WE BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION!
No end or term is fixed to a life well lived! (Wisdom 1:15)
O death where is your sting? Death, where is your victory? As death is an experience common to all human beings, the Carmelite friars in Nigeria are no exception. We point to five graves at the foot of the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Nsukka where the remains of our dead friars, Br Michael Owalabi, Fr Jude-Maria Ogbu, Br Stephen Isunuoya, Fr Richard Aor and Fr Charles Newell, lie. In Dublin, Ireland lie the remains of Fr Michael Fitzgerald.
†Br. Michael Ife Owolabi
The cold claws of death first gripped the young Irish Carmelite Mission in Nigeria in 1996. That was the year that Br. Michael Ife Owolabi, a young Carmelite richly blessed with a variety of talents and gifts, died. He was born on July 14, 1966 and hails from Igarra in Akoko-Edo, Edo State, Nigeria. He was the last child of his parents. Having done his primary and secondary education, he began, in 1987, a promising career with the Federal Ministry of Industries, Research and Statistics Division, Garki, Abuja. However, in 1990, he abandoned this and joined the Carmelites, making his first profession on July 31, 1991. He proceeded to Nairobi, Kenya where he did his study of Philosophy and almost concluded Theology. It was a few months after his solemn profession (July 16, 1996), with the goal of priestly ordination in sight, together with a very promising future ahead, that death came knocking! Michael tragically died in a ghastly car accident on Sunday November 3, 1996. May his soul rest in peace.
†Fr. Jude-Maria Ogbu
Death struck us again three years later – taking Fr. Jude-Maria Ogbu from us! He was born on August 17, 1960 in Akpugo in Nkanu-West LGA, Enugu State. Jude was by nature very gentle and caring. He showed his gentle and sensitive touch in dealing with the sick, the elderly and the needy when, after his secondary school, he worked as a nursing assistant in a few hospitals. He made his first contact with the Carmelites in 1989 and started his Postulancy on January 18, 1990. He made his first profession at Mount Carmel, Enugu on July 13, 1991 – a memorable day in Carmelite history as it saw the first Nigerian young men make their profession as Discalced Carmelites. He proceeded afterwards to Nairobi, Kenya where he studied Philosophy and Theology. He made his solemn profession on July 16, 1997 and was ordained on July 17, 1999 by Bishop Michael Eneja together with Frs Ephraim Ojiekwe and Andrew Unegbu. After ordination he was assigned to our first Carmelite parish in Nigeria – Mary the Queen, Ekpoma. He remained there until the tragic events of the evening of September 14, 2000 (Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross). Death came knocking when he was gunned down on the side of the road by armed robbers as he returned from Lagos to his community. His life which was so full of promise was so abruptly and brutally ended! He was buried on September 23, 2000. May his soul rest in peace.
†Br. Stephen Yahaya Oyakhilome Isunuoya
Br. Stephen Yahaya Oyakhilome Isunuoya is another Nigerian Carmelite who passed on. He was born into a Muslim family on June 28, 1973 at Ihieube, Edo State. He was the sixth of nine children. Having converted to Christianity and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Chemistry at the Ambrose Ali University Ekpoma, he joined the Discalced Carmelite Order in June, 1999 making his simple profession of vows on July 16, 2001. He studied Philosophy at the Dominican Institute, Ibadan from 2001 to 2004. He made his solemn profession of vows on August 15, 2006 and started his study of Theology at the Dominican Institute after his year of Renewal/Integration. He conscientiously performed his studies to fulfill the academic requirements for the priesthood till the Christmas break of 2006. It was during this break that death came knocking. He was involved in a ghastly and fatal car accident on December 28 along Gwagwalada–Abuja Road. He was rushed to the hospital but gave up his spirit in the early hours of December 29, 2006. He was buried on Friday January 5, 2007. May his soul rest in peace.
†Rev. Fr. Richard Yisa Aor
Once again, the cold claws of death snatched another brother from us. Rev. Fr. Richard Yisa Aor died of cancer of the liver on June 24, 2008. He was born on December 18, 1973 and hails from Tarka LGA of Benue State. He joined the Carmelites in June, 1996 and made his first profession of vows on July 16, 1998. Having concluded his study of Philosophy at the Spiritan School of Philosophy, Isienu, Nsukka, he proceeded to Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya where he studied Theology, concluding in December, 2004. Earlier on July 19, 2003, he committed himself definitively as a Carmelite through his solemn profession of vows. He was ordained priest on January 28, 2006 and worked in various communities afterwards. In January 2007, he became a member of St. John of the Cross Carmelite Community, Ibadan. It was while there that death came knocking! All medical expertise was to no avail. He passed on within the space of two months having been diagnosed with cancer. May his soul rest in peace.
† Fr Michael Fitzgerald
Fr Michael Fitzgerald was the third friar to arrive for the Nigerian Carmelite Mission. He was born in Broadford, Co. Limerick, Ireland on July 23, 1941. He joined the Carmelite Order in Loughrea in 1959 and made his First Profession there on September 8, 1960. After his Philosophy and Theology studies, he was ordained on December 17, 1966. He later obtained a Licentiate in Spiritual Theology at the Teresianum, Rome.
In 1973 he was asked to go to the Philippine Islands and there, he spent fifteen years. In 1988 Fr Philip Sainz de Baranda, Superior General of the Order, asked him to help set up a mission in Nigeria. Thus, in November 1988, he arrived Nigeria to join Frs Charles Newell and Tom Curran who had arrived earlier. Together with these, he worked tirelessly to develop our Nigerian Region and the present day success of the Vicariate owes a great deal to him. At various times, Fr Michael held different offices and posts as prior, formator, vocations director and eventually Regional Vicar.
Fr Michael was an avid reader and loved especially to study the Scriptures. It was a real joy to listen to his homilies and talks explaining the Scriptures. Also, he was a keen sportsman and a voracious reader of sports literature. As well as gaelic sports, he took a great interest in many other sports and became very knowledgeable about all of them. He loved to run and play some hurling and did so even during the last few days of his life. Above all, he was a dedicated Carmelite, a good and faithful servant who died giving of his best.
In 2007, Fr Michael left Nigeria and returned to Ireland and joined the Avila community in Dublin. He was elected Prior of that community in May 2008. He was a tireless worker and was giving a directed retreat when God called him home – when death came knocking! He died quietly in his sleep on July 9, 2009. May he rest in peace.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of the God’ (Wisdom 3:1). For to us, God’s faithful people, ‘life is changed, not ended’ (Preface, Christian death). Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of our deceased brothers and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace – Amen.