On June 26, 2021, the Master of the Order, Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner, III, O.P. , erected and integrated the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament, Ilorin, as a monastery of the Order. He arrived Nigeria on June 24. Early the next day, the Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph the Worker, Nigeria and Ghana, Brother Richard Ogedengbe, O.P. , the Master and the Socius for Africa, Fr. Charles Ukwe, O.P. , flew into Ilorin and were welcomed to the monastery by the sisters with songs, drums and dancing. They were ushered into the dining room for breakfast. After breakfast, Sr. MaryAnn took their guests round to see the monastery and their projects which includes crop farming such as, plantains, bananas, yams, cassava, oranges and mangoes, and a small palm plantation; and animal husbandry which includes, piggery, poultry, fishery, heliciculture (snail farming) and beekeeping. Other projects are altar bread production, bakery and sewing, (they made the beautiful vestments used for the occasion which was a take-away gift to the priests and bishops).
The monastery wore a new look with beautiful decorations mostly in Dominican colors of black and white, the handwork of the Dominican sisters from Lagos and Ibadan. They had arrived two days earlier to help to set up things. From outside, one could see some signs of festivity and once inside the monastery, one felt an atmosphere of great expectation. The courtyard reserved for the celebration of the Mass received some special touch of decoration with ribbons, wreaths and garlands, particularly, the altar and the sanctuary, canopies and seats were setup. Everything was prepared so that the people of God could gather the next day to witness the reading of the decree of erection of the monastery and the religious profession of the sisters. The day long expected for 26 years had finally come. Everyone was elated and joyful.
In the early hours of the morning of June 26, the heavens opened up and the rains came down so hard unrelentingly. People thought it was going to mar the celebration. But they were showers of blessing from the Lord. About the time of the long procession of the altar servers, the sisters who were going to make their profession, priests and bishops, to the place of Mass, the rain stopped for the procession to take place. Then, it drizzled during the homily. By the end of the Mass which lasted four hours, fifteen minutes, the sun had come up and the ground was dry which afforded the newly professed sisters and their guests the opportunity to take pictures in a dry environment.
The Mass had four bishops in attendance, Archbishop Gabriel Abegurin, the Archbishop ofIbadan, who was the Chief Celebrant; Bishop Paul Olawoore, Bishop of Ilorin; Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi, OP, the emeritus bishop of Ilorin; and Bishop John Oyejola of Oshogbo diocese. There were about 15 Dominican and 10 diocesan priests, many Dominican sisters, religious men and women from different religious institutes within
the diocese of Ilorin. Benefactors and benefactresses of the monastery including some well-wishers were on hand to experience the joy of the day. Some representatives of the Lay Dominican Fraternities from across the country were in attendance. The student brothers’ choir from St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, Ibadan, sang beautifully at the Mass. The large presence of the different branches of the Dominican family in Nigeria clearly showed that this was really a celebration of the family.
The decree of erection of the monastery was read at the beginning of the Mass. Eleven sisters made their solemn profession of vows and four made simple vows. During Vespers, one postulant was admitted to the novitiate. In his homily, the Master of the Order thanked God for his wonderful blessings, for the canonical erection of the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Ilorin. He remarked that the sisters had become a breath of fresh air as a monastery was being erected in Africa when the Order had asked the Holy See for the suppression of 13 monasteries in Europe in the past four years for lack of vocation. He told them that they had become formerly the youngest nuns in the Order by their profession.
The Master underscored the fact that the contemplative nuns evangelize by their practice of the perfection of charity. Embracing religious life does not make one perfect, but may help one to perfect one’s charity. The evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience are not ends but means to become perfect in love. They have the power to evangelize in the witness of their complete and varied manifestations. These counsels help one in the imitation of Christ, the one who is revealed as love. Obedience enables us to listen within the context of the community.
Everything about our religious consecration, vocation, ministry, prayer and community are brought together by God’s will. Obedience is a principle of unity that resides in the Sacrament of unity which is the Eucharist. We remain the symbols of unity in the Church, with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, and the bishop of our diocese, symbols of our unity. Obedience helps us to listen to one another because truth is available in the context of the faith community. The Master explained that, “the evangelical counsel of chastity is to perfect our love for one another since the counsels are ordered to the perfection of charity, the first sin against chastity is the failure to love. Chastity expresses the importance of our body in the mystery of our faith with hope in the resurrection of our body. Our body is made holy in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus. As preachers of the Word-Made-Flesh, we proclaim the holiness of our bodily existence.” He stated that evangelical poverty is anchored on the first community of believers who shared their goods so that no one was in need.
The Master affirmed that, “evangelical poverty is a Christian solution to economic and spiritual poverty. Like the apostolic community, sharing of goods become a complete sign of the Kingdom of God.” He admonished the nuns that by living the Dominican monastic life faithfully and joyfully, “you participate in the Church’s work of evangelization for the evangelical counsels have the power to evangelize not just you but the people who come to know you.” Moreover, by their special apostolate of Eucharistic adoration, praying for the needs of the Church and the world, they highlight the connection between the vows and the Eucharist. The Master went on to describe the monastery “as a factory of prayer” where the nuns constantly intercede for the Church and the world, and for individuals who approach them to pray for their needs.
The sisters answered positively to the interrogation about readiness to live out their religious consecration before the Lord. After the litany of the Saints was sung, the Master of the Order received their vows. He also gave them their rings, a sign of their betrothal to the Lord.
The Mass ended at 2.15pm. Even though the ceremony lasted for four hours, fifteen minutes, it was so lively that no one was in a hurry to leave. In all, it was a beautiful, joyful and spirit-filled celebration. After the liturgical celebration, everyone had enough to eat and drink.
fr. Charles UKWE, O.P.