middle belt, the Sierra Leone, the Cameroons and Liberia as well. In 1975 there were over 600 seminarians.
Bigard Begets Other Seminaries
On October 20, 1976 philosophy campus was opened at Ikot‑Ekpene with Fr. Gregory Ochiagha as its first Rector. In 1985, a new philosophy campus was opened at Owerri and this second daughter of Bigard was born with the name Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary. The first year philosophers were therefore sent to both Ikot-Ekpene and Owerri campuses. In 1989, the faculty of philosophy returned once more to the Enugu campus and Bigard, Ikot‑Ekpene and Seat of Wisdom became autonomous seminaries with theology faculties. Bigard Ikot-Ekpene assumed a new name‑ St. Joseph’s Major Seminary.
Rectoral Train of Indigenous Priests
The rectoral train after Msgr. Dr. John. Ogbonna is in this order: Most Rev. Dr. Albert K. Obiefuna, Very Rev. Msgr. Dr. Cyriacus S. Mba (Ag. Rector), Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Peter Damian Akpunonu, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Bernard I. Ngwoke, Very Rev. Msgr. Dr. Johnbosco Akam, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Okeke, Most Rev. Dr. John I. Okoye, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. J. Obi Oguejiofor (Ag. Rector), Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Theophilus Igwe, and Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert O. Ikpenwa, the incumbent Rector.
Bigard at 75
In 1999 Bigard Celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary). This celebration drew many of her ex-students together, in a manner unprecedented in the history of the Seminary. Prominent ex-students like Cardinal Tumi of Cameroon, Cardinal Arinze, Archbishop Joseph Ganda of Sierra Leone, and many other Archbishops and Bishops participated in one way or another in a long drawn Jubilee programme, the high point of which was the ordination of the Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Deacons by the then Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria: Most Rev. Dr. Osbaldo Padilla.
Bigard Begets More Seminaries
Increase in vocation and the need for a very effective formation led to the birth of two more campuses of Bigard at Awka and Onitsha named John Paul II Major Seminary, Awka and Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha, respectively.
For the past 95 years, this great centre of excellence has continued to raise men of outstanding qualities for both the Church and state. Today, we can proudly say that the great mother Bigard has so far produced 4 Cardinals, 14 Archbishops, 35 Bishops and thousands of priests as well as prominent Nigerian, Sierra Leonian and Cameroonian citizens.
Bigard at 95
Bigard celebrated her 95th year of existence and official countdown of her Centenary Celebration on the 13th and 14th November, 2019. The celebration began on the 13th of November with the official declaration of the countdown opened by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Albert O. Ikpenwa. This was followed by a paper presentation by Rev. Fr. Prof. Peter Damian Akpunonu; Centenary Hostel Groundbreaking ceremony; Novelty Football Match at the FIFA Field and Alumni night. Then the 14th of November featured ordination of 25 deacons from Onitsha, Enugu, Abakaliki, Awka, Nsukka, Nnewi and Awgu dioceses by His Grace, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria in a mass concelebrated by the Bishops of Onitsha, Calabar and Owerri provinces. The celebration brought together many alumni of Bigard, Past and Present Governors of South Eastern Nigeria, dignitaries from different walks of life and other seminaries from different parts of the country
ANALYSIS OF THE STATISTICS OF THE CANDIDATES
- Number of Resident Seminarians = 593
- Number of Non-Resident Seminarians = 244
- Number of Diocesans = 662
- Number of Religious = 175
- Number of Theologians = 443
- Number of Philosophers = 394
Total Number of Seminarians = 837