60th ANNIVERSARY OF FOUNDATION
ABBEY OF OUR LADY OF THE GENESEE
1951 - 2011
GENESEE'S FIRST DAUGHTER HOUSE
Our Lady of Mt. Calvary, Awhum, Nigeria
The Abbey of the Genesee acquired her first daughter house in an unusual way. Instead of the initiative coming from within the community as is usually the case, it came from outside and far away in Nigeria.
It began with the monastic yearnings of Fr. Abraham Ojefua, who entered the Port Arthur Benedictines in Nigeria. He decided to continue his search elsewhere and went to the Benedictines in Kansas. From there he passed on to Gethsemani, Kentucky, where he stayed for a short time before returning to Nigeria. The Biafran civil war was raging and he stayed in the Diocese of Benin at the village of Frega.
After the Biafran war Bishop Okoye became bishop of Enugu and started a group of religious called the Brothers of St. Joseph the Worker. In order to have a more monastic group Fr. Abraham and the bishop established the Order of the Friends of Jesus. They wanted the group to become Cistercians so they wrote to the Abbot General who sent Fr. Mark, a Nigerian monk in the Abbey of Mt. St. Bernard in England to visit them in 1972 and 1973. Finally Dom John Eudes visited them and made a favorable report to the Abbot General, Dom Ambrose Southey. At this time there were 24 monks in the community some of whom had fought in the Biafran war.
AFFILIATION WITH THE CISTERCIAN ORDER
They were joined to the Order in 1974. The Genesee community accepted them as a daughter house with Dom John Eudes making the ceremony of affiliation. Fr. Abraham thus became the first superior of Our Lady of Mount Calvary monastery at Awhum village not far from Enugu in central Nigeria. The next superior was Fr. Mark and he was followed by Frs. Paul, Anthony, Cyprian, and Bertrand.
The new daughter house was faced with the problem of formation so that it would grow in the true Cistercian spirit and practice. This need was met by sending mature monks to visit and teach the monks of Mount Calvary. In the Fall of 1977 Fr. Marcellus was sent to help them with their music. The brothers were singing in in a high, strained falsetto voice and he had to bring them down to a lower register. He realized they liked to sing in harmony so he prepare some psalm tones in two part harmony which were readily accepted by the brothers. Some years later the Genesee donated an Allen Electronic Organ to the community. Br. Bertrand and Br. Cyprian were sent to the Genesee to study organ with Fr. Marcellus.
Not only were monks sent to Awhum to help in formation but some came to Genesee from Awhum to further their formation. Besides Br. Cyprian and Br. Bertrand who came to study organ, Brs. Paul, Gerard, Bonaventure, Chuckwuka and Patrick came to deepen their monastic roots. Other monks who were sent over to help them from the Genesee were Fr. Francis, Fr. Stephen who would go on to join the Genesee daughter house in Brazil, and Br. Patrick who gave them instruction in the Cistercian Fathers. Fr. Thomas Fidelis from Conyers, Georgia came to teach them religion, and Fr. Anthony Delisi also from Conyers came for a while and then went on to become chaplain at the Convent of
Cistercian nuns at Abakaliki, also in Nigeria and not too far from Mt. Calvary monastery.
Special mention needs to be made of Fr. Joseph of the Genesee who spent two prolonged stays with the monks of Mt. Calvary. He helped prepare for ordination the first Awhum monks to become priests. With his engineering skills he helped them out by setting up a water system so it would not be necessary for the monks to draw water from a creek and carry it uphill. It even gave a steady water supply for the inhabitants of Awhum village. The Abbot General supplied the pump for this project.
The buildings of the monastery consisted of four cement block buildings: a dormitory, a church with sacristy, a refectory and a guest house. The community has never lacked for guests. On Sunday Masses the Church would be packed. Years later in 1994 a new Church was built and dedicated. Despite its good size crowds would arrive on Sundays some of whom would have to follow the Mass through the windows.
The work for the monks in the early days was in the bakery and raising poultry plus work on the farm growing maize, yams and cassava. The bakery used ovens that looked like large bee hives. There was a small opening and wood was inserted and set on fire to heat up the ovens. When they were hot enough the coals were pushed to the side and the bread pans were deposited with long handled paddles. They had a mechanical kneader to prepare the dough which was then formed by hand and put in the pans. The product having a special formula turned out quite tasty and sold well in a neighboring market. Later the bakery was discontinued to concentrate on the poultry. They had layers in cages and did well selling the eggs. Difficulties in getting chicken feed led them to prepare a feed processing unit. They thus prepared their own chicken feed and even made money off their investment by selling chicken feed to other producers.
On November 21, 1981, Mt. Calvary Monastery was elevated to the rank of a semiautonomous Priory. A group of twelve monks made their solemn profession and two days later Fr. Paul Usulor became the first prior of the house. Following him Fr. Anthony Onucha became prior in February, 1994. On February 15, 2000 Fr. Bertrand was elected prior for a six year term.
AWHUM BECOMES AN ABBEY
Finally the great moment arrived when Mt. Calvary met the requirements of the Order and was elevated to the rank of an Abbey in 2006. Fr. Cyprian Doghudje was elected abbot. Considering the unstable and economic situation in Nigeria their growth and success in becoming an abbey was a remarkable achievement. Over the years the number of vocations has not been a problem. There are now 95 monks in the community of whom eight are priests and fifty-eight are solemnly professed.
We at the Genesee rejoice in their success and pray that the Lord will continue to bless them and help them to keep growing in the true monastic spirit and life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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