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Nigeria is a country on the west coast of Africa, which is made up of more than 250 ethnic, cultural and language groups, of which three – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba – are the major groups. The country is religiously grouped into Christians and Muslims.  The majority of the Igbo are Catholics.  In Nigeria, especially in the southern part of Nigeria, which is predominantly Igbo, the Sunday liturgy is gracefully celebrated and the homily reflects the daily activities of the people.  It was felt that these qualities were missing when Nigerians attended Sunday Masses in their respective neighborhood Catholic churches in Boston. The community of Catholic faithful known as the Nigerian Catholic Community (NCC), one of the three communities worshiping at the Saint Katharine Drexel Parish of the Archdiocese of Boston, began with the vision of Reverend Father (Fr.). Alfonsus Gusiora, an Igbo indigene, who gathered some Igbo in the Boston area to start the Nigerian Catholic Community Mass with a celebration similar to what is done in Nigeria.  

In 1988, Fr. Gusiora enlisted the help of a few Igbo families in the Metropolitan Boston area to explain his vision of starting an Igbo Catholic liturgy. There were 17 people in attendance (Group) – Louisa Akukwe, Dominic Anidi, Celestine Enere, Ernest Nwankwo, Frank Gusiora, Ntohmchukwu Izuchi, Ify Izuchi, Ositadimma Nwaokolo, Augustine Onochie, Jude Odimegwu, Ike Oguadimma, Gerald Ojimba, Michael Okafor, Christopher Okafor, Mike Okurume, Anne Onujuogu and Peter Uzoma – who met at the residence of Augustine Onochie.  The group was enthusiastic about the idea primarily because Mass celebration in most Boston parishes is rushed, often taking less than 45 minutes.  The group was in unison in reference to their inability to identify with the sermon preached by the various local priests because of cultural differences.  In other words, they hungered for Nigerian-flavored Catholicism.  The group needed a nurturing community of faith that recognized and validated the Nigerian cultural identity. They needed a safe space for worship that would foster the gifts of openness, apostolic zeal, sense of community and generosity. They needed an atmosphere where they could worship in a way that is culturally relevant and meaningful. Primarily that meant celebrating the Mass often in their language.  It is their considered opinion that this is the best way of teaching their children their language, as well as spiritual and cultural values. Fr Gusiora’s Group met several times to formulate strategies.  They resolved to find a place of worship in a conspicuous and central location, since the majority of their target group, the Igbo Catholic worshipping base, lived predominantly in the South End, Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and Hyde Park.  They contacted Rev. Fr. Gerald Osterman, the parish priest at Saint John/Saint Hugh Catholic Church at the Grove Hall section of Dorchester at 517 Blue Hill Avenue.  St. John/St Hugh was the central location for the Boston Black Catholic worship. The addition of Nigerian community excited Fr. Osterman whose parishioners were dwindling and getting older.  As the formation of the new Nigerian immigrant community began, the officials of the Archdiocese of Boston were kept informed through Sr. Mary Prefontane, the director of the Office of the Ethnic Apostolate.  Though the primary worshipers were predominantly Igbo, who hailed from the southern part of Nigeria, the Group named the new community of faithful, The Nigerian Catholic Community, in order to embrace all Nigerians, regardless of race and language. 

Fr. Gusiora became the first priest of the new immigrant Nigerian Catholic Community at St. John/Saint Hugh parish in 1988.  He moved in with Fr. Osterman at the parish rectory. The Nigerian Catholics celebrated liturgy on Sundays at eleven o’clock in the morning.  As more Nigerians became aware that Nigerians celebrated Mass at St. John/St. Hugh, more members living outside of the Metropolitan Boston area joined for worship.  The new faithful grew in number as the Sunday liturgy was celebrated in English, with songs in English, Igbo and Yoruba languages.  With the growth of the Nigerian Catholic faithful, the time for the Sunday liturgy was changed to one o’clock in the afternoon to accommodate the majority of the worshipers whose work schedule hindered them from active participation.  When Fr. Gusiora was recalled out of Boston, the community continued to celebrate Sunday liturgy with Fr. Osterman.  As they celebrated with Fr. Osterman, they asked the Archdiocese of Boston, through Sr. Prefontaine, to help secure a Nigerian priest for the community.

During the absence of Fr Gusiora, the community celebrated Sunday liturgy with various visiting Nigerian priests.  Notable among them were Fr. Leonard (Leo) Okeke, who was a student at Boston College, Fr. Oliver Nwachukwu and Fr. Nwabaju Izuchi.  With the approval from the officials of the Archdiocese of Boston and strong financial partnership from the Nigerian Catholic Community, Sr. Prefontaine went to Nigeria and helped arrange for the arrival of Fr. Anthony Oyeyipo, a priest from the Ilorin Diocese in Nigeria, to the community.  During Fr. Oyeyipo’s tenure he strengthened several liturgical groups in the church, such as the choir, lectors, and Eucharistic ministers. In addition, Fr. Oyeyipo brought diversity among the Nigerian Catholic Community and introduced home visits.  The congregation grew in number. Nigerian Catholic Men, Women and the Youth organizations were formed.    

After one term as the presiding Parochial Vicar for The Nigerian Catholic Community, Fr. Onyeyipo went back to Nigeria.  In 1999 Fr. Anthony Ngwumohaike replaced him.  To assist Fr. Ngwumohaike, the Archdiocese assigned Sr. Mary Henrietta Domingo to work with the Nigerian Catholic Community to develop programs to address our spiritual needs.  Under Fr. Ngwumohaike and Sr. Domingo, the Nigerian Catholic Community worked out an arrangement with the congregation of Missionary Sisters of Charity to prepare the children for First Communion and Confirmation.  Sr. Clementine Ekere, from the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, was later sent from Nigeria to assist Sr. Domingo and the Nigerian Catholic Community In July 2002, Fr. Ngwumohaike, Sr. Domingo and the entire Nigerian Catholic Community excitedly welcomed His Eminence Cardinal Francis Arinze, from the Vatican, who presided over the first Confirmation of the Nigerian community children.   The Nigerian Catholic Community became well known both in Boston and in Nigeria. Bishops and priests visiting the United States from Nigeria would include St. John/St. Hugh in their itinerary.  The Community continued to grow in strength and number. Fr. Ngwumohaike’s tenure with the Community ended in 2004 and he was replaced by Fr. Anselm Nwagbara.  In addition, Sr. Domingo was elevated to head the order of the Sisters of Eucharistic Heart of Jesus as Mother Superior in Nigeria, and was replaced by Sr. Christiana Onyewuche as Pastoral Associate, who later became the Parish Secretary. During the interim, Sr. Onyewuche ensured that the Nigerian Catholic Community celebrated Mass with a Nigerian Priest while we waited for the arrival of Fr. Anselm Nwagbara in 2005. Sr. Josephine Iteghite, sent from Nigeria by the order of the Sisters of Eucharistic Heart of Jesus to assist Sr. Onyewuche, served as the Coordinator of Religious Education until she was recalled back to Nigeria in October 2010.

  Fr. Anselm Nwagbara arrived in Boston at about the time the Archdiocese of Boston changed the name of St. John/St.Hugh Parish to Saint Katharine Drexel Parish.  The change was due to the reconfiguration, which consolidated St. Francis DeSales/St. Philips Parish and St. John/St. Hugh Parish into Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, in honor of a saint who was a champion of immigrants.  Fr. Oscar J. Pratt II was named the first pastor with Fr. Anselm Nwagbara as the Parochial Vicar.  Fr. Nwagbara, Sr. Onyewuche and Sr. Iteghite expanded and improved on what their predecessors began.  Under Fr. Anselm, the Nigerian Catholic Community faithful became more involved in the church activities. In addition, the church organizations became better organized and more energized. Fr. Nwagbara led the faithful in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the church every Friday. Fr. Anselm Nwagbara’s greatest spiritual overhaul of the Community was the formation of the charismatic renewal group called The Power of Prayer Charismatic Renewal of St. Katharine Drexel Parish.  A handful of members started the prayer group with Fr. Anselm as the Spiritual Director, but it has since grown to be the largest, most vibrant, and most devoted society in the parish. The group is an integral part of the Archdiocesan group called the Charismatic Renewal Services of Boston (CRS).  Fr. Anselm Nwagbara further introduced on the second Monday of every month a Mass for the sick and needy named a Healing Mass. This has been very popular. People who are not members of the Renewal group seize the opportunity to come for healing. At the end of his term on June 1, 2010, Fr. Nwagbara was replaced by Fr. Jude Thaddeus Osunkwo, who was very highly recommended by all three worshipping communities of the St. Katharine Drexel Parish.

Fr. Jude Thaddeus Osunkwo, who earned his degree from Rome, began his ministry with the Nigerian Catholic Community on August 1, 2010. His is known within the three worshipping communities because of his prior summer visits to the community, his in-depth research in theology and scholarly homily. We are truly blessed to have Fr. Osunkwo as the new Parochial Vicar of Saint Katharine Drexel Parish.

The Nigerian Catholic Community has become a vision that was actualized for the new immigrants and has elevated the spirituality of the faithful. The Nigerian Catholic Community continues to appreciate and thank God for these opportunities given to us through his servants Fr. Osterman who welcomed the Nigerian Catholic Community to his parish, Fr. Russel Best Jr., who became the pastor of the parish after Fr. Osterman, Fr. Oscar Pratt II, who succeeded Fr. Best as the pastor, and under whose administration the Parish's name was changed to St. Katharine Drexel after the merger of St. John/St. Hugh with St. Francis/St Philips, Fr. Alphonsus Gusiora, Fr. Leo Okeke, Fr. Nwabaju Izuchi , Fr. Oliver Nwachukwu, Fr. Tony Oyeyipo, Fr. Anthony Ngwumuohaike, Fr. Anselm Nwagbara, Fr. Donatus Ezenneka and Fr. Jude Thaddeus Osunkwo. A special appreciation also goes to our advocate with the Archdiocese of Boston, Fr. Thomas Foley, Fr. Robert Deehan, Fr. Michael Medas and Msgr. Felix Ojimba who always provided the community with solid guidance when most needed.  The community also thanks Msgr. Gabriel Onuorah, Sr. Mariam Batho, Sr. Mary Henrietta Domingo, Sr. Christiana Onyewuche, Sr. Clementine Ekere, Sr. Josephine Iteghite, and the Congregation of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus for their services to our Community. Our sincere appreciation also goes to the lay leaders of the Community – the Vice Chairpersons of the Council and their executives at various times – Mr. Celestine Enere, Dr. Reginald Osuji, Chief Francis Ibili, and Mrs. Ify Izuchi for their marvelous efforts and leadership. The community is also very grateful to Lorna DesRoses, the Coordinator of the Ethnic Apostalate for the Archdiocese of Boston, and her predecessor Sr. Nancy Charlesworth for their support and encouragement to the community. Finally, the highest gratitude and appreciation go to the Archdiocese of Boston for the tremendous support, understanding and guidance the community has received and enjoyed since the Nigerian Catholic Community was established.