About OLA Novitiate
Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, Nigeria Province

 

THE HISTORY OF THE OLA NOVITIATE, OKE MARIA, IBADAN.

In the earlier part of last century the OLA Sisters in Nigeria had already begun to think of accepting young women into the congregation.  However, when archbishop Leo Taylor, SMA, was approached shortly after his episcopal ordination, he did not approve of the absorption of young Nigerian women into an international and moreover, a missionary congregation that might well at a later date send them to other countries.  Rather he favoured the founding of a diocesan congregation that would serve the needs of the extensive archdiocese of Lagos which at that time included Ibadan, Ondo and Benin, in fact the whole of the then western region. And so the Congregation of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus was founded, initially to serve this archdiocese.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s (if not earlier) several young women expressed a desire to become OLA sisters but, in deference to the church in Nigeria, they were referred to the EHJs or the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters or the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus who were all diocesan at that time, the two last listed in the Eastern region.

In the early 1950s the Irish OLA Province, under the leadership of Mother Arcade Harding, began to petition archbishop Taylor for reconsideration of his earlier prohibition and to permit Nigerian girls who felt drawn to join the OLA Sister to follow His call.

Sr. Arcade herself and the then principal of St. Teresa’s college, Ibadan, SR. Kathleen O’Regan (formerly Sr. Fachanan) pursued the realization of this aim.  Finally, in 1956, either before Sr. Kathleen replaced Sr. Arcade as provincial superior or shortly afterwards, the long awaited permission was granted.

Sr. Kathleen immediately set about making the necessary arrangements. Sr. Ethelbert Coleman was recalled from Ghana to prepare for the task of postulant/novice mistress; the right approaches were made to acquire land in the Ibadan area for the novitiate building; and, while awaiting the completion of the novitiate, temporary accommodation was assured in the old convent in St. Teresa’s compound, Oke-Ado.

A small private primary school had been opened in St. Teresa’s compound in 1956. It was transferred to Maryway, Odo Ona in January, 1957, when the Sisters from Idikan convent moved there, with a view to transferring it finally to Oke Maria when the novitiate materialized. Its purpose was to support the novitiate financially and also to provide the novices to-be with some apostolic outlet.  Maryhill as Oke Maria was then in a remote area, there being no building or house within sight.  In fact, there was little or nothing beyond Agodi Gate, apart from a few government bungalows and some residences below the Moslem praying ground.  Some thought that the site was too remote and isolated.

Once the land was legally acquired by OLA, Italian contractor, Mr. Comazzi, undertook to build the novitiate according to specifications and simultaneously with it, the first block of the primary school.  Sr. Ethelbert gave the area the name, Oke-Maria, but as the school was called Maryhill Convent School, the whole compound gradually became known as Maryhill.  Nevertheless, the official name is Oke-Maria.

All this time inquires kept coming from girls interested in “becoming sisters”.  A number of them failed to get permission from their parents and so went other ways. Four young women applied with the required permission and recommendations and were accepted.  The entrance date was fixed for 2nd February, 1958, the feast of the Purification.  As the temporary novitiate in St. Teresa’s was diligently prepared, mostly by Sr. Ethelbert herself, helped by whatever Sisters happened to be free for an hour or two, and it was a spotless and shining house that awaited the postulants.

The appointed day arrived at last and it was a Sunday.  The four aspirants arrived in the afternoon accompanied by parents, family members or friends.  Towards evening, robbed in the postulant dress they entered the chapel to make a special act of consecration.  The Sisters from all three OLA Ibadan communities and all the STC students were present.  It was a historic moment, impressive in its simplicity.

 

Each of the first group of postulants has her memory of the first days of initiation into a postulant’s life. For them everything was new, awesome and mysterious and they faced all with courage and faith. Months passed and on 8th September, 1958, three of the four became novices, the reception being held in St. Teresa’s college chapel.  Here it may be mentioned that not all of the original four remained with us.  Today we have the two veterans, Sr. Mary Anthony Ogunkorode and Sr. Agnes Hassan.

 

In February, 1959, the novitiate building was ready for occupation, so Sr. Ethelbert and the novices moved to Oke Maria with the minimum of furnishings and the barest of possessions.  With them there came from Maryway, Sr. Dorothy O’Brien, headmistress of the primary school and Sr. Cyprian MCMahon, head of the kindergarten.

On 8th September, 1960, the first novices returned briefly to St. Teresa’s where they made their first profession of vows. From that time onward, the novitiate has seen generations of novices pass through the training and formation prescribed for Sisters to be.  There has also been a succession of novice mistresses: Srs. Ethelbert Coleman, Dorothy O’Brien, Finbarri O’Neill, Carmel Cox, Fidelia Anumba, Madeline Sophie Korsah, Sophia Amagashie, Justina Afamefuna, Josephine Enenmo and Margaret Uwache.  Since 1982, there have been, for the most part, three sisters on the formation team: the novice mistress, the assistant novice mistress and a third member.  Here it seems good to mention sisters who worked in the novitiate in one capacity or another and who have gone home to God.  Srs. Comgall, Ita Finbarr, Cyprian, Carmel Cox and the two Sisters who brought it into being: Srs. Arcade and Kathleen O’Regan. We thank them all.

In recent times, the dream of having one single novitiate for the whole congregation has been growing in vividness and the possibility of materializing this dream has been considered.  However, in the light of reality, the ideal has advisedly been modified: the congregation now has two international novitiates, one for the French speaking candidates and one for the English speaking candidates. 

We thank God from whom came the inspiration to found the novitiate in the first place, whose grace sustained us through the good times and the lean times and whose love has carried us to this day.

 

Sr. Eithne MacDevitt 


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Founded in 1876 by Fr. Augustine Planque SMA, the mission of the O.L.A. Sisters is to continue the work of evangelization which the Apostles received from the Lord. With the zeal for mission, O.L.A. Sisters arrived Nigeria in the year 1878 thus, becoming the first group of women Religious in Nigeria.
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