Thursday, 16 October 2014

St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Zaria, at 50!

St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Zaria, at 50!
Zwahu, Y.E
“There is a school I will take you to, you’ll love it there,” she said.
“Which school is that?” I asked rather disinterestedly, rather thinking of the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, where my friend already was and whose appearance in smart military fatigue I admired and so longed to spot.
“It is a school where young boys are groomed to become priests… Reverend Fathers.”
“Ehen,” my interest spiked. Images of immediate past parish priest, Fr Thomas McNamara, whom I so loved flashed through my head, and then those of the new one, Fr Lawrence Bakut, too. I was always in awe of Fr Lawrence who had just been ordained. He was young, spoke English the way I longed to, and just never missed the opportunity to sing the Mass in Latin, no matter how little. I loved the solemnity of the Latin chants even though I never understood the language; they just communicated the sacred.
Those images seemed to exorcize the military fantasy out of me in a flash. I imagined myself in white soutane with the cape flying about in careless abandon to the whims of the breeze. “What is the name of the school?” I asked my mother.
“St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Zaria,” she answered, happy I was liking the idea. “The entrance forms are out, I’ll pick one for you tomorrow when we go for choir practice.” I had been a choir boy all my life; a church boy. That was in 1984.
On the 15th of September, 1985, I, along with other freshers, resumed Form I at SJS, as we would call the school. The school was sparsely built: the academic block which housed the five classrooms, the Staff Room, the Vice Rector’s office, and the small Chapel the size the classrooms; then two hostel blocks of thirteen dormitories named after saints, each of which housed about ten students. The entire population of the school was 125. Each class was one arm then.
The very next morning, we assembled in the Chapel for the term’s opening Mass and the choir prefect, now Fr Joachim Makama, intoned the hymn “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night; I will go Lord, if You Lead me; I will hold Your people in my heart…” and I thought to myself, “this thing is serious business.”
A minor seminary is a secondary school but with Catholic formation and discipline to prepare lads for a vocation into the Catholic priesthood. St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Zaria, was established in January 1964 by Archbishop John McCarthy, then archbishop of Kaduna, to serve the vocations grooming needs of the diocese and beyond. The founding Rector was Fr Joseph Hughes. Unlike its neighbor, St Enda’s Teachers College, Bassawa-Zaria (now FGGC Zaria, having been Bassawa Teachers College until 1988), St Joseph’s managed to escape the 1973 government take-over of mission schools because of its special niche. The two schools had used the same major chapel, St Enda’s Chapel.
School fees were a hundred naira per term then. My parents only managed sixty or so naira upon my resumption with a promise to make up the rest as the term went on. The amount would remain so until we graduated. Even at the time, that amount was not enough for tuition and feeding. Teachers had to be paid; the school had to be maintained. The Church struggled to supplement to keep the school going. Little wonder that earlier, in 1978, the then Archbishop, Peter Jatau, decided to phase out the school but for the passionate intervention of poor catholic women, the Zumuntar Matan Katolika, who offered to help in the feeding of the children. The Archbishop reneged and the women taxed themselves and continued to feed the children monthly, parish by parish. We will never forget them.
A very sad event happened on March 11, 1987 when, at the outbreak of the famous Kafanchan Riots in the old Kaduna state, Muslim arsonists burnt down the entire school and the St Enda’s Chapel sparing only the Rev Frs’ house and the staff quarters. Many churches, from Kaduna all the way to Katsina, were razed down in a curious spontaneity on that one day. Graciously, no student was harmed, thanks to the wisdom of good old Mr Patrick Dagun, our English Language teacher, who prevented the older students from putting up any resistance. We took refuge at the nearby Army Barracks in Bassawa. That crisis would mark the beginning of religious crises in the north as a whole. We never knew.
The Seminary formed us indeed. We were taught the value of work. St Benedict was always drummed into our ears, “laborare est orare,” (to work is to pray). We were taught the value of working for the community above the self, which was why a student could be expelled for not doing his morning duty while spared cutting classes or chapel. The thinking was that cutting classes or chapel affected only you the offender while failing in your morning duty affected the entire seminary community. It was a drill in the virtue of service.
St Joseph’s has also continued to maintain a sterling academic pedigree to this day even in the face of the groveling educational standard today especially in northern Nigeria. Apart from the many priests that it has produced, among whom are two Bishops, George Dodo of Zaria and Mathew Kukah of Sokoto who himself was the second Nigerian Rector of the school in 1980/1981, the school has produced a vast many others who have excelled in their various fields of endeavour.
Tomorrow we begin a two-day Golden Jubilee celebration which includes an Oldboys’ evening where Rev Dr Gerard Musa, a professor at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port-Harcourt, will lecture on the topic “March 1987 and Interreligious Dialogue in Northern Nigeria”. Fr Gerard is an indigene of Katsina State and was a final year student in 1987 when the school was burnt down.
On this occasion, we say to our Alma-Mater, no matter how worn out your breasts are, your milk is still sweet. To the Church we say thank You!

BLUEPRINT Newspaper; Oct. 16, 2014

1 comment:

  1. Wow This is so inspiring
    I love my Almanac Mater
    You are the best