It was a day of joy and gladness as the long-awaited 8th general meeting of the Bigard Alumni Association finally came. The afternoon of Sunday 19th November 2017 saw men of prominence who once trod the nurturing and prestigious soil of Bigard, and savoured her unending and ever nourishing milk of formation return home to their Alma Mater, to Mother Bigard!
The year’s edition was a special and historic one, because it’s the first of its kind after that of 13th November 1993 when the assembly was held last. The arrival of the Alumni on Sunday afternoon was marked with a football encounter between the Alumni from Enugu Diocese and those from other Dioceses. The kick-off was done by the President-General of the association, Prof. Oliver Anowor, as many priest and lay members, Bigard College of Formators headed by the Rector, Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, and all Bigard Seminarians were at the FIFA Arena to enjoy the encounter. It was an even encounter as the result of the match was a 1-1 draw. The outing was indeed an entertaining one as the Bigard Fan Club lit the atmosphere with their thunderous melodies.
As part of the General Meeting of the Bigard Alumni Association, there was a welcome ceremony for the Bigard Alumni in the seminary auditorium which started at 8:45pm on Sunday, 19th November 2017. The auditorium was filled to the brim as the Bigard College of Formators and seminarians, together with the Alumni were all seated for the program which started with an opening prayer led by Rev. Fr. Dr. Raphael Egwu, himself an alumnus and one of Bigard’s Spiritual Directors.
The welcome ceremony also featured a round table discussion with the theme “Church Involvement in Nigerian Education Today.” The main discussants included Rev. Fr. Dr. Marcel Onyeocha and Rev. Fr. Dr. Ikechukwu Ani. In his speech, Rev. Fr. Dr. Marcel Onyeocha addressed the theme from a historical perspective. He noted that the Igbo did not begin studying till 1935. According to him, by 1960, the Igbo overtook the Yorubas in the area of education. Going further, he noted that during and after the Civil War, the government took over 70% of education (schools?) in the South Eastern part of Nigeria and controlled education up to the tertiary level; and since then, things have not remained the same as huge setbacks are evident. He, however, pointed out areas like leadership training, empowering of women, and the need to get acquitted with the use of digital equipments, as possible ways the Church can come to the rescue of the devastating state of education system in Nigeria.
Rev. Fr. Dr. Ikechukwu Ani in his speech started with the question, “Is the Catholic Church in Nigeria ready to get involve in education in Nigeria?” In response, he proposed ways the Church can help in improving the state and quality of education in Nigeria:
Funding: He held that if the Church is ready to redeem the failed system of education in Nigeria, the Church should be ready to fund schools rather than seeing education as a profit generating enterprise. He also noted that fair and timely payment of teachers’ salaries would go a long way in redeeming the harm already caused by the government.
Personnel: Fr. Ani held that there are only but a few people who are qualified to teach in Nigeria, hence, he charged the Church to be ready to build formidable persons to teach in schools.
Training: Fr. Ani demanded that the Church should be ready to train good teachers for schools given that few good teachers are now in Nigeria. He also asked: “What do we think about people who have challenges? What are we doing to help those who cannot hear, who have poor sight, etc.? Are we ready to train and accommodate them?”
Lastly the moderator, Rev. Fr. Dr. Peter Nwadimkpa, a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha explained that the Church has always helped the Nigeria society through education as regards morals and character.
Questions and contributions were made by seminarians and priests. The atmosphere was lit by a cultural dance performance by the “Igba Umu Ogalanya” group of Onitsha Archdiocese and Nnewi Diocese, after which other entertainments by Seminarians of Bigard followed.
Rev. Fr. Basil Anonogbe gave the vote of thanks while Fr. Ignatius Okuta said the closing prayer as the program ended at 11:00pm. The proper day for the General Meeting of the Bigard Alumni Association was started with a Holy Mass presided over by Very Rev. Monsignor Luke Adike, the Vicar General of Enugu Diocese, who represented the Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. DR. C.V.C. Onaga. In a heart stirring Homily given by Rev. Fr. Dr. Felix Onwukike, a worthy Alumnus, and a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, Christ’s Faithful present at the Mass were admonished to remain steadfast in their Christian faith no matter how tasking and demanding it might be. Fr. Onwukike also pointed out that just like Christ, all should be ever ready to accept hard times and tribulations, as the way to eternal life is always narrow and thorny. After the Mass and subsequent group photographs in front of the Bigard Main Chapel, all matched to the Blessed Iwene Tansi Auditorium for the completion of the event. Many priests and men of prominence were present and took part at the meeting. With the opening prayers said by Rev. Msgr. Anthony Eze, also an alumnus and one of Bigard’s spiritual directors, the M.C. Mr. Cyriacus Ogbuka ushered in the Alumni as members of the executive and the Rector were invited to the high table.
The Bigard Fans for Jesus led in the singing of the Papal and Bigard anthems. This was immediately followed by the presentation of Colanut by the Rector as the Igbo culture demands. The blessing and breaking of the Colanut was led by Rev. Msgr. Patrick-Mary Mmuo, the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki. This was immediately followed by the Rector’s address.
In his address, the Rector expressed gratitude to God for making the event of the massive home-coming of Bigard Alumni a dream come true. He also welcomed everyone present and highlighted the efforts of his administration towards the upkeep of the seminary. He listed a number of completed, on-going and proposed projects. He boldly testified that for the past 93 years of the existence of Bigard, this center of excellence has continued to raise men of outstanding qualities for both the Church and the State. In his words: “Today, we can proudly say that the great mother Bigard has so far produced 3 Cardinals, 13 Archbishops, 33 Bishops and thousands of priests and lay men.”
After the address, the President of the Bigard Alumni Association, Prof Oliver Anowor, presented his address where he gave a brief history of the cherished association, its challenges, aims and objectives. Likewise the Co-Ordinator General, Rev. Fr. Dr. Sylvanus Nnoruka recalled the efforts that have been made in reviving the once moribund Association during rectorship of the Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Igwe till date. He called on the diocesan co-ordinators to take the Association at heart. He further suggested that Calabar and Owerri Provinces be incorporated into the Association. Lastly, he enjoined all Dioceses to form their own Diocesan Chapters, since every Diocese in Onitsha Province has a Co-ordinator. The response to the addresses was done by Mr. Silas Nwaishienu
In a way of keeping both body and spirit active and excited, the Ikorodo Cultural Dance of Nsukka Diocesan Seminarians stimulated the atmosphere in the auditorium. After the brief entertainment, a lecture by Very Rev. Prof. Augustine Akubue, who is the Dean, Faculty of Education, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki followed. He spoke on the theme: Sharing My Thoughts About Bigard Memorial Seminary Alumni Association (BIMSAA). Fr. Akubue reflected on the predicaments of the past and drew out the lessons to be learnt from them. At the end, he proposed three-point agenda, namely,
Maximise our Blessing: Prof. Akubue held that the Bigard Alumni Association is a blessing which should be guarded jealously and proudly.
Minimise our Distractions: Fr. Akubue proposed that apathy and indifference should as much as possible be defeated as they are major distractions to the blessing which is the Association.
Apply Effective Antidotes: Here Fr. Akubue urged all to embrace the antidotes to the distractions ravaging the success of the Association; these antidotes he calls Commitment and Dedication.
After many questions, reactions and contributions by some members of Bigard Alumni and Bigard College of Formators, seminarians were dismissed. The Alumni were left alone to continue with the remaining part of their General Meeting.