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St. Patrick and Nigeria: The Irish influence on an African country’s Catholic mission

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – On March 17, the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Also known as Feast of St. Patrick, the date marks the commemoration of the Irish patron saint’s death and the role he played in bringing Christianity to Ireland. Although this year’s celebration and fun-fare marking the day was cancelled as a result of the Corona pandemic sweeping across the world, millions of people especially Catholics used different means to celebrate the day with pictures and nice quotes.

Unlike in Ireland, St Patrick’s day is not an official public holiday in Nigeria. There is no parade or carnival of any sort but Catholics attend Mass in their parishes and dioceses where he is celebrated as the second patron saint of Nigeria. In a Catholic daily reflection handbook for Mass in the month of March, Fr. Victor Nwabueze described St. Patrick as one who “left everything to follow Christ, to be a fisher of men.”

“We too are called to leave everything behind to follow Christ in fishing for men and women,” he says.

In 1961, the same day Ireland opened its embassy in Lagos—the first in Africa—Irish bishops in Nigeria named St. Patrick as the country’s patron saint. Each year, celebrations for the day are held at the embassy of Ireland with music, food, and drinks with friends and members of the diplomatic corps.

Bishop Shanahan and Irish influence

Irish influences run through nearly every level of the Catholic church in Nigeria. Ireland has a long, enduring history with Nigeria, including its role and political alliance during the 1967 civil war, but especially in the work of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Irish Catholic missionaries who came to Nigeria in the early 20th century and established schools and hospitals and other community development legacies. Many Catholic establishments in Nigeria today were named in memory of early Irish missionaries who came to Nigeria starting in the 1880s.

For instance, Bishop Shanahan hospital and a nursing school which is run by the Catholic diocese of Nsukka in Enugu state, Southeast Nigeria was named after Bishop Joseph Shanahan  (1871–1943), an Irish-born priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit who served as bishop in Nigeria’s Southeast region.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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