Our brother Gilbert Thesing, OP, the last American of the Province of St. Albert the Great to serve in Nigeria, has now returned home to the United States. Our province's mission in Nigeria began in 1951 when Fathers Dempsey, Lawton, and Kinsella left Fenwick High School to establish a Dominican presence in the British protectorate of Nigeria. Our brother Richard Lapata, OP, was a student at Fenwick then and remembers well the send-off of the three.
The seeds planted by our first three missionaries have borne tremendous fruit: the Province of Nigeria and Ghana has been for several years now larger than its parent province with more than 150 ordained and solemnly professed brothers and many in formation. It is the first and, until recently, the only Province of the Order on the vast continent of Africa. Not long-ago it embarked on the foundation of the first Dominican university in Africa. It has so far produced one bishop, Ayo Maria Atoyebi, OP, in service of the local church. St. Dominic’s Church in the Lagos suburb of Yaba, where I spent 18 happy years, is one of the largest congregations in West Africa with an estimated 25,000 people attending five Masses every Sunday. I could go on and on.
When the history of our Province is written, Nigeria is certainly deserving of a chapter. We should all be proud of what our brothers (perhaps 35 friars all told) accomplished, with God’s grace, over the years in faraway tropical Africa.
You can read a longer article about the history of our mission in Nigeria and Ghana in the PDF linked below, which appeared in the book Dominicans in Africa: A History of the Dominican Friars in sub-Sahara Africa. Book edited by Philippe Denis OP, Chapter written by Joseph Kenny, OP.
(The top image is Fr. Art Kinsella and children at the mission in Yaba, Nigeria)