1. EARLY HISTORY
By early 1920s, the Colonial Administration was already well established in Onitsha Province. At Amawbia, Chiefs Agbata Ikele and Owelle Okongwu were recognized Warrant Chiefs. In the Catholic Church, the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province had already established a large Parish at Adazi headed by Reverend Father Albert Bubendorff. Nearer home, the Catholic Church was already established in the following towns: Amaenyi-Awka, Nise, Enugwu-Agidi, Enugwu-Ukwu and Nawfia. Even here at Amawbia the Anglican Church was in existence and services were conducted on Sundays. But there was no Catholic Church in Amawbia.
This was the situation which constituted a big dilemma to a group of young men and women in Amawbia who has come in contact with the teaching and practices of the Catholic Church elsewhere. Two of the young men – Massers Chiaghanam uduh and Nwangwu Anaevuo, who lived at Onitsha and attended Catholic Church there, returned home and were faced with the problem of Sunday Service. They trecked distances on Sundays to neighbouring towns for the Holy Mass. Other members of the growing Catholic adherents experienced the same problem of where to attend Sunday services. Their initial action was to organize Sunday services at the residence of Mr. Chiaghanam Udu’s parents at Nwangbeke Elli’s compound at Umueze village. The early pioneers were Matthew C. Uduh, Annah Maduka, Henry d . Okafor, Francis N. Anaevuo, Charles O. Onwuasoanya, Samuel O. Odumodu. Before long, membership of the Catholic Sunday services as conducted in the private residence increase rapidly and the venue was subsequently changed to Mr. Enendu Nonyelu’s residence at Ngene village, where morning and evening services were conducted .
The Catholic faith continued to spread among the youths and by the year 1923, the following were baptized : Mr. Chiaghanam Uduh was baptized Matthew, Nwangwu Anaevuo was christened Francis Anaevuo. Others followed : Okoye Odumodu was christened Samuel; Nonyelu Udogu, Fidelis; Okonkwo Nwisu, Dominic; Okoloudo Okoye, Raymond ; Nwogbo Akubude, Edward ; Ebeatu Okafor, Davison; Onwuamaeze Ojiyi, Jeremiah; Chukwukodinaka Nwisu, Luke; Chukwuemeka Onuorah, Peter; Osita Obiechina, Michael, Nnadozie Okeke, Ezekie; Ngenegbo Okeke, Innocent; Chukwuemeka Ekenta, Reuben; Okoye Oye, Charles; Chiaghanam Nnam, Theophilus; Ojiko Okoye, Thomas; Mmadiagwu Nnagbo became Benjamin. There is a woman of note, Mgbogafor Mmaduka who was baptized Annah.
2. FORMALE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH
In spite of the laudable efforts of the young pioneers as described above, the issue of the formal establishment of the Catholic Church in Amawbia in the sense of priests celebrating of Holy Mass, has yet to be achieved . The young pioneers geared up to tackle this problem. They sent a delegation to Adazi to the parish Priests, Rev. Fr. Bubendorff requesting formal establishment of the Church and the posting of a resident teacher. Fr. Bubendorff wanted to know the population of converts at that time to warrant the granting of the request. The young pioneers claimed that they had already had a population of thirty-five (35) members. Fr. Bubendorff directed them to seek for more converts and secondly to secure a site for the Church. The young pioneers therefore approached Chief Agbata Ikele and Chief Owelle Okongwu to help them secure a piece of land . Fortunately, a regular meeting of Amawbia leaders known as Ekumeku was scheduled at the residence of Nwokike Mgbokwu. In attendance at the meeting were Onuorah Nweke, Muo Nwajamu,, Owelle Okongwu, Mogonu, Nwadije Egege, Nwafia, Nwosu Ilee and others. Messers Uduh and Anaevuo were allowed to address the meeting. They appealed for help in securing site for the Catholic Church. They also campaigned for converts. The Ekumeku promised to help in the search for site. On the issue of conversion, the heathens sought for explanation regarding the practice of the Catholic Church on issues which they had serious views namely: burial ceremonies, celebration of Otite festival, masquerades and their own heathen worship symbols eg. ‘Okpensi. Will all these be thrown away? The reply of the pioneers was tactful and highly diplomatic. “In the Catholic Church” they told the heathens, “iconoclasm is not an instrument of conversion. You may even bring your ‘Okpensi’ up to the premises of the Church, go in for services and take it away after service”. The young pioneers believed that with time the heathens would be converted without coercion or physical violence. Time and history have vindicated their subtle approach to conversion. The priest of a shrine at Ngene village, Maduka, was converted . He left his shrine and became a full member of the Catholic Church, taking at the same time, the title ‘Alusikwuoluonweya’ meaning “let the Alusi (heathen god ) speak for itself”. Through the influence of Chiefs Agbata Ikele and Owelle Okongwu and members of Ekumeku, land was secured at two Aguogba. The Church was however, to choose one site. Father Bubendorff arrived and inspected the two site and in full consultation with the laity, choose the present site. There were initial opposition to the choice of site by some of the land owners. The young church was even taken to court. However, Fr. Bubendorff intervened and the matter was eventually resolved .
As soon as the initial problems of acquiring land was over, work on the first church building started . Early in 1925, the building was completed . It measured 30ft by 10ft. soon after the completion of the building, Fr. Bubendorff accompanied by the catechist of Adazi, Mr. Solomon Okaih, celebrated the first Mass which was attended by Chiefs and prominent sons and daughters of Amawbia. The Church was named “Saint Matthew” after Mr. Matthew Uduh who led the pioneers. A school with classes up to standard two was simultaneously established with Mr. Maurice Onusogu as the first headmaster assisted by Mr. Matthew Uduh.
Within the Church, Catechism classes were organized on regular basis and converts began to prepare to receive the Sacraments. Consequently, the following blazed the trail in Christian wedding: Jacob Ifesi, Vincent Okeke Akubude, Geofrey Nwana, Alfred Aniemena, Richard Nwudo, David Aguiyi, Azik Igweonwu. It should be noted that at the beginning of the Catholic Church in Amawbia both church and school were tied up in a symbiotic partnership. On Sundays, the headmaster read the gospel, preached the sermon, directed the choir and held catechism classes. The Parish Priest paid periodic visits to administer sacraments and to supervise the work of the Headmasters and his team of teachers. On ordinary days, the headmaster and his teachers administered the school, teaching and the pupils in the same building used as the church.
3. THE CHURCH AND OTHER BUILDINGS
There were a number of stages in the construction of buildings in our present Catholic mission. The first church/school building was started in 1924 and completed early in 1925. three age grades assisted in the construction, namely: The Igboemene Age Grade, the Nchaba Age Grade and the Emenine Age Grade. The walls were made with mud and the roof was made with raffia mats. Small dwart walls were purposely made as seats. The second building became necessary as both the school and church population increased significantly. In 1929/1930 a bigger building made of mud walls with dwart walls designed to serve as pews was constructed under the headmastership of Mr. Theophilus Eze. In 1933 under the headmastership of Mr. James Okigbo, a new building of mud blocks with thatched roof but larger than the earlier building and designed to accommodate the expanded population was built. The fourth buildings on the line was the Rev. Fathers’ Rest House used as the base for Rev. Fathers J.C. Anyogu, T. Fox, P. Smith and J. Morrisey who were regularly on tours of Nise, Nibo, Awka, Ugwuoba and other towns early 1940s by a Union of Adult Catholic of Amawbia was completed in General assisted by R.N. Igwedibie; S.O.U Anumba, General Secretary assisted by Patrick Okoye, and S.O. Odumodu as Treasurer. However, fund -raising activities were embarked upon as far back as 1931. Ubogazu Dance was one such activity. Sir Raphael Igwedibie, a profounf historian of the early period stated that in 1958, Rev. Fr. P. Brday advised St. Matthew’s Catholic Church Committee to work towards a separate church. This advise along with its challenging implications was accepted by the then Church Committee made up of the following members among others: Messers S.O.U Anumba M.N. Ofunu, M.O. Nuofunanya. R.N Igwedibie and N.N. Ezeanya of Nawfija. Self help was an obvious implication of the acceptance to embark on church and school buildings. However, the spirit of self-help as we now understand it, was relatively new in those says. Sir Igwedibie observed that the foundation for that spirit of self-help has earlier been laid during a meeting attended by S.O.U, Anumba, Miss Elizabeth Odikpo (now Mrs. E. Ndibe) , Mr. M.O. Muofunanya and R.N. Igwedibie. During that meeting, donations were made and from them onwards, donations and levies became regular features of fund -raising.
Fund -raising activities were embarked upon and on the 3rd of June 1964, work on the actual foundation began with a Holy Mass by the Parish Priest Rev. Fr. V.J. Maduike. Work on the church building was disrupted by the Nigerian civil war. After the civil war, work resumed in 1971 with Mr. M.E. Nnamah playing a prominent role. A lot of progress was made under Rev. Fr. A. Edokobi between 1973 and 1974. After Edokobi, Rev. Fr. E. Nwosu greatly encouraged the work of the Building Committee and enabled the committee to purchase cement at cheaper prices. On April 20th 1975, His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Francis Arinze, the then Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, performed the foundation laying ceremony of the new and exclusively church building. Other building projects since assuming Parish status in Quarters (1992) , parish Reverend fathers’ House (1975-1977) , Boys’ grotto Shrine – all built by Samuel O. Odumodu family 1996/1985) , Marian new Parish hall which was then under construction.
4. LEADERSHIP OF THE CHURCH SINCE PARISH STATUS
(a) Rev. Fathers who have administered the Parish are as indicated below:
1977/1978 – Rev. Fr. C.C. Ife – First Resident Parish Priest
1978/1979 – Rev. Fr. B.C.B. Muojekwu
1979/1980 – Rev. Fr. Aaron E. Ekwu assisted by Rev. Fr. A. Edokobi
1983/1986 – Rev. Fr. Mark Ezeamaechi assisted by Rev. Fr. A.E. Ekwu
1986/1989 – Rev. Fr. Jude Okafor assisted by Rev. Fr. A.E. Ekwu
1989/1996 – Rev. Fr. Marthin Madueke and assisted by
Rev. Fr. Martin Ibeh (1990) Rev. Fr. Boniface Ubaka (1991) Rev. Fr. Innocent Nwafor (1992)
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Okeke (1994) Rev. Fr. Jerome Madumumelu (1995) Rev. Fr. Charles Ogbunambala (1996) 1996/1998 – Rev. Fr. Wenceslaus Ofojebe assisted by Rev. Fr. Charles Ogbunambala
1998/2001 – Rev. Fr. Emmanuek Otiaba, assisted by Rev. Fr. J. Okafor
2001-2007 – Msgr.P.N. Chinyelu assisted by Rev. Fr. Paulus Maria Okafor
Rev. Fr. Patrick Onuegbu
Rev. Fr. Christian Okafor and
Rev. Fr. Juse Amatu
2007- Date (2010) – Rev. Fr. Jonas Benson Okoye assisted by
Rev. Fr. Fabian Anumba
Rev. Fr. Malachy Ezeonyiwara
Rev. Fr. Bonaventure Okoye
Rev. Fr. Frank Obi-Okoye
The following served as Catechists since Parish status
1. 1970- Mr. Peterson Ezegbudo
2. 1974- 1989: Mr. P.N.C. Nwokoye
3. 1990- Date: Mr. Godwin C.O. Ngene assisted from
2004 by Mrs. Maria Maureen Odilatu.