Monsignor J.K.A. Aniagwu At 70

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By Fr.Emmanuel toks Ogundele
Praising and showering encomiums on people has become a daily affair in this country up to a sickening level. This has been done mostly and very painfully too to those who have added no value to society by any measure. Laudations have been undeservedly given in abundant supply to public parasites, bad leaders, public nuisances, terrorists, thugs, oil thieves, court jesters and comic figures whose handiwork have brought us as a nation to its knees. We always have our way to things in this country and this is simply one of it. Interestingly, those who live and work to make society a better place are hardly praised and celebrated when they record any notable landmark in their lives. This is all the more so for those who help in moulding lives and training young people for very important callings in life. It is with so much joy that I write this little piece to celebrate this man of many parts:  philosopher, theologian, writer, educationist, public intellectual, orator, administrator, pastor and priest extraordinaire Rt. Rev. Mons. John Kaniebi Asuquo Aniagwu as he turns 70 on the 15 th day of March, this year.

            Monsignor Aniagwu's journey into my life and the lives of so many of us whom he trained began at Ss. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan began in the eighties. After my completion of the spiritual year programme at Ekpoma, I reported in Ibadan in late 1983 to begin a seven-year period formation for the Catholic Priesthood. As a young person aspiring for the priesthood, you always wanted to have a mentor, some sort of a role-model. Many of us saw this in Fr. John Aniagwu. His style of teaching, preaching, comportment, straight-talking attitude, self-confidence and prayer life attracted me to him. He did not only make this impression on me; I believe it was the same for my other classmates and contemporaries. As young impressionable minds, you always want to be at least like your master, and so most of us wanted to speak, preach, read and even walk like Fr. Aniagwu. His no-nonsense attitude and non-tolerance for mediocrity spurred us on to aim for excellence in all aspects of our training. Clearly, it encouraged us to take seriously the Church's emphasis on integral formation for the priesthood. This means, every aspect of the priestly training is important and so no candidate should focus on one to the detriment of the other.

            Monsignor Aniagwu worked in the Seminary for a sixteen years twelve of which he was Rector. His tenure as the Rector of this prestigious and Premier Seminary has been branded as the “Golden era” of that Seminary, a time when so many landmark achievements were recorded. These achievements spanned a wide expanse of areas: spiritual, physical, intellectual, moral and human development. I am not ordinarily proud but very proud of my priesthood and I thank God for this gift to my unworthy self. However, what has added more to this was the training I received from Mons. Aniagwu and his diligent crop of formators who trained me and numerous others during our formative years for the priesthood. He was the leader and a wonderful team leader at that of that dynamic group that made me and others the kind of priests we are today.

After the successful completion of his tenure as Rector of the Seminary in 1994, he returned to active pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Lagos and was posted to St. Leo's Catholic Church, Ikeja where he works till date. Mons. Aniagwu was no doubt an effective formator,00 administrator and Rector but the interesting thing is that he has made a smooth and successful transition from his Seminary apostolate into active pastoral work. For in his parish, not only has he built the people, he has built structures as well.  This is why I consider it rather unreasonable and even uncharitable the remark that what happens in the Seminary is theory and what you get in the parish is practice. But without theory, no praxis will be possible at all for what is the basis of praxis if not theory. Here is someone who has successfully shown that a Seminary Professor can be an accomplished Pastor. This is the stuff of which Monsignor Aniagwu is made.

            The Psalmist has said the span of our life is seventy years and eighty for those who are strong. This year, Mons. Aniagwu has joined the band of those who have completed the Biblically allotted age. In spite of his youthful look, he is now heading in the direction of those who are strong and by the special grace of God he will reach that age and surpass it.

            Looking back, I am without any shade of doubt of the conviction that Mons. Aniagwu is deeply grateful to God for all that He has accomplished through him in the last Seventy years. He has been a fountain of knowledge from which my humble self and many other priests and lay people all around the world have derived so much. He has given to the Church so much from what God has given him. What can more can you say of a man who has trained several Archbishops, Bishops, eminent Priests, distinguished professionals the world over. He has been a true teacher of men and hard-working priest of God. As we thank God for him, I believe he should think of bequeathing something more long-lasting to generations to come by starting a foundation that will promote his ideals and vision for the Church and society. It is with much joy in my heart and gratitude for what he has made of me and others he trained that I wish Mons Aniagwu happy birthday, long life, good health of mind and body and God's choicest blessings as he clocks 70.

Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele formerly of Ss. Peter and Paul Seminary, Ibadan is now on Sabbatical in the Archdiocese of Lagos.