HISTORY OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF KOFORIDUA, GHANA
Creation and Early Days
On July 6, 1992, the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua was created. This was publicly announced by his Holiness Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul), through the Papal Bull (an official Church document) Quod iusta quidem, on November 21, 1992. It was the tenth in Ghana, carved from the then Diocese of Accra. On that same day of the announcement, through another Bull, Cum primus sit, the Holy Father appointed Rev. Fr. Gabriel Charles PALMER-BUCKLE as first Bishop of the newly created diocese, who was ordained by the same Pope on January 6, 1993, Feast of the Epiphany, in the St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
A month later, on February 6, 1993, Bishop Palmer-Buckle was solemnly enthroned in the St. George Catholic Cathedral at Koforidua, and took canonical possession of the diocese until his transfer to Accra twelve years later. His first major appointments saw Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum becoming the Vicar General and Cathedral Administrator, Very Rev. Fr Josef Sprehe, SVD as Financial Administrator and Rev. Fr. Charles B. Ahenkorah as his Secretary.
The number of pastoral workers in the early days of the diocese was relatively satisfactory. There were 37 priests (20 diocesan and 17 religious), 53 religious (brothers and sisters) and over 200 voluntary and full-time catechists at the time to take up responsibilities across the length and breadth of the new diocese. This notwithstanding, the number was nothing compared with the enormity of pastoral work that had to be done. These pastoral agents had to take care of the spiritual needs of over 95, 000 catholic faithful in an area that was coterminous with the Eastern Region of Ghana (from the Akuapim ridge to the Afram plains). The diocese had also inherited eight Secondary Schools, four Hospitals and seven Clinics, and several other educational and health institutions which also needed pastoral attention.
To the glory of God, the situation, twenty-five years on, has improved tremendously. There are at present ¬78 priests incardinated into the Diocese of Koforidua. With ¬9 on assignment outside the diocese, 69 are actively involved in pastoral work in the diocese. There are also ……… Religious (Priests, Brothers and Sisters) working in various parishes and institutions within the diocese. Additionally, the number of voluntary and full-time catechists has also increased from 200 at the time to 500 presently.
Two years after its creation, in 1994, the first priestly ordination of the new diocese was held in the St. George Cathedral Church in Koforidua. The priests ordained were Rev. Frs. Joseph Q. Aggrey and Paul E. Dankyi. Ever since, priestly ordinations have always held pride of place on the list of annual events of the diocese. With the exception of 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2005, when there were no candidates for ordination, there have been ordinations every year to increase the number of ministers in the vineyard. Significant among them was the priestly ordination of 2001, when the diocese ordained ten candidates, the first ever.
In August 1997, the diocesan version of the National Eucharistic Congress was celebrated with the faithful from all over the diocese converging at Pope John Senior High and Minor Seminary for the 4-day event. The climax of the event witnessed the ordination of four priests: Rev. Frs. Ernest Amoako Opare, Emmanuel Debrah, Joseph N. Baidoo (deceased) and Charles Amankwah.
Growth and Progress
Bit by bit the diocese progressed by leaps and bounds in just a short period of time. To mark the fifth anniversary of its creation, the diocese, from 2nd to 10th July 1998, hosted for the first time the Annual Plenary Assembly of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC). It was at this Plenary Assembly that the Bishops’ Conference declared a crusade against Bribery and Corruption in Ghana, and appealed to the whole Church – Clergy, Religious and Lay – to celebrate Masses, organize pilgrimages and other spiritual exercises, such as Novenas, for the purpose of eradicating this social canker from the country.
Undoubtedly, the rapid growth of every human institution partly depends on the quality of its human resource base. Accordingly, the diocese has always aimed at the training and formation of people who are directly involved in its missionary mandate, with special emphasis on the youth and other key agents of evangelization (catechists, lay leaders, priests and religious). The idea of a Diocesan Pastoral and Training Centre (DPTC) was conceived right at the early stages of the creation of the diocese. However, a permanent structure was only possible ten years later.
Until then, occasional weekend courses and seminars aimed at equipping people with the requisite skills and knowledge for effective collaboration in parish ministry were mostly done in the Catholic Second Cycle Schools with boarding facilities, which also made such programmes only possible during School vacations.
The first significant step towards the acquisition of a more independent centre saw the purchase of a twin-bungalow by the diocese in 1995 at Old Estates, Koforidua. The then Vicar General, Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum, became the first director of the Centre, with Ms. Victoria Kuusangyele, transferred from the Financial Administrator’s office, as his Secretary. Part of the bungalow served as the director’s residence and the other part as offices. On 1st June, 1997, Mr. Paul Menyisse joined the Staff of the Diocesan Pastoral and Training Centre as the Agricultural Officer.
In April, 1998, the diocese was fortunate to be the highest bidder for the GNTC Warehouse opposite the Koforidua Railway Station and the ‘Agatha Market’. This place was quickly refurbished and part of the building used as the Diocesan Pastoral and Training Centre (DPTC). The change in venue was also followed immediately with the appointment of a new director of the Centre, Rev. Fr. Francis Twum-Barimah, taking over from V. Rev. Fr. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum. His appointment took effect on 1st June, 2001. That same year, Mr. Patrick Osei-Kuffuor was also appointed as the Diocesan Development Officer.
Meanwhile on April 17, 1999, the then bishop, Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, cut the sod for the commencement of the building of a permanent DPTC on a thirteen acre land bought by the diocese in 1996, off the Koforidua-Akwadum road. Actual work on the project began in November 2000. The project was undertaken by the Antartic Contracts Works Limited, with the able and generous support of Messrs. J.C. Ahiale as Architect and Joseph Tsibu-Gyan as Quantity Surveyor.
The first phase of the project (Administration block and Junior Hostel) was completed within a short period of time and on 18th July, 2002, the DPTC moved into its permanent building. On 23rd November, 2002, the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, Most Rev. George Kocherry and Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle officially opened the first phase of the DPTC.
With the building and opening of the Diocesan Pastoral and Training Centre (DPTC), a new chapter was written in the history of the diocese. This meant that many diocesan programmes such as Youth Camps, Seminars, Workshops and Conferences no longer had to depend on the boarding facilities of the Catholic Schools which, hither to, served as venues for such programmes. Besides, certain diocesan departments and offices had permanent offices for official duties.
Progress continued and in 2003, the diocese celebrated its first Synod. It was under the theme: “The Church as Family of God and its evangelizing mission in the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua”. Pastoral Leaders and delegates from the various parishes and institutions in the diocese gathered at Pope John Senior High and Minor Seminary for the Synod. It was a year-long celebration in 4-weekend sessions, beginning from Thursday, February 06, 2003 and closing on Saturday February 07, 2004.
- 1st Session: Thur. Feb. 06 – Sun. Feb. 09, 2003
- 2nd Session: Thur. June 12 – Sun June 15, 2003
- 3rd Session: Thur. Oct. 09 – Sun Oct. 12, 2003
- 4th Session: Thur. Feb. 05 – Sat. Feb. 07, 2004
In all, one hundred and twenty-nine (129) Synod Fathers and Mothers attended. The Synod theme was treated under the following headings: Marriage and Family Life, Church and Health Care, Church and Financial Self-Reliance, Church and Social-Communication, Youth in our Church, Church and Catholic Schools, Liturgy and Culture, Catechetics and Faith formation, Laity formation, Justice and Peace / Church and Politics, Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Eco-consciousness. A product of this event was the Acts of the first Synod of the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua, promulgated on the closing day by Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle in the St. George Cathedral Church in Koforidua. Following after this, the diocese introduced what it termed Pastoral Leaders’ Meeting (Mini Synod) which has since become an annual programme of the diocese. Every year, in the Octave of Easter, representatives are drawn from the various parishes and Lay Associations for this purpose.
Human Resource Development
Very remarkably, the first ten years of the diocese ensured that significant value was added to the infrastructure of the diocese. Interestingly, the years that followed also ensured that much value was added to the knowledge, skills and expertise of the human resource and pastoral agents of the diocese. Diocesan priests were regularly sent for further studies, both home and abroad, in areas that required experts and special training. Consequently, several priests have been sponsored for advanced studies in Theology, Scriptures, Sacred Liturgy, Catechetics, Canon Law, Civil Law, Education, Guidance and Counseling, Business Administration, Hospital Administration, and so on.
Mention must also be made of the elevation and honouring of some priests and lay faithful of the diocese over the years. Of primary significance was the elevation of V. Rev. Fr. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum to become a Monsignor (Prelate of Honour). On January 05, 2005, His Lordship, Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, presided over the Mass of the Investiture. He was the first ever to be accorded that status in the diocese.
Another chapter in the history of the diocese was again written with what was to happen on that fateful day, March 30, 2005. In the presence of a large number of priests, religious and lay faithful at the St. George Cathedral Church, the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, Most Rev. George Kocherry, announced the transfer of the bishop, Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, to become the Archbishop of Accra. Between May 2005 and April 2006, Msgr. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum was the Diocesan Administrator until his subsequent appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as bishop to succeed Most Rev. Charles G. Palmer-Buckle. The announcement of his appointment as bishop was made on the 12th of April, 2006 by the same Apostolic Nuncio who had announced the transfer of his predecessor the year before. He was consecrated on 1st July 2006 at Madonna School premises, Koforidua, and took canonical possession of the diocese with a Thanksgiving Mass at the St. George Cathedral Church a day after. On November 14, 2006, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Twum-Barimah was appointed the Vicar General of the diocese.
Three years after the maiden investiture of a Monsignor in the diocese, three more priests of the diocese were also accorded this status. Their investiture took place on October 19, 2008 in the St. George Cathedral Church. They are Msgr. Francis Twum-Barimah (Prelate of Honour), Msgr. Paul Kodzo Lawer (Chaplain of the Holy Father) and Msgr. Alex Bobby Benson ( ).
On that same day, there was also the conferment of Papal honours on some lay faithful and religious working in the diocese. Madam Faith Judith Adzo Dzormeku, a Presbyterian who had worked for years at the St. Michael Catholic Clinic, Ntronang as Midwife, received Bene Merenti. Sr. Miguela Keller, OP, Sr. M. Fidelia Niessner, OP, Sr. M. Wiltrud Vogel, OP, Sr. M. Lucaris Schaedler, OP, Sr. Fatima Schmidt, OP and Sr. Irmina Radke, OP were also honoured with Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. These were Dominican Sisters who started the St. Dominic Hospital at Akwatia, worked there for years and ensured its growth to become the biggest Catholic Hospital in Ghana.
Additionally, Madam Josephine Augustina Sey was conferred with Dame of the Order of St. Gregory; Dr. Silverius Kwasi Amuzu, Stephen Asante-Ansong, Esq. and Augustine Kwame Adu-Amankwah, Esq. were also conferred with Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.
Away from that, towards the end of the year 2008, the senior hostel of the Diocesan Pastoral and Training Centre was completed and blessed on November 22. It was named St. Poelten, after the diocese of St. Poelten in Austria which had supported the diocese with the construction of the buildings at the DPTC.
On the 19th of April, 2009, the Bishop’s Pastoral and Development Fund was launched at the St. George Cathedral Church. The purpose of this is to generate local funds for undertaking major developmental projects of the diocese.
On the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of his episcopal consecration, Most Rev. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum on July 3, 2011, cut the sod for the commencement of the construction of a new diocesan Secretariat in Koforidua, a project the completion of which will mark the Silver Jubilee of the diocese in 2017.
In 2012, the diocese was blessed with the visit of the then Apostolic Nuncio, Most Rev. Leon B. Kalenga. His visit took him to all the five deaneries and some of the Second Cycle Schools in the diocese. From July 14 to 22, he toured significant places in the diocese and also celebrated significant events. Notably, he jointly launched the Centenary Anniversary of the St. George Cathedral Church and also blessed the Centenary Block of the same Church in commemoration of the anniversary. Besides, he presided over the diocese’s priestly ordination of Rev. Prince Horsu at St. Michael Parish, Nkawkaw. Again, he cut the sod for the commencement of the construction of the Parish Hall of the St. Andrew Parish at Akim Swedru.
That same year, from November 2 – 9, the diocese hosted for the second time in its history the Plenary Assembly of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The New Roman Missal and Launch of Newsletter
It will be recalled that a new English translation of the Roman Missal became effective for Liturgical use in the English speaking world in December 2011 – i.e. First Sunday of Advent. This necessitated a local translation into Twi and Dangme (Krobo), the two official local languages of the diocese. This was ably completed and promulgated ad experimentum on Sunday 27th April, 2014 at the St. George Cathedral Church by Most Rev. Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum. The translation committee consisted of Rev. Fr. Bright Kennedy Agyepong, Sr. Francisca Appiah, HDR, Mr. Joseph Kwasi Owusu, ……………..
Following the local translation of the Roman Missal was yet another milestone. The New Evangelization acknowledges the efficient use of the various modern means of social communication in the Church’s missionary mandate. In the diocese’s quest to be abreast with time, and to heed to this call of the new evangelization, efforts were made to start a diocesan Newsletter, or at least, to revamp what had become defunct. On Sunday 12th April, 2015, the maiden edition of the diocesan Newsletter, Lumen Christi, was launched. It has since become a quarterly publication of the diocese, with a readership of over a thousand people.
Opening of new parishes
The last decade has also witnessed significant growth in the number of Catholic faithful leading to the opening up of new (quasi) parishes and resident stations. With 25 parishes at the beginning, the last decade has seen this figure rise to 33. They include ………………………… Apparently, the increase in the number of diocesan priests has also made it possible to open up new parishes.
As she tells her story, the diocese cannot forget to mention the tireless efforts of missionary priests and sisters who established and built churches in this part of the country. Historical accounts of parishes abound with names of missionaries who had first contacts with the local people. In Koforidua, names of missionaries like Anthony Witte, SMA (1943), John Lemmens, SMA, Alphonse Elsbernd, SVD, Anthony Bauer, SVD, Henry Janssen, SVD, Theodore van Eyndthoven, SVD, Otto Walters, SVD, Joseph Skorupka, SVD and Fred Hann, SVD are household names. In Krobo lands, mention is always made of names such as Joseph Oliver Bowers, SVD, ...... Similarly, the Akyems recall with fond memories the missionary zeal and pastoral charity of Frs. Walter Lichtenegger, SVD, Casmir Garbacz, SVD, Casmir Gergont, SVD.
In present day, the contribution of missionary priests and sisters can still not be overlooked. There are SSpS, HDR and SSND Sisters working in Schools and Hospitals/Clinics in the diocese, as well as SVD priests and brothers working in parishes and Schools in the diocese. To all these we say Ayekoo!
As we celebrate twenty-five years as a diocese, it is important to mention that Catholicism in this part of the country is over a century old. Within the last six years, four parishes have marked their centennial anniversaries: Ntronang, Koforidua, Adoagyiri and Akyem Swedru. It must therefore be said that the light of the Catholic Faith has been glowing for the past hundred and six (106) years on the soils of this part of the country.
At 25 years, the diocese can boast of the following as her contribution to society:
SCHOOL / INSTITUTION THEN (1992) NOW (2017)
Kindergarten 118 193
Primary Schools 264 252
JHS 146 188
SHS 8 10
Technical School 2 2
Vocational School 5 3
College of Education 1 1
Nurses’ Training College 1 1
Minor Seminary 1 1
Hospitals 4 4
Clinics 7 11
Health Care Centres 3 4
Centre for Clinical Pastoral Education - 1
Orthopaedic Centres 2 2
Eye Clinic 1 1
Dental Clinic - 1
Matthew 25 Project
A significant aspect of the Social contribution of the diocese is the Matthew 25 Project. It was started in 1998 at the St. Dominic Hospital in Akwatia. The Project seeks to provide care and support for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIVs) and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). Matthew 25 is the brainchild of Msgr. Alex Bobby Benson, who is currently its Director.
In December, 2003, a documentation, information and counseling Centre was set up at Koforidua by Msgr. Alex Bobby Benson under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua. The Centre serves as the headquarters of the Matthew 25 Project. The name Matthew 25 was chosen to reflect the Biblical statement of Matthew 25:45 which reads “whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me”.
The House is open to all persons regardless of creed, race, tribe, gender or political persuasion. The facility welcomes and assists persons living with HIV, affected families and the public to access information on HIV/AIDS. The Matthew 25 House has gradually become a home for PLHIV and OVC in the New Juaben Municipality where they attend their socialization meetings. The facility also serves as a resource center for students on attachment from various institutions and also for researchers.
The clients receive psycho-social counseling, medical care, and food supplement and engage in income-generating activities. The House organizes regular medical screening for its clients. Currently, the House has fifty three (53) Persons Living with HIV/AIDS and seventy four (74) Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). The OVCs meet in the House periodically for educational programmes, go on excursions and receive their school materials and other logistics.
A 24-bed capacity Hospice is still under construction. When completed, it will provide palliative care to terminal patients and persons nearing death. This is a dream-project of Matthew 25.
Additionally, the Clinical Pastoral Education Unit of this Project also trains Chaplains for Health Institutions and Prisons, and equips Pastoral Workers with the needed skills for improved pastoral care.
Lay Organizations / Associations
The following lay Organizations and Associations are also active in the diocese: Christian Mothers’ Association, Catholic Men Society, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Knights of St. John International, Ladies Auxiliary of St. John, Knights of Marshall, Ladies of Marshall, Catholic Youth Organization, Knights of the Altar, Catholic Organization for Social and Religious Advancement (COSRA), Legion of Mary, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Catholic Ewe Association, St. Anthony’s Guild, Sacred Heart Confraternity, Perpetual Help Confraternity, as well as several Choral and Singing groups which exist in various parishes under different names. Among other things, these associations continue the religious formation of their members and seek to collaborate with the clergy in parish ministry. Some also serve as the social arm of the Church, offering social services and undertaking works of charity to society in the name of the Church.
Moving forward, it is important to praise the efforts of the leadership of the various lay associations across the diocese, past and present, especially, those who take it upon themselves to ensure the sustenance of their association. The diocese is greatly indebted to such people, because without their efforts and sacrifices, progress could not have been achieved holistically. On the other hand, it is also necessary to call on all lukewarm members of the various associations to rekindle their zeal and rejuvenate their membership.
The history of the diocese will not be complete without the sad mention of the passing on of a number of the clergy over the past 25 years: Frs. Patrick Adu-Amankwah, Dominic Piprah, Samuel Owusu Frempong, Philip Innocent Eshun, Joseph Nkrumah Baidoo, Samuel Adusei, Gregory Afoakwah, and Anthony Baiden Amissah. Other notable Religious and lay faithful who laboured in the supreme interest of this Diocese and have passed on over the past twenty-five years are also duly remembered with fondness. May their souls rest in peace!
The story goes on! As we celebrate our Jubilee, let’s be proud of what we have and have been able to achieve together over the years. We may not have it all, but we are blessed with a number of resources, human and physical, which can make all the difference we aspire to achieve. As we evaluate the past and celebrate the present, let’s look into the future with hope. Let this hope keep us joyful. And in this joyful spirit, let us continue to put our shoulders to the wheel and serve God in whichever capacity we can.
In the present generation, the Church cannot fail to make her presence felt. The legacy of our forebears has to be handed on. Posterity must inherit a vibrant Church; one that is relevant to its time and society, making the right impact and fulfilling its missionary mandate. If this will be realized, we ought to rally together, united in faith and love, and strive constantly to renew our faith in the light of the New Evangelization.
Long live the Catholic Church; long live the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua!