BRIEF HISTORY OF NNEWI DIOCESE:
What has emerged as Nnewi Diocese is no doubt a product of the Onitsha Archdiocese. Before now, Onitsha Archdiocese had given birth to several dioceses; for instance, Enugu and Awka Dioceses were created out of Onitsha Archdiocese in 1962 and 1978 respectively. Nnewi Diocese is another God's gift to the Catholic Church in Igboland. God has graciously blessed that Diocese with a young and dynamic Bishop in the person of Most Rev. Hilary Okeke. But the creation of dioceses follows the missionary mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ to His apostles to bring the Good news to every nation, race, culture, and people. Ever since this mandate, Christians, especially missionaries have continued to bring the light of the faith to different peoples.
This light first shone on the Southeastern part of Nigeria with the arrival of the Holy Ghost missionaries from Gabon to Onitsha under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Lutz late on Saturday, December 5, 1885. Fr. Joseph Shanahan (The Apostle of Igboland) joined them in 1902 and when the mantle of leadership fell on him in1905, history was set to record the evangelization of now Nnewi Diocese. The stream of this evangelization was to flow through two main courses almost concurrently: one having Nnewi as its target and the other Ozubulu/Ihiala.
Though individuals from various communities have come in contact with the faith as they traveled to Onitsha and other places for trade and in quest of western education, the actual planting of the seed of the gospel in Nnewi Diocese from the Catholic perspective sprang from the treks of Fr. Victor Duhaze to Ozubulu through Oguta (1906) and of Frs. Shanahan and L.J. Ward to Nnewi through Umuoji, Ojoto Mili Agu down to Odida Nnewichi in 1906. However, the Anglican Church was established in Nnewi from Obosi in 1893. But the seed of what is today Nnewi Diocese was sown in 1906. Requests were made by Odida Community in Nnewichi inviting Fr. J. Shanahan. In the same year, some Ozubulu indigenes had registered the same requests for establishing a Church station at Ozubulu. Thus, on 29th January, 1906, St. Peter Claver's outstation was opened at Odida Nnewichi by Fr. J. Shanahan who came with Fr. L. J. Ward. This Nnewi station was run from St. Mary's Mission Inland Town Onitsha. The same year saw the arrival of the missionaries at Ozubulu to begin St. Michael's station, Eziora Ozubulu. The Ozubulu Parish was ceremoniously opened on 29th September, 1908, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Fr. Victor Duhaze was the first Parish Priest. From these two centers, the evangelization of what is today Nnewi Diocese was to spread like wild fire.
From St. Peter Claver's Nnewichi, other outstations in Nnewi were opened as follows: St. John of the Cross, Uruagu (1911), St. Peter Claver's Otolo (1914), St. Michael's Umudim (1914-1919), St. James, Ogbe, Otolo (1950), Our Lady of Fatima, Akaboezem (1954 as St. Vincents). However, Nnewi became a Parish in 1933. But from 1931, the Okofia outstanding had served as a form of "Parish Centre" for Nnewi under Fr. Joe Delany, the first Parish Priest of Nnewi. Until it was moved to Akwuegbo, Uruagu under the Late Bishop John Cross Anyaogu in 1935. The Blessed Cyprain Michael Iwene Tansi joined Bishop Anyaogu as his assistant in 1938. The outstations under Nnewi Parish include: Oraifite, Amichi (9 towns in the area), parts of Idemili, Mbano and Njikoka. Oraifite had earlier been evangelized by Fr. V. Duhaze in 1907 after that of Ozubulu. Ichi station had been opened in 1908 by Fr. Vogler from Holy Trinity Parish, Onitsha.
The year 1954 witnessed the creation of Amichi parish with the following stations: Amichi, Utuh, Osumenyi, Unubi, Ezinifite, Ekwulumili, Ebenator, Azigbo and Akwaihedi. Before the time, each of the stations had been evangelized and was functioning as either stations of Nnewi or Ozubulu. Thus Amichi was opened in 1910 by Fr. Bubendorf after the aborted attempt of Fr. Niech (1909), Ebenator (1913), Ezinifite (1915), Osumenyi (1915), Ekwulumili (1916), Unubi (1916), Azigbo (1930), Akwaihedi (1920), Utuh station was opened in 1913. Among the pioneer Christians was Late Mr. Emmanuel Okeke who was the father of Msgr. Hilary Odili Okeke, and the first Bishop of Nnewi Diocese.
From its source at Ozubulu, the second stream of evangelization flowed to other towns where these stations were opened under Ozubulu parish: Ihiala (1908), Okija (1908), Umunuko, Ukpor (1908), Orsumoghu (1906), Mbosi (1910), Isseke (1908), Lilu (1916), Azia (1911). Other substations opened in these towns include: St. Mary's Ukpor Centre (1916), St. Mary's Umuahama Ukpor (1912), St. Gregory's Ihiala (1913), Christ the King, Umuezeawala, Ihiala (1912), Immaculate Heart, Okohia, Ihiala (1914), St. Anthony's Umuohi, Okija (1914), and Sacred Heart, Ogbenabo, Okija (1937). Indeed, the outstations of Ozubulu grew from 40 (1914) to 80 in 1918. By 1926, the Parish had expanded to 102 outstations with Catechist teachers spreading over Mgbidi, Uli, Ihioma, Orlu, Ubulu, Okigwe, Umuahia and Ihiala.
These outstations were run from Ozubulu Center until 1927 when the Parish Centre for some reasons was closed down. It was moved over to Ihiala because the later was in the view of the white missionaries considered to be more central and had a training center for Catechist teachers. However, Ozubulu Parish was re-opened in 1953 and the center was relocated to Amakwa from Eziora while retaining the name St. Michael's because of the people's love for the name. Meanwhile, Ihiala Parish Centre opened other outstations, which are now Parishes in Orlu Diocese and beyond. The Holy Ghost Juniorate at Ihiala was opened in 1952.
Thus, with the official announcement from the Vatican and from the Holy Trinity Cathedral Onitsha of the creation of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, the evangelization of this area which stated 95 years ago has given birth to a Diocese with 88 Parishes, 226 diocesan Priests, a junior diocesan Seminary, St. Paul's Junior Seminary Ukpor (1967-1971), St. Gabriel's Spiritual Year Seminary Ozubulu and Holy Ghost Juniorate within the diocese, a diocesan hospital Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Ihiala, a hospital Chaplaincy St. Luke's Chaplaincy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, many convents and fraternities for men and women religious, a monastery for nuns- St. Benedictine Monastery, Ozubulu, many Church Schools from nursery to secondary. Such is the level of the ecclesiastical development that Nnewi gives a picture of a new Diocese yet it had long existed and lived as a "diocese."
The new Diocese began to function with the ordination and installation of Rt. Rev. Msgr. Hilary Odili Okeke as its first Bishop on 10th February 2002. The efforts of Nnewi Catholic Community to build a central Church for the whole of Nnewi have given the new diocese the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, Okwuana, Nnewi, a cathedral when completed will be one of the biggest and most beautiful churches in Nigeria.