- Detailed History
The ecclesiastical territory which is today called Makurdi Diocese was part of the newly formed Prefecture Apostolic of the lower Niger between 1889 and 1920. The Prefecture covered the entire land area within the east of the River Niger and to the South of River Benue. In 1920, its status within the Catholic Church was raised to that of Vicariate Apostolic of Southern Nigeria though maintaining its boundaries.
The missionary priests who first evangelized in this area were French Holy Ghost Fathers in 1880. They were joined by Holy Ghost Priests and brothers from Ireland, and it was the latter who from 1911 began to make contact with the Benue in the Northern part of the Vicariate.
The strategy to evangelize the lower Benue was hinged on the notion of the Tiv Mission. The idea was to launch an evangelizing drive from Ogoja in Cross River State. In February 1917 Propaganda Fide appointed Pere Dourvry Apostolic Administrator for the whole of Cameroon, a daunting task which he however carried out commendably well. Douvry was nevertheless always anxious to return to Nigeria to carry out a project that seems to have haunted him for many years, that was to bring the gospel to the Tiv people. He returned to Paris in August 1920 and resigned as Apostolic Administrator. Joseph Shanahan, the Vicar Apostolic, for the Tiv project visited Pope Benedict XV in September 1920 and presented Pere Douvry who the Holy Father gave special blessing for the Tiv Mission. Father Douvry was succeeded by Father Eugene Groetz.
In 1929 Father Joseph Soul one of the General Councillors, came to the Vicariate for an official visitation. At the end of his visit he found time to spare, so he visited Obudu and from there moved into Tivland. Soul spent a short time among the Tiv, but impressions he had did not leave him when he returned to Paris. He kept thinking about the abandoned state of the Tiv and all other people of Northern Nigeria.
Father Soul's visit to Tivland was however providential. The accidental visit resulted in the Spiritans finally deciding to make some serious attempt to evangelize the people of the lower Benue, the Tiv, Idoma, Igala and other smaller groups. The task was taken up by German Spiritans, and by 1930 the first contingent of four priests and two brothers arrived, exactly 45 years after Joseph Lutz and his companies established themselves at Onitsha. Their Apostolic zeal and energy were such that by 1934 the areas of the civil territory of Benue province, Northern Nigeria was made into the Prefecture Apostolic of Benue with its centre first at Makurdi, and later at Otukpo. The German priests and brothers made tremendous efforts and covered the whole area from Idah on the River Niger to Wukari near the boundary of Benue and Adamawa provinces. A major setback though came following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 as all the priests and brothers being German nationals were obliged by British authorities to leave Nigeria. By 1945 when the German fathers were replaced by those from the English province, Bishop Heery described the Benue as the most promising Mission in all of Nigeria after Onitsha-Owerri.
In 1959 Monsignor James Hagan, the Prefect Apostolic of Otukpo was made a Bishop and in 1960 he transferred his Cathedral seat to Makurdi, thus becoming the first Bishop of Makurdi. The Tiv Mission project had metamorphosed into the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. Ill-health however, obliged him to resign in 1966. This led to the emergence in January, 1968 of Bishop Murray as the second Bishop of Makurdi.
For 21 years that Bishop Murray administered the Diocese the church experienced phenomenal growth in various aspects of ecclesial life. This is evident in the increase in the numbers of religious, diocesan priests, and seminarians. The hope of a truly indigenous Church became more realized when the then Father Athanasius Usuh was ordained the first co-adjutor Bishop of the Diocese. Since Bishop Usuh was installed on 21st October, 1989 as the Bishop of the Diocese after the retirement of Bishop Murray, the Church in the Diocese within his jurisdiction has continued to experience tremendous growth in terms of manpower and general development. This is evident in the creation of Otukpo Catholic Diocese in 1995 and Lafia Catholic Diocese in the year 2001. On November 28th, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. William Avenya as the Auxiliary Bishop of Makurdi Diocese. On December 29th, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI created Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses out of Makurdi with Bishop William Avenya and Monsignor Peter Adoboh as local ordinaries. Yet there are six deaneries comprising eighteen (18) parishes, seventeen (17) Catholic Missions, and ten (10) Chaplaincies, most of them covering a vast area in the Diocese.
Today the Diocese has a total number of Fifty Three (53) indigenous priests and five (5) deacons and thirty-two (32) Seminarians. Most of these priests work within the Diocese, while others are pursuing further studies in Rome, USA, and Nigeria. Some are teaching at the major seminary in Makurdi, the Benue State University, and colleges, while some have been assigned to pastoral work in Abuja Archdiocese and Lafia Diocese.
On July 8, 2014 Pope Francis appointed Father Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe cmf as the Coadjutor Bishop of Makurdi Diocese. He was ordained on October 4, 2014 at IBB Square in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
The Charles Lwanga Preparatory Seminary formerly at Aliade, has moved to its permanent site in Makurdi. The Diocese is also involved in Medical/Health ministry as well as Education and Communication apostolate. Education which is an indispensable instrument par excellence for effecting individual liberation and national development is equally given great attention as evident in the many schools owned by the Diocese. The publication of The Catholic Star Newspaper of the Diocese to satisfy the yearning for information dissemination in and outside the Diocese shows the importance the Church has attached to society building.
It is indeed a thing of joy to say with the great Apostle Paul "Thanks be to God who has done this. I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the growth (I Cor.3:6).