It was a glorious ‘Gaudete’ gathering at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Abeokuta on Sunday, 16th December, 2012 when SMA Fathers and Abeokuta Diocesan priests joined the congregation for the 8am Mass to pay tribute to Rev. Fr. Jean-Marie Coquard, SMA.
The occasion marked both 150 years of SMA missionary activity in Nigeria and the Launching of a recently-published book, titled ‘CROSS and SCALPEL – Jean-Marie Coquard among the Egba of Yorubaland.’
The Chief Celebrant was Fr. Maurice Henry, SMA, SMA Regional Superior in Nigeria. The Con-celebrants included Msgr. Chris Ajala (Vicar General of Abeokuta diocese), Fr. Raymond Adebowale (Administrator of Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral), Fr. Reginald Nwachukwu (SMA Superior of Bight of Benin District-in-formation), Fr. Edmund Hogan SMA, SMA Irish Province Archivist (homilist and author of the book), Fr. Eddie Hartnett, SMA, St. Andrew’s Church, Kweme, Seme Border, Fr. Timothy Cullinane SMA (Spiritual Director, SMA House of Formation, Bodija, Ibadan), Fr. Francis Rozario SMA, Scripture lecturer at Ss. Peter & Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan, Fr. Emmanuel Zinsu, SMA, Secretary to Bight of Benin District-in-Formation, Fr. Henry Obiora, SMA, SMA House, Obanikoro, Lagos and Fr. Peter McCawille, SMA, St. Andrew’s parish, Ugbighoko, Benin City.
Rev. Patrick Morakinyo, serving as a Deacon at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, read the Gospel. The readings were taken by Sr. Josephine Ogbonna, OLA and Sr. Alice Chifong, OLA.
In his homily Fr. Hogan sketched the career of Fr. Coquard and the significant role he played in the life of Abeokuta, in particular his single-minded commitment to the planning and construction of Sacred Heart hospital. Fr. Hogan succeeded in capturing and retaining the attention of the congregation by blending scholarly research with occasional quirky asides, thanking the people for being considerate in naming a State after him (Abeokuta is in Ogun State) and forgiving them for omitting the H at the beginning, plus light-hearted references to his lack of fluency in the Yoruba language.
Fr Jean-Marie Coquard: a brief biography can be read here.
Fr. Hogan also referred to the prominent role played in Sacred Heart Hospital by the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) who first came to Abeokuta in 1886. The Sisters have been associated with Sacred Heart Hospital since 1936.
OLA Sisters and Nurses from the Sacred Heart Hospital are pictured with SMA members at Fr Coquard’s grave.
Sr. Consolata, OLA (Sr. Bridget Murphy from Co. Cork) arrived in Abeokuta in November 1936 and she was to be the first in a long line (which continues to the present day) of professionally-trained OLA Sisters, Irish and Nigerian, who worked in the hospital in both the clinical and administrative capacities.
Louisa Rodriguez: Fr. Hogan also paid tribute to the monumental role played by Louisa Rodriguez, a Catholic of Brazilian extraction, who had been raised with the OLAs in Porto-Novo. She had expressed a desire to become a Sister but got no encouragement. Despairing of ever becoming a Sister she expressed a wish to work without payment for the rest of her life in Abeokuta hospital. She did so with amazing ‘devotedness and self-sacrifice’ (Fr Hogan refers to Luisa in the book as Fr. Coquard’s ‘right arm’). This incredible lay woman later took private vows as a consecrated laywoman. Fr. Hogan unreservedly referred to her several times as ‘a saint’ and insisted that she deserves a special mention in the history of the Church in Abeokuta.
Launching of Cross and Scalpel
At the end of Mass the MC, Mr. Sylvester Kodaorlu, started the ball rolling for the launching. Msgr. Chris Ajala, V.G. gave the launching a great boost when he gave a gracious speech acknowledging the contribution of the SMA Fathers to the growth of the Church in Abeokuta since the Church was founded there on the Feast of the Assumption, 1880, the day on which Fr. Théodore Holley, SMA celebrated the first public Mass. He encouraged them all to show their appreciation by purchasing a copy of the book and he personally launched it with a generous donation from the Diocese of Abeokuta. He concluded by praying that one day soon the SMA authorities will accept an invitation to return to pastoral work in the Diocese of Abeokuta.
Msgr Ajala is pictured with the SMA Bight of Benin District-in-formation Superior, Fr Rginald Nwachukwu and Fr Peter McCawille, Director of the SMA Family Vocations Movement in Benin City, who is responsible for the photos and providing the information for this article.
After the Mass the priests and members of the congregation trooped to the adjoining cemetery where a decade of the Rosary was recited by Fr. Maurice Henry who then blessed the graves of the deceased Fathers and Sisters. A joyous and memorable day was brought to a close when everybody repaired to the Cathedral House for a sumptuous lunch at the invitation of Fr. Adebowale, an enthusiastic old boy of St. Finbarr’s College, Lagos and a great admirer of Fr. Denis Slattery, SMA, describing him as an icon.
It was a fitting conclusion to a day filled with great joy and gratitude.