By Ifeoma Ezenyilimba
Nodu, Village, Okpuno, Awka South LGA, last Wednesday reverberated with the rousing burial given to 83 year-old Pa Gabriel Okechukwu Akpaenyi, who in his lifetime set an exemplary record by donating his entire property to the Catholic Diocese of Awka.
In recognition of the deceased’s wonderful gesture, the Catholic Diocese of Awka turned out in their numbers to give him a befitting burial, with the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, leading the faithful that thronged into St Gabriel’s Parish, Okpuno, and later, his compound, which he shared with a school which also benefitted from his land donation.
The late Gabriel Akpaenyi, fondly known as Duke and Jasper the Great Warrior, died last February. He hailed from Nodu Village, Okpuno.
Fides gathered that the late Akpaenyi had donated all his landed property to the Catholic Diocese of Awka through the first bishop of the Diocese, the late Archbishop Albert Obiefuna.
Fides further learnt that the deceased, who was born of pagan parents, had rejected paganism and embraced Christianity, despite protestations from his family which was predominantly pagan.
This made him to run for safety to his maternal home in Nawgu where he was baptized as a Catholic, thus laying a foundation of faith and practical Christianity for others.
After he later returned to his home soon after, and having lost all his siblings, he donated all the family property (now his) to the Catholic Church.
He chose and remained unmarried due to his resolve to live a life of detachment and sacrifice for the wellbeing of others.
Among the plots of land donated by the philanthropist to the Catholic Diocese of Awka is the one that houses Angel Gabriel Nursery/Primary School, Okpuno, which is managed by the handmaid sisters, as well as those that house Bishop Simon Okafor’s Plazas at Okpuno; both of the Catholic Diocese of Awka.
The deceased previously had a small mud house in the same compound with the nursery/primary school which he was content to live in, such that when the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese requested to build a house for him, he insisted on a small house. He was equally taken care of by the bishop and the handmaid sisters.
Leading in the concelebrated burial Mass at St Gabriel’s Parish, Okpuno, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, in his homily, described the deceased as one who well understood the things of the world as vanity and spent his life in chastity, poverty and service to God, the Church and humanity.
He eulogised the late Akpaenyi for his life of total detachment and contributions to human development, saying that the deceased had requested that the diocese establish a school in one of the lands for the proper training of children. The bishop added that the Church had, through Angel Gabriel Nursery/Primary School, immortalized the late Pa Gabriel Akpaenyi.
Bishop Ezeokafor, who recalled that the deceased had supported the growth of the Church and quality education of the children from the time of the late Archbishop Obiefuna to that of the late Bishop Simon Okafor, up to his time as the 3rd Bishop of Awka Diocese, prayed God to bless the gifts the deceased gave to the Church.
The Catholic prelate condoled with the bereaved family, and prayed God to accept the sacrifices and efforts of the late Akpaenyi and grant him eternal rest in heaven.
In his remarks, the host parish priest of St Gabriel’s Parish, Okpuno, Rev Fr Emmanuel Ofomata, thanked Bishop Ezeokafor for, according to him, broadening the good relationship Akpaenyi had with the diocese. He equally commended the bishop for the care he gave to the deceased during his lifetime and also for picking the hospital bills when he was sick.
The parish priest also extolled the handmaid sisters for the good working relationship the congregation had with the deceased and the parish.
Fr Ofomata described the late Akpaenyi as one who achieved all he desired on earth and finally slept in the Lord.
Mr Maxwell Anizoba, on behalf of the family, thanked Bishop Ezeokafor for the care he gave to the late Akpaenyi. He also thanked the Catholic Diocese of Awka for the hero’s burial given to his kinsman.
Speaking to Fides, the headmistress of the school, Rev Sr Josephine Onyi, HHCJ, likened the life of the deceased to that of Jesus Christ, praying God to grant his soul eternal rest.
Angel Gabriel Nursery/Primary School, Okpuno, in a funeral oration read by a pupil of the school, described the deceased, who they fondly called Papa Okey, as a rare personality whose kindness and generosity were legendary.
The vigil Mass which was held at Angel Gabriel Nursery/Primary School, Okpuno, on March 17, was led by the Rector of Holy Family Spiritual Year Seminary, Okpuno, Rev Fr Linus Ibekwe.