Celebrating The Erudite Scholar at 78

Jan 04, 2020

Fides Inspirational Page Anchor, Mercy Hill, during the interview.

By Mercy Hill

Today, we celebrate the life of Msgr. J. P. C. Nzomiwu, a Catholic priest and scholar who has dedicated his life impacting positively on the lives of the young ones. Ordained in 1970 immediately after the Nigerian Civil War, he recounts his experiences and struggles in the seminary and the life lessons that have stuck with him through his 50 years in the priesthood.

He recently celebrated his birthday and in this interview, he shared some insightful advice for the younger generations.

Read on. . .

COULD YOU PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF?
I am Rev Msgr. Prof John Paul Chukwuemeka Nzomiwu, a Catholic priest of Awka Diocese. I am from Nnokwa in Idemili South LGA of Anambra State, Nigeria. My parents are late Mr. Cyprian and Mrs Elizabeth Nzomiwu. I am from a family of eight children, three died young without reaching adulthood, while others died later. I happen to be the only surviving child of my parents.

HOW WAS YOUR GROWING UP LIKE?
I was born 13 January 1942 and grew up as a normal village boy in the 1940s and 50s.I come from a very humble background. My Dad was a farmer and my Mum was a petty trader. My primary school education was at St. Mary's Catholic School, Nnokwa between 1948-1956.At that time, it was called standard 1-6. My parents were active Catholics and I took part in all activities of the church such as Altar Boys Association, the choir, local football groups and so many others. My parents on their own part were disciplinarians, they ensured we fed well but also, we worked very hard.

PREVIEW OF MY LIFE ADVENTURE AS A PRIEST
I was ordained priest on the 19th of April 1970 at Nnokwa some 50 years ago. I began my priestly ministry at Adazi -Nnukwu in September 1970 as a Vicar to Rev. Msgr. J.O Orakwe, after serving there for three months. I was in January 1971, made the parish priest of Enugwu – Ukwu, both Adazi- Nnukwu and Enugu Ukwu were quite extensive. We had to work hard, travelling to so many places, almost nine towns to administer the sacraments. In 1972,

I was sent to Rome to further my education and then, graduated with a first-class degree. I also went for my PhD in The Alphonsian Academy, Rome. And in September 1977, I was posted to St. Patrick's Church, Awka, where I remained until today. Then I was also appointed the Chaplain of Annunciation Chaplaincy as an educationist where I served for twenty-seven years.

YOU MENTIONED YOU WERE ORDAINED PRIEST 1970, IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE WAR.WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A SEMINARIAN DURING THE WAR?
It was a very terrible experience. We were running about from one place to another, we left Enugu and moved to Umuawa and then to Awo-OmaMma. It was a traumatic experience because when we were studying, the plane would come and then gun shots. We would hold ourselves together because we were with soutane as senior seminarians. It was a year full of anxiety. But we were happy that we were singled out as the outstanding ones to go to the seminary.

WERE THERE SEMINARIANS WHO DIED AS A RESULT OF THE WAR?
None that I can remember, because we always took precaution. But I recall that some who were recruited to the field, never returned.

COULD YOU PREVIEW YOUR ADVENTURE AS AN EDUCATIONIST AND A MENTOR?
My venture into teaching profession was accidental and providential. The then Bishop of Awka Diocese, late Archbishop A.K Obiefunna said there was need for a Catholic presence in the then College of Education, Awka. So, I went for the interview and I passed, then became the only Catholic priest as a lecturer and the only Catholic in my department that time. I remained in the education system since September 1980 and served as a lecturer and chaplain to both students and lecturers.

In 1992, Nnamdi Azikiwe University came to Awka with the creation of Anambra State in 1991. I was interviewed and appointed to head the new associate Faculty of Arts which contained ten departments.

As an Academic, I rose gradually through the ranks and files and was eventually, promoted to the rank of a professor of Religion, Ethics and Society on 1st October 1999.

While teaching in the University, I was honoured by the Pope on the 12th of January, 1995 by conferring on me the title of Papal Chamberlain (Monsignor). I was the founder and the 1st chaplain, Annunciation Chaplaincy. There, we bought the land and built both the church and father's house in a place that had no Catholic presence. I remain the chaplain there for 27 years.

AS ADMINISTRATOR
I was an administrator both in the church and in the University. As an administrator in the church;

  • I was the first administrator of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Awka
  • The first secretary to the then Bishop of Awka Diocese
  • The first secretary to Fathers plenary meeting
  • First president of ADLA
  • The first chaplain of CWO and many other organizations.

In the University, I founded and became the first head of the Department of Arts which comprised ten sub departments. These Sub-Departments later became a faculty and I became the Dean. I also was the head of the Department of Religious Studies. Then I retired and was hired by COOU. I established the Department of Religion and Society and later became the foundational Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

AS A MENTOR
As a mentor, my ambition was to bring into the University as many qualified persons as possible and help them rise in rank. I took pleasure in seeing people achieve excellence in their chosen field. At UNIZIK, I helped Lecturers under me to rise to the position of professors.
It gives me joy to see people growing in their chosen field of studies.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN PEOPLE WHEN YOU MEET THEM?
It's my desire not to sit on top of people when I meet them, because people sat on me when I was the only Catholic lecturer in the faculty. Once I see someone who is honest, I know the person is going places and I try my best to help the person. I even got to the extent of pushing lecturers to write articles so that they would be promoted. So, I like people who are hardworking, devoted, focused and honest. These are exactly what I look for in people when I see them.

WHAT PROPELLED YOUR JOURNEY TO PRIESTHOOD?
It was the work of providence. In our standard six class, I took several entrance examinations in various colleges and I passed, but my mother and elder brother Joachim wanted me to attend All Hallows Seminary, probably because the school fees was cheaper and Nnokwa Catholic Community offered a special assistance to those who wanted to go to the Seminary.

It was at All Hallows Seminary that my desire to become a priest blossomed, as I tried my best to keep the seminary regulations and participated in various activities of the seminary.
I was also inspired by the late Archbishop Stephen Nweke Ezeanya, the first priest from Nnokwa.

YOU WERE A PART OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF AWKA.TELL US HOW THE EXPERIENCES AND CHALLENGES WERE THEN?
When I returned from Europe and was posted to Awka in 1977, Awka was a difficult parish. There was this issue of "Okuko onye uwa" saga . . .

To be continued

Fides Director, Rev. Fr Dr Martin Anusi, in a chat with Msgr. Prof. J.P.C Nzomiwu at his residence. 28 January 2020.
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