It was really a great day when St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos rolled out drums in celebrations of its 50th Golden Jubilee of God’s faithfulness.
Wholeheartedly, all the highly excited parishioners with Rt. Rev. Msgr. Dr John Aniagwu appreciated God for His unending love and grace over the parish, and in their lives as individuals.
The chief celebrant and Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Most. Rev. (Dr) Alfred Adewale Martins rejoiced with all the priests and the parishioners over the remarkable development and growth the parish has recorded over the years, describing them as obvious indications that the grace of God has been abundant.
“So, this indeed is a joyous occasion for thanksgiving and reflection. It is an opportunity for us to look and count our blessing. It is also a time to renew and re-dedicate our efforts to the work of evangelization and expansion of the kingdom of God amidst the challenges of our time.
“Your steady growth and sterling achievements are no doubt a testimony of God’s benevolence and the hard work of the parishioners, led by dedicated parish priest and associates over the years. We congratulate Msgr. Aniagwu in particular during whose long and fruitful tenure much growth and development have been achieved,” the Archbishop stated.
The Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, said:“This is a great achievement and accomplishment that calls for celebration. In commemorating the beginnings of our cherished parish, we return all glory to God who planted the seed of faith, watered, and nurtured it through priests, religious and committed Catholics.
“As a people of one family bonded by the waters of our faith and baptism, let us recommit and rededicate our lives to Christ who is our head. To do this, we must be heralds of peace, love, and unity, for we are all one in Christ. There should be no form of distinction amongst us, for the body of Christ tolerates no exclusion, discrimination, contempt, or even hatred,”Okogie exhorted.
On how the Vincentian priest came to be appointed to the St. Leo’s Catholic Parish and the transition from the Vincentians priests to the indigenous priests, the Cardinal pointed out: “Before Christ’s ascention into heaven, he handed the task of continuing the church to his apostles. This played out between the SMA and the Vincentians in February 1991. The mantle of leadership was handed on to the Vincentians by the SMA.
“The yearning to proclaim the gospel brought about the transition on the 26th of June 1995. The Vincentian fathers left St. Leo’s Parish for the newly created parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, Akowonjo, a former outstation of St. Leo’s Ikeja. This led to the transfer of the first indigenous parish priest, Rev. Fr. John Aniagwu who had spent about 16 years or thereabout in the seminary. He was given an Associate, Fr. Cletus Nwaogwugwu, a fidei Donum priest from Ahiara Diocese.”
And on the lay persons who were most influential in the birth and development of St. Leo’s Parish, the Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos stressed: “In Jesus mission, it was not only his apostles that contributed to his work of evangelization on earth. There were other disciples who contributed their quota. This reminds us of the lay person like Dr. F.A. Akerele, Prince J. Adelusi – Adeluyi, Chief Ben Olaiya, Chief J.T. Caxton – Idowu, (KSS), Mrs. Dorathy Okide, Mr. G. Asemota, Mr. and Mrs. Napo Alapini and many others who were members at the inaugural meeting which birthed the name St. Leo’s, chiefly because of Archbishop Leo Hale Taylor, who reluctantly accepted the name in his memory. Their efforts cannot be forgotten because of the great service they rendered to the church at that time in the history of the development of St. Leo’s Ikeja. For those alive, as we remember them, we pray for perseverance and blessings, for those who have died, we pray for eternal rest. Amen!
Okogie pointed out that for the past 50 years, the great parishioner of St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, have been kind and generous with their talent, time and treasure.
“They are always ready and willing to assist the work of God. I thank them for their commitment and dedication to the growth of St. Leo’s. I encourage you to ‘never lag in zeal, be aglow with the spirit, serve the lord, rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12: 11), further praying that God will continue to bless and reward you all with good health of mind and body and his choicest blessings. Amen. Renewed congratulations! Ad Multos annos.”
For the Dean, Ikeja Deanery, Rev. Msgr. Patrick Obayomi, the celebration was an opportunity for Aniagwu and his parishioners to count their blessings, name them one-by-one and discover how good the Lord has been to him and his parishioners.
“I thank God for your life as well as the unquantifiable services that you have dedicatedly rendered to the parish and the Archdiocese of Lagos, mindful of the great developments that St. Leo’s Parish has witnessed under your leadership.”
Superior General of the sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Generalate, Rev. Sr. Mary Fausta Manefa, EHJ seized the opportunity to appreciate Aniagwu for his fatherly care and support to their institute and especially towards their sisters working in the parish over years. She prayed for the parish to continue to grow from strength to strength in the mission of evangelization and for God to keep him in His love and shower him with the blessings of good health of mind and body as he serves the people of God of St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja.
From faraway, Owerri, the capital of Imo State, the Education Director of Owerri Archdiocesan Education Commission, Rev. Fr. Wilfred Nwachukwu (PhD) sent a goodwill message: “Dr. Aniagwu has remained a solid pillar behind the spiritual and physical growth and success of the parish. I must also add here that one of the greatest privileges I have had in my journey as a priest is to have been part of St. Leo’s Parish for a little less than a decade.”
Aniagwu stated that the origin of the church dated back to 1949. The early worshippers, who formed the nucleus of the present day St. Leo’s Catholic Church, started their worship at the Maryland Chapel in 1949 within the precincts of St. Agnes Teachers Training College. No sooner had the worshippers settled down for regular worship than they realized that the Chapel was inadequate in terms of space to contain the congregation who came for Sunday Mass.
On his arrival on the 26th June 1995 to St. Leo’s Parish, the parish was great not only great in the size of its main church, it was even greater in the calibre of its people. The people themselves were not just great in the magnitude of their material endowments. They were great in the quality of their faith. The people of St. Leo’s had a lot of it. That says a lot about the quality of leadership that was provided by the founding fathers of the parish, members of the society of African Missions, SMA. The priest of the congregation of the mission, CM (a.k.a Vincentian Fathers) built a solid edifice on that foundation. The indigenous clergy, who came after the Vincentians, had only to continue the good work already begun by their able predecessors.