The Arrival of Dominicans in Nigeria

The Province of St Joseph the Worker, Nigeria and Ghana.
St Dominic Catholic Church, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria

In 1946, the Apostolic Delegate to English speaking East and West Africa, Archbishop David Matthew, whose headquarters was at Mombasa, invited the Dominicans to West Africa. His brother was an English Dominican. In 1949, he followed up his earlier 1946 invitation to the Dominicans with a more specific request. He wrote to the Provincial of St. Albert the Great Province in Chicago, Fr. Edward Hughes, requesting for Dominicans to come and serve in the mission field in Nigeria. Fr. Hughes made exploratory visits to Nigeria in 1949 and 1950. In January 1950, the Provincial Council unanimously approved the Lagos foundation.

The Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Leo H. Taylor, through a formal letter, invited them to take the responsibility of the then new Yaba mission that was not a Parish yet. On March 4, 1951 at 4:00pm, three friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great, USA accompanied by their Provincial, Fr. Hughes, arrived in Lagos to assume responsibility of the new mission. There were: Michael James Dempsey, Edward T. Lawton, and Arthur Leo Kinsella.

Almost immediately after they arrived, the Rosary Confraternity and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity were established. The Thomistic Institute was inaugurated and the Third Order of St. Dominic was introduced. To crown it all, in January 1954, “St. Patrick Catholic Mission” was raised to the dignity of a “Parish”, and renamed “St. Dominic’s Parish”, and Fr. Michael J. Dempsey named its first Parish Priest. Prior to the arrival of the Dominicans, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church had been a Mission Station under the SMA Fathers with about 600 parishioners.

At a reception held in his honour, Fr Dempsey was given a purse of 5 guineas, seed money that was to later yield a thousand fold. From time to time, the friars made the effort to extend their apostolic operations outside Lagos. They gave retreats in centers like Benin, Kaduna, Kano and Akure. In 1955, Fr. Kinsella had to return to the US due to ill health. He was replaced by Fr. Ambrose Windbacher. In the same year, two more Dominican friars, James S. McHatton and Louise V. Nadeau arrived Yaba. With more Priests in the Parish, the number of Sunday Masses at Yaba increased.

On October 17th 1959, Brother Stephen Lucas arrived in the Yaba Parish. Brother Stephen entered religious life at age 20, took his vows seven years later in July and came to Nigeria three months later. In that same year, a fourth Mass was added, with the last one specifically celebrated for children. Brother Stephen introduced St. Jude Apostolate and Society for Vocations Support to encourage vocations.

Fr. Tom McDermott, a young Dominican friar who was to later move the Dominican presence in Yaba to greater accomplishments, arrived at St. Dominic’s Parish in September of 1983 after his ordination four months earlier. Some after his arrival, he was appointed an Associate Pastor with responsibility for Catechetic. This Dominican friar was popularly called Fr. Tom and similarly nicknamed Little Jesus because of his close mimicking of the physical image of Christ.

Fr Tom was the last of the American friars to serve as Pastor of St Dominic’s. The American friars laid the foundation (a solid one indeed) and the Nigeria friars have taken over and carried on the baton diligently, not only in St Dominic but in the entire Province of St Joseph the Worker (Nigeria and Ghana).

The Nigerian mission became a Vice Province in 1985 and in 1993, it was erected a Province. Now, it has about 170 friars (104 ordained and 50 in formation). At the moment, only four of the friars of the Province of St Albert the Great are still working in Nigeria.

St Dominic’s Parish is unarguably the most significant presence of the Dominicans in Nigeria. The parish is one of the biggest in Nigeria and strategically located in the center of the biggest city in Nigeria - Lagos. The magnificent church structure has a capacity of more than 5,ooo with about 25,000 parishioners. The parish has a total of 16 Masses every Sunday (9 within and 7 at outstations) and 3 daily. There are about 22 Dominican friars at the service of the parish.


(22 January 2015)