The Holy Catholic Church at 12 Noon on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, recorded another history. It was the appointment of Rt Rev Jonas Benson Okoye, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, as the second bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi by His Holiness, Pope Francis.
The appointment coincided with the 20th -year anniversary of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi that was created on November 28, 2001, report Ifeoma Ezenyilimba, Abuchi Onwumelu and Chioma Ndife.
Fides gathered that the elevation of Rt Rev Okoye, who was until his current appointment, the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese, was greeted with joy by the priests and faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi.
Bishop Okoye, who will be taking over at the See of Nnewi Diocese on February 10, 2022, will be succeeding the first bishop of the diocese, Most Rev Hilary Paul Odili Okeke, who will be retiring at the age of 75 by January 2022.
The priestly ordination of Rt Rev Jonas Benson Okoye, who was ordained as the eight indigenous Catholic priest of Adazi-Nnukwu by the then Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Archbishop Albert K. Obiefuna, at St Andrew’s Catholic Church, Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha LGA, Anambra State, on August 29, 1992, was described as a door opener for the priestly vocation in Adazi-Nnukwu.
According to Rev Fr Michael Onwukike, who was ordained in 1996 as the twelfth indigenous priest of Adazi-Nnukwu, Bishop Okoye, was ordained a priest seven years after the ordination of the seventh priest of the town. He explained that after Bishop Okoye’s priestly ordination in Adazi-Nnukwu, which opened more doors, many indigenous Catholic priests of the town had been ordained till date.
Fides also gathered that Rt Rev Okoye, who is an alumnus of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Ikot Ekpene (now St Joseph Major Seminary and Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, had, immediately after his priestly ordination, served as parish vicar of St John the Baptist Parish, Ezinifite, Aguata LGA, in 1992. He served as a parish priest of St Peter’s Parish, Oko, Orumba North LGA and a Defender of the Bond in Awka Diocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal, 1993-1995.
A canonist who furthered his studies in Canon Law at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) 1995-1997, and St Paul University, Ottawa, Canada, 2002, and Lateran University, Rome, 2003-2006, served as the parish priest of St John’s Parish, Neni, 1998-2002 and Dean, Neni Deanery, 1998-2002.
As a reverend father, Bishop Okoye also served as parish priest, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Ekwulobia, 2006-2007; parish priest, St Matthew’s Parish, Amawbia, 2007-2013; Dean, Amawbia Deanery, 2007-2013; parish priest, St Mary’s Parish, Awka, 2013-2014; Dean, Awka II Deanery, 2013-2014; member, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) Committee on Seminary Formation, 2008-2012; member, CBCN Committee on Canon Law and member, Awka Diocesan College of Consultors.
He was also at various years, a Chaplain of the Knights of St Mulumba, Anaocha Sub-Council; Vice Officialis, Awka Diocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal; Judicial Vicar of the Catholic Diocese of Awka and a Judge in the Onitsha Inter-Diocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal; member, Awka Diocesan Finance Council and Chaplain, Anambra State Government House, among other various ecclesiastical appointments and offices in his diocesan, regional and national levels.
Rt Rev Jonas Benson Okoye was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese on May 30, 2014, and was consecrated a bishop at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka on August 29, 2014.
Bishop Okoye has authored many books and other publications.
Reacting to the new appointment on Bishop Okoye as the Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, expressed confidence that Bishop Okoye would succeed in his new assignment, noting that he possessed all it took to lead the priests, religious and laity of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi.
Bishop Ezeokafor who stated this at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral Awka, while congratulating the new bishop, also described his appointment as a question of change of office, stating that Okoye had the experience and academic background to make his mark.
‘Well, in the first place, I thank God for him in his new assignment. It is a question of change of office now. He has been having that experience at that level in the Church but with the new assignment as a bishop of Nnewi, something more is needed. Thanks to God he has many years of experience which will bear on him and help him to really manage the people of God, pastor them,’ he said.
Bishop Ezeokafor who extolled Bishop Okoye’s exposure and academic qualifications, expressed the hope that those around Bishop Okoye would give their best to make sure he succeeded. He also said that, having been neighbours before now, distance would not diminish the relationship he shared with Bishop Okoye.
Bishop Ezeokafor called on all, the religious and the laity, to support the new bishop, assuring that they would continue to pray for Bishop Okoye to succeed.
Others who spoke with Fides also bared their minds on the latest development. One of them, a former president, CWO, St John’s Parish, Neni, Mrs Rose Chinwe Ezeadikwa, described Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye as an ideal priest and a man of peace.
Mrs Ezeadikwa, who recalled how Rt Rev Okoye, as a reverend father and a parish priest of St John’s Parish, Neni, had upon his arrival, addressed the crisis which had existed among the women and restored peace in the parish, as well as a harmonious and cordial relationship between the women and the parish priest.
The former CWO President, who served as Board Member I, Ebonyi Sttae Universal Basic Education Board, said the experiences she gathered when she worked with Bishop Okoye made her the person she had become.
She described Nnewi people as lucky to have had Rt Rev Okoye as their bishop. This was even as she wished Bishop Okpye God’s abundant blessings on his new appointment as the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi.
In a chat with Fides, a former Secretary, CWO, St John’s Parish, Neni, Lady Oby Obodozie, eulogised Bishop Okoye as a good shepherd who knew all his flock by name and an empathic priest who served with humility and diligence.
According to Lady Obodozie, also a former Organiser, CWO, Neni Deanery, ‘Bishop Okoye’s aesthetic quality made him change the face of the Church and environment. His love for education inspired him into establishing the Awka Diocesan owned-St John’s Vocational Institute, Neni (currently St John Innovation Institute of Management and Technology (JIIMATECH), Neni). His outstanding performance endeared him to Neni people and he was honoured with the Onwa Title because light and positivity manifest wherever he is.’
For her part, a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Ekwulobia and a former secretary of CWO, Old Awka Diocese, Mrs Esther Onebunne, described Bishop Okoye as an ideal preacher and empathic priest whose concern for the welfare of the people was second to none.
Mrs Onebunne, who recalled that Immaculate Heart parishioners wept over Bishop Okoye’s transfer, regretted that he (Okoye) did not stay long and that the facelift he wanted to give to the parish did not materialize in his time. She described Bishop Okoye’s elevation as the bishop of Nnewi as a square peg in a square hole.
Also speaking to Fides, a parishioner of St Matthew’s Parish, Amawbia, Hon Joseph Igwebuike, described Bishop Okoye as an exceptional priest who worked well with the parishioners as their former parish priest and reached out to the people of God.
Hon Igwebuike, who is the President of Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria, Awka Diocese (CLCNAD), noted that it was during Bishop Okoye’s time that St Matthew’s Parish, Amawbia, was developed and elevated; just as St Edward’s Parish, Amawbia was created and St Joseph’s Parish developed then as an Out Station.
Adding his voice, a former Anambra State Commissioner for Transport, Dr Romanus Ejikeme, KSM, described Bishop Okoye as an exceptional priest, a man of principle, who was not moved by sentiments.
Dr Ejikeme, who said he worked well with Bishop Okoye as parish councilor of St Mary’s Parish, Awka, while he (the then Fr Okoye) was the parish priest, described him as a man with simple qualities.
‘I think God specially blessed Bishop Okoye as one with very straight track record. The news of his elevation as the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi did not come to me as a surprise. I consider it as a reward for his dint of hard work,’ Dr Romanus Ejikeme, who is a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, said.
My New Appointment, a tale of God’s Grace – Bishop Okoye
Meanwhile, the newly appointed Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, has described his new appointment as a tale of God’s grace, even as he expressed his readiness to always respond to the demands of the Church.
Bishop Okoye who was the auxiliary Bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese before the appointment, made the disclosure while speaking with Fides on how the appointment came about at his residence in Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha LGA, Anambra State.
He said that priests, following their ordination, were always disposed to the demands of the apostolate and ever ready to respond and assume any responsibility which the Holy Father might assign, saying that their call was that of obedience.
‘How the new appointment came about is rather a complex question. In our apostolate and work, we are always disposed to the needs of the apostolate. When the Holy Father, especially in episcopal appointment, finds you worthy of any appointment, our call is that of obedience. We don’t have so much option than responding to the demands of the Holy Father, just like the Blessed Mary said, “Behold, your handmaid servant, we are here to do your will”, that’s our simple response to it, asking for the grace of God,’ Bishop Okoye explained.
Recalling how he was first appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese, Bishop Okoye explained that he was serving then as the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Parish, Awka, as well as the judiciary vicar of the Old Awka Diocese, before the recommendation for the position came through the then Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
He said he accepted the request made on him by the Holy Mother Church, bearing in mind that the Church wanted him to serve in that capacity; even in his feebleness, and since then, he had relied on God’s grace to carry on with the responsibility.
He said that his driving force had been his passion to serve humanity and to enable him to achieve his own personal sanctification and salvation, as well as that of other members of the Mother Church. He said the Church remained the hope of the common man.
‘My driving force has been anchored on the primary question which the formators in the seminary would always ask why one has the desire to embrace the Catholic priesthood. In my innocence, my simple response and desire was to serve humanity, for my personal sanctification and salvation, and that of my brothers and sisters in the world. That has been my driving force and my life as a priest has been tailored towards that. Whether it is for the salvation or for the wellbeing of human society, the Church remains the hope of the people of God,’ Bishop Okoye submitted.
He disclosed that the style which his late father adopted during his upbringing motivated him into joining the seminary school as he came close to the altar following his membership in the Altar Knights Association and the relationship which he later developed with the missionary priests he served at masses as altar server.
The newly appointed Bishop expressed conviction that he would work effectively with the Presbyterium of Nnewi Diocese, judging from the long standing relationship which he had developed with the priests of the diocese during the various functions he had attended in the past.
He also noted that he attended All Hallows Seminary together with some of the priests in the diocese and disclosed that the retiring Bishop was his teacher who had been very nice to him over the years.
He however maintained that the purpose of his appointment in the diocese, which, he said, was driving home the good news and message of God to the people, must be accomplished through the sustaining grace and unlimited help of God.
‘I don’t feel challenged going to work in Nnewi Diocese and I don’t see it to be extraordinary. I have been visiting the diocese, attending functions and I have known some of the priests, especially those who are my contemporaries that I attended All Hallows Seminary with. The retiring Bishop was also my teacher and a canonist and I am also a canonist. Because of our closeness, he was the one that gave the homily on the day of my episcopal consecration, so we have bonded well all these years, and, by extension, the priests.
‘But not only that, we don’t place everything on our shoulder, this is God’s own work and what I will keep asking for is grace and I believe that he will be with his priest of Nnewi and the entire people of God.
The Adazi-Nnukwu born Catholic prelate, expressed optimism that once God was at the centre, every other thing and activities became easy and simple. He reaffirmed his readiness to work with the structure which had been put on ground by the retiring Bishop, Most Rev. Hilary Okeke, whose endearing spirit and disposition, Fides learnt, earned him the title of ‘Nnaora’.
He recalled when Nnaora was appointed as the first Bishop of Nnewi Diocese and commended the ‘marvelous work’ which the Bishop had done in turning an arable land into a habitable place.