The Oblates of St. Joseph has developed tremendously. From its humble beginning on November 9, 1990, the congregation of male religious has metamorphosed into a full-fledged province with Priests spread across eight different Archdioceses and Dioceses in Nigeria, Italy, Brazil and Mozambique. On Saturday, March 20, 2021, with the ordination of the nine Deacons and five Brothers, its numerical strength will snowball into 53 Priests and five Deacons. The province has on its track two formation houses, St. Marello Hospital and St. Joseph’s Group of Schools (Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools). The inaugural Provincial Superior, Oblates of St. Joseph, Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Province, Rev. Fr. Ethelbert Arua, OSJ, speaks with NETA NWOSU on philosophy of the congregation, growth, his leadership goals, expansion plans to other African countries among other issues. Excerpts.
“To do the ordinary in an extraordinary way is often cited as the hallmark of charism and spirituality of St. Joseph Marello and Oblates of St. Joseph. Please throw more light on this statement. How does it affect each and every one of us?
“Be Extraordinary in Ordinary things” as taught by our Founder St. Joseph Marello is the spiritual heritage we have from him as his spiritual sons and daughters. In this maxim we the spiritual sons and daughters are challenged to do ordinary things of our daily lives in extraordinary ways. To achieve holiness does not entail in great and marvelous ways of life but in simple and ordinary ways of life. Hence whatever we do in life we can do it well and extraordinarily in order to achieve our daily sanctification in life and thus merit heaven.
The Oblates of St. Joseph was birthed on the 9th of November, 1990 in Nigeria. Ten years later, precisely, on the 18th of May, 2000, the juridical status of the congregation was raised from Mission to a Delegation. How has the Oblates of St. Joseph fared so far? Please also touch on the number of OSJ Priests, Parishes, Arch/Dioceses, projects and activities so far?
The Oblates of St Joseph was founded on 14th March 1878 in Asti Italy. The first missionaries of the Oblates of St Joseph arrived the soil of Africa and of course Nigeria on 9th November, 1990. From the arrival of the first 2 missionaries who first served at St Michael’s Parish Lafiaji Lagos to 3 confreres who served as Administrators of the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos from 1991, the number of Oblates of St Joseph has tremendously increased to include indigenous members. From the priestly ordination of the first Nigerian priest in August 2002 till date the total number of perpetually professed Nigerians has increased to 58 which is made up of 44 priests, 9 Deacons and 5 brothers. By March 20th this year, the 9 deacons and 5 brothers will be ordained priests and deacons respectively making it 53 priests and 5 deacons by the special grace of God. This number excludes 2 Nigerian priests who are deceased and 2 priests who are currently out of the Congregation. In the same vein from serving in one Parish in Lafiaji Lagos in 1990 we have now spread to different parts of the country and beyond. Currently we are serving in 8 different Archdioceses and Dioceses in Nigeria in 12 parishes, 2 of our confreres are working in Italy, 1 in Brazil and 1 in Mozambique. Besides these, we have 2 formation houses in Ibadan and Abeokuta, St Marello hospital and St Joseph’s Group of Schools (Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools) in Ibadan.
How is a Priest and a Rev. Sister of the Oblates of St. Joseph different from other priestly and religious congregations?
The only difference that may be spotted is from our charism: Service of God by living hidden and silently active in imitation of St Joseph. We achieve this by seeking to serve the “interests of Jesus” in carrying out whatever Divine Providence points out to us from time to time in our apostolates such as the Christian education of the youth, Pastoral ministry in aid of the local Churches in parishes, preaching of retreats and missions and spreading the spirituality and devotion to St Joseph.
You were appointed the Provincial Head or Superior over a year ago when OSJ Nigeria assumed a provincial status. What were your goals when you assumed office? What are the key goals of the province to grow OSJ further in Nigeria? How far on the realisation of these goals?
From being a Mission in 1990 to the status of a Delegation in 2000, we have been raised to the juridical status of a Province by the XVII General Chapter of the Congregation held in Rome in August 2018. The juridical status officially took effect on the 19th of March, 2019. Having served as the last Superior Delegate and currently serving as the first Provincial Superior, my goals on assumption of office was to establish the new Province as an autonomous entity in accordance with our Constitution and General Directory. According to our Constitution a Province must establish itself by reason of apostolic identity and its own resources in terms of formation, finances and the number of houses and religious. Though we have two formation houses in Nigeria and the required number of houses and religious, we are yet to achieve the financial autonomy demanded by the status of a province. Therefore our key goal is on expanding our coast both on the apostolic identity by spreading to more dioceses in Nigeria and expanding our existing resources to meet up with the demands of being a Province. In the past one year, we have achieved this in pastoral expansion to two dioceses and the upcoming Priestly Ordination is also a testimony to that: 9 deacons for priestly ordination which is the highest number ever since the presence of the OSJ in Nigeria in the past 30years. Structurally, plans are underway to expand our secondary school in Ibadan to a boarding school and the hospital to accommodate more medical and clinical services. In the same vein, on the level of human resources and development our priests are being sent on studies on diverse areas of specialization besides Theology. For example, one just graduated from social communications in Rome, two are currently studying in Rome, while two are undergoing studies in Hospital Management and Education management here in Nigeria. We also plan to send two out this year to the Philippines for studies in Education management and Administration while two are billed for mission in Mozambique this year too. Other areas of our interest are civil law, engineering, Architecture, social works etc
How broad is the Nigerian Province geographically? Is OSJ Nigeria, the only congregation present in Africa?
The Nigerian Province covers the whole of Nigeria where our presence are. The Congregation is currently in Mozambique though that is directly under the General Curia in Rome.
What plans does the Province have to introduce OSJ in other African countries?
We are currently working hard to have our presence in other African countries especially the English speaking countries such as Ghana and South Africa, and by the grace of God we pray that in no distant time we will expand to these and other African countries.
One of OSJ key interests is the moral and religious education of the youths. Please let us into your activities in this perspective?
Among the areas of our Apostolates, the moral and religious educations of the youth play a prominent role. Every Oblate according to our Constitution is a catechist by vocation and for that we are called to transmit the teachings of Christ through catechesis, knowledge of Christian doctrines and pedagogical methods. We achieve these not just only in parishes but also in schools through the Josephite-Marellian pedagogy. In doing this we promote the harmonious growth of their physical, moral and intellectual gifts and thereby achieve the integral education of their sense of freedom and responsibility. It is also the duty of every Oblate to guide and assist the youth in the rightful discernment of their vocations especially to religious life and the priesthood.
In 2019, your congregation declared March 19, 2019 to March 19, 2020 as Year of St. Joseph. Nine months later, about 2 months ago, Pope Fra-ncis declared 8 December 2020 to December 8 2021 as Year of St. Joseph. How does your congregation feel about this world Catholic declaration? How does your congregation intend to mark it worldwide and in Nigeria?
The decision to celebrate the Year of St Joseph was taken during the XVII General Chapter of the Congregation held in Rome in August 2018. At the end of that General Chapter precisely on the 31st of August 2018 the Chapter participants including myself had the opportunity of a private Audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. During the Audience, in the address of the Superior General Very Rev Fr. Jan Pelczarski OSJ, he made a passionate appeal to the Holy Father “imploring the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis to designate for the entire Church a special year dedicated to St Joseph in order to renew among us that faith, hope and charity which shone forth in the life of the Guardian of the Redeemer and head of the Family of Nazareth”. After that, we subsequently turned to religious congregations who are inspired by St. Joseph and others to support our initiative. We also asked the bishops and the laity to do the same and one of the means through which we achieved this was the declaration of the Year of St. Joseph to be celebrated in the entire Congregation and in the parishes and our areas of apostolates. This was celebrated from March 19th 2019 to March 19th 2020.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Superior General extended the celebration to end on 8th December 2020 imploring the paternal protection of St Joseph on the Church and the world in that most difficult time. Providentially on that very and blessed day 8th December 2020 while we were all over the world celebrating the end of the Year of St Joseph, the Holy Father Pope Francis during the Angelus officially declared the Year of St Joseph for the entire Church to mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. It was a great joy for us and according to our Superior General “we cannot express enough the greatest and most heartfelt gratitude to Pope Francis for the honour he has dedicated to the Guardian of the Redeemer through this initiative”. We therefore intend to celebrate this Year of St Joseph by growing spiritually in love for St Joseph the great Patriarch and by following his style of life which is marked by humility and hard work. As we said during the Congregation’s celebration of the Year of St Joseph: “Ite Ad Ioseph” which means “Go to Joseph”, now during the Universal Church’s celebration we say “Ite Cum Ioseph” which means “Go with St Joseph”. So having been groomed in the school of St Joseph it is now the time to put into practice the lifestyle and virtues of this humble man of Nazareth.