It is said that if old truth is not dressed up in new cloths, it easily passes by unnoticed. Events of history are very important in our day-to-day living, and as such, ignorance and negligence of the past may thwart and hinder future prospects. Therefore, an ample knowledge and understanding of the past is necessary for an appreciation of the present and better future projections. It is on this note that it becomes imperative to give a historical account of the Catholic Diocese of Bomadi which has undergone a threefold transition from Jurisdiction, Vicariate to Diocese.
Area of the Territory
The Catholic Diocese of Bomadi was carved out of Warri and Port Harcourt Dioceses into the then Lagos Ecclesiastical Province (now Benin-City Ecclesiastical Province) and it has a landmark of 13,140 km² with a Catholic Population of about 53,772 while the total population of the Diocese is 3,683,100 (2016 population projection).
The area so created, covers the entire present day Bayelsa State, four Local Government Areas of Delta State (Bomadi, Burutu, Patani and Warri South-West LGAs) and two Local Government Areas of Rivers State (Abua/Odual and Ahoada West LGAs). At the time of the creation of Bomadi Missio Sui Iuris (Jurisdiction), on the 17th March 1991, the Jurisdiction consisted of five parishes, namely:
- St Brendan Catholic Church, Bomadi (now Our Lady of the Waters Cathedral) (then under Warri Diocese).
- St Anne Catholic Church, Burutu (then under Warri Diocese).
- Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Patani (then under Warri Diocese).
- St Matthias Catholic Church, Amarata (then under Port Harcourt Diocese).
- Christ the King Catholic Church, Imiringi (then under Port Harcourt Diocese).
Below are the priests who were in the parishes at the time the Jurisdiction was created:
- Bomadi: Fr Sean Ryan, SMA
- Burutu: Rev. Msgr Fr Clement Ejedegba (Warri Diocese)
- Patani: Fr William Power (He visited from Oleh Parish, Warri Diocese)
- Amarata: Fr Eugene Bree, SPS
- Imiringi: Rev. Msgr Cyprain Onwuli (Port Harcourt Diocese)
From St Brendan to Our Lady of the Waters Cathedral, Bomadi
Prior to the creation of the Jurisdiction, the name of the Church in Bomadi was changed from St Brendan to Our Lady of the Waters. At the annual general retreat of the then St Brendan Parish, held in one of her Outstations called Ebedebri on the 24th of December, 1989, a 10-member Building Committee of the present day Cathedral Church ably led by the Parish Priest Fr S. Ryan, MSA was constituted in view of the creation of the Jurisdiction. At the inaugural meeting of the Committee held at Bomadi on Saturday 6th of January, 1990, the then Parish Priest, Late Rev. Fr Sean Ryan, SMA., unfolded to the members of the Committee the new name of the Church as, Our Lady of the Waters Catholic Church, Bomadi, stating that the change of name became imperatively necessary because almost 80% of the environment is riverine and that the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary is absolutely of great importance. Geographically, the Church in Bomadi is located in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, specifically South-South of Niger Delta and most of the parishes are located along river ways.
The Creation of the Jurisdiction (Missio Sui Iuris)
Bomadi Jurisdiction was created on the 17th March 1991 with a decree from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. In the same decree the then Pontiff, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II, appointed Rt Rev. Msgr Thomas Vincent Greenan of the St Patrick Society, Kiltegan Ireland as the ecclesiastical Superior and Local Ordinary on the 20th of September, 1991.
The creation of the Jurisdiction was promoted by Bishop Edmund Joseph Fitzgibbon, SPS., of Blessed Memory, who was both the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Warri and the Apostolic Administrator of Port Harcourt Diocese until the creation of Bomadi Missio Sui iuris. During his pastoral care of the area, he saw the people who inhabited the ecclesiastical circumscription now known as Catholic Diocese of Bomadi as a homogenous people with the same cultural heritage, geographical terrain, affinity and conditions of life, with deep faith and great prospects. He recommended the creation of this mission area for the purpose of the evangelization of the Izon (Ijaw) people of Nigeria. The Jurisdiction was created and handed over to the Pastoral care of the St Patrick Society, Kiltegan, Ireland.
Nevertheless, after the creation of the jurisdiction on Sunday 17th March 1991, Msgr Thomas Vincent Greenan was installed the Ecclesiastical Superior on Sunday 15th March 1992 at Our Lady of the Waters Cathedral Bomadi. The Superior was the Chief Celebrant of the Holy Mass and the Concelebrants were Bishop Edmund Joseph Fitzgibbon of Warri Diocese, Bishop Alexius Makozi of Port Harcourt Diocese, Most Rev Dr Micheal Okoro of Abakaliki Diocese (now retired), Most Rev Dr Patrick Ekpu of the then Benin-City Diocese (now retired), Most Rev Dr Camilus Etukudo of Ikot Ekpene Diocese (now Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese) and Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji of Issele-Uku Diocese (now retired) and many Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful in attendance.
The first appointments that were made by the Superior included Rev. Fr Thomas Brown, SPS as Vicar Delegate, Rev. Fr Eugene Bree, SPS as Vocations Director and Rev. Fr Noel McGeeney, SPS as Master of Ceremony who later became the Vocations Director.
After a year and eight months of the creation of the Jurisdiction, the Jurisdiction had her first Priest ordained for the Jurisdiction, Very Rev. Fr James Morkor on Saturday 07th of November, 1992 by Most Rev.Edmund Joseph Fitzgibbon at Our Lady of the Waters Catholic Cathedral, Bomadi.
However, as at the time of creation of the Jurisdiction, the total number of major Seminarians was eight. Five Seminarians from the Catholic Diocese of Warri namely Rev. James Morkor, Francis Ogofa, Peter Omgbu, Victor Otoro and Joseph Opuowei and three Seminarians from the Catholic Diocese of Port Harcourt, they are: Joseph Opelema, Peter Ikuli, and Bruno Ikuli. This was six years before Bomadi was elevated from the status of Jurisdiction to Vicariate (1991-1997).
The Erection of the Vicariate
It is true that Msgr Thomas Greenan invested a lot on Leadership Training and used the team ministry approach in his apostolate. After five years of intensive missionary activity and after great successes recorded with the creation of multiple structures in the Jurisdiction, the mission was elevated to the level of Vicariate on the 14th May 1997, and Msgr Joseph Oforishe Egerega a retired Captain of the Nigerian Navy from the Catholic Diocese of Warri was appointed as the Vicar Apostolic. He was ordained Bishop along with Msgr John O. Afaregha who was appointed Auxilliary Bishop of Warri Diocese (and later became the Bishop of the Diocese now retired) at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Warri on 14th May 1997. Bishop Joseph O. Egerega was installed the following day at Our Lady of the Waters Cathedral Bomadi as the Vicar Apostolic of Bomadi Vicariate by His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Tomko, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the presence of His Excellency Carlo Maria Vigano the then Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria and several Bishops.
Late Bishop Joseph O. Egerega, Navy Capt Rtd, was Bishop for twelve years. Rt Rev. Msgr Hyacinth Oroko Egbebo, MPS the then Superior General of the Missionary Society of St Paul, Abuja, was appointed and ordained the Auxilliary Bishop of Bomadi Vicariate on the 2nd February 2008. The Late Bishop Joseph O. Egerega made his impact despite the crisis that marked his reign including serious environmental issues, lack of finance, youth restiveness and the Niger Delta Struggle. He retired in April 2009 and His Lordship Most Rev. Dr Hyacinth O. Egbebo MSP succeeded him as the Vicar Apostolic. Bishop Joseph O. Egerega died on 3rd February 2013 and was buried at Our Lady of the Waters Cathedral Bomadi on the 14th of March 2013.
On assumption of office as the Vicar Apostolic, His Lordship Most Rev Dr Hyacinth O. Egbebo MSP, knowing that for the Vicariate to be elevated to the status of a Diocese a lot needed to be done, immediately swung into action. He embarked on several infrastructural projects particularly at the Cathedral, the Chancery, the Pastoral Center in Patani, the building of educational and Health institutions, creating of new parishes, the boosting of the number of Seminarians and many more.
The Vicariate maintained the same status longer than expected. It was a Vicariate for twenty years. While efforts were made for the development of the Vicariate and its elevation to the level of a Diocese, prayers were offered during Holy Masses in all the parishes of the Vicariate for God’s intervention.
The Elevation of the Vicariate to the Status of a Diocese
After much prayers being said during the Marian Year 2017, God in His Infinite kindness answered the prayers of the men and women of Goodwill in the Vicariate through the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and subsequently, the Holy Father, Pope Francis elevated the Vicariate to the level of a Diocese on September 21, 2017 with the installation of Most Rev. Hyacinth Oroko Egbebo, MSP on December 15, 2017 as the pioneer Diocesan Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Bomadi. The erection of the Diocese launched the new Diocese into the ecclesiastical orbit as a full-fledged Diocese. Since then the Diocese has continued to make massive progress. The Diocese, like the biblical mustard seed, it has spread to almost every part of the Niger Delta Region. The population is increasing alongside the growth of the Diocese. As in 2022, the Catholic Church in Bomadi has 46 Parishes with over 200 Outstations, 2 male religious congregations and 10 female religious congregations. In addition, the Diocese has 60 Diocesan Priests, 1 Minor Seminary, 2 health centers and 26 academic institutions.
The creation of the Diocese of Bomadi is a new beginning of grace for the Bishop, Priests, Religious and the entire Lay Faithful from the Almighty God. Every grace or gift from God comes with a task. Our task or responsibility here is to consciously guide and articulate a vision and mission for making this ‘new’ diocesan family truly a family of God such that this family, empowered by the Holy Spirit, lives out and shares with others the Good News of God’s infinite and unconditional love for humanity shown in Jesus Christ who saved humanity, and may the labour of our heroes of faith never be in vain.
Written by: Very Rev. Fr Joseph Opelema,
Vicar General, Catholic Diocese of Bomadi.
Memorial of the Queenship of Blessed Virgin Mary, August 22, 2022