More information will be found in the memoir written by Fr. Camillo Bonsuuri as indicated below. The Diary of the Cathedral Parish, the Archives of the Archdiocese of Tamale, the Archives of the Missionaries of Africa, the necrological notices of the magazine “Petit Echo” (M.AFr). “Popular Catholicism in Dagbon” by Fr. Vincent Boi Na and Fr. John Kirby (TICCS 1995-1996) will also provide useful information.See Fr. Gerald Zienaa’s for the notes he wrote in preparation of the 40 years jubilee of Holy Cross Parish. See also “The History of Evangelization of the Dagomba, with particular reference to Yong-Dakpemyili”(Rev. Boris Charles Ansu Tengabo, SVS 2009.)
The Cathedral Parish has celebrated its fifty years of existence. The talk I gave at this occasion came in part from notes which I wrote after holding conversations with various persons who were in Tamale during the period of time which goes from 1946 up to the late sixties. Soon after my talk, Father Joseph Rohrmayer, Parish Priest of the Cathedral Parish, was able to add some precious information that has been inserted here. Father John McNulty to whom I had sent my text returned it to me in December 1996 with the appropriate corrections that are also inserted in this edition (January 1997).
I cannot find the necessary time to do any serious research into the past. Therefore this work could still be improved upon greatly. Yet, imperfect as it is, it gives, I think, a fair idea of the beginnings of the apostolate among Dagombas, even if it is only a summary (meant at first to be a one hour talk) of what could be said on this fascinating subject.
When Fr. Camillo Bonsuuri was still a student at St Victor’s, he wrote a memoir entitled “A Sower went out to sow, and some seeds fell on Dagomba soil” (St Victor’s Major Seminary, 1983, 37 typewritten pages), in which he really studied and analysed the Diary of Tamale Mission as well as other documents. I shall therefore quote him extensively.
First contacts: 1907
The White Fathers came from Ouagadougou to Navrongo in 1906. “There, according to Fr. Camillo, the missionaries were lucky to have the cooperation of the British colonial officers who helped them providing labour, among other things, to build their first huts. The Vicar Apostolic of the Sudan, Bishop Bazin, was full of optimism when, as early as 1st January 1907 he wrote about Navarro, saying how ‘The colonel in charge is asking me to open new stations everywhere under his jurisdiction. He is especially keen, continues the Bishop, to see us in Tamale where Dagomba is spoken (near to Mossi) and where he is moving himself.”
In his zeal, Bishop Bazin did not delay in visiting Tamale. On 7th January 1907 he left Navrongo for Gambaga and Tamale. After his visit he declared that ‘Tamale can become the centre of a Mission’. His reasons were that ‘The country is healthy, there is plenty of water, and there are many people…’ However, much as the Bishop looked with longing in the direction of Tamale, the opening of a station in that town had to wait another forty years.” (CB)
“Having been opened in April 1906, the Navrongo Mission remained attached to Ouagadougou until 1926 when it got its independence as the Prefecture of Navrongo, with Fr. Morin as its first Superior. Then in 1934 this Prefecture was raised to an Apostolic Vicariate with Bishop Morin in charge. From Navrongo the White Fathers reached out to other places, opening parishes in Bolgatanga, Wiagha, etc.” (CB)
The first Catholic Community of Tamale.
In October 1927, a young man called David Forson, also known as Kwasi Abakah, born in Nigeria in 1910, arrived in Tamale. “His father Owuyabul, from Elmina, worked at that time in Nigeria as a carpenter. His mother’s name was Ama Kunyiba. Apart from the Postmaster, Mr France and his wife, he was the only Catholic in town. Other Christians of different denominations may have been there, but he did not know about that. By 1928 however he discovered other Catholics and they began meeting for Sunday prayers on the veranda of a house near the Central Mosque. In the absence of a priest, prayers were recited in Fanti.
In March 1929, Tamale Dakpiema Busagri, Chief of Tamale, gave them the plot where the Mission would soon be built and which is now that of the Archdiocesan Secretariat. They immediately began building the church. Those who did the construction were the following: Joseph Gyinaye and Joseph Buoma, both masons from Ashanti, Peter Ofori, Kojo French and David himself as carpenters. In addition they employed some people to help them. The building had a thatched roof. Doors and windows were provided by the then DC. Mr Miller. The church was given St Anthony as patron saint. David himself acted as “Catechist” to the congregation and taught his fellow Christians what he had learned in Elmina, without books or catechism.
Catholics now assembled there for their Sunday prayers. Their leader was Mr George Atu Duncan, who would later on become the General Manager of Catholic Schools and who died in 1970. The congregation soon numbered up to thirty faithful. After completing the church, they informed the Missionaries at Bolgatanga. A priest came in August or September 1929 to bless the church and celebrate the first Mass in Tamale. After which the missionaries came occasionally to celebrate Mass for them, in Latin of course, with Fanti prayers in addition.” (J.R.)
(This is what Fr. J.Rohrmayer heard from David when he visited him on 20th March 1987, accompanied by John K. Boafo, one of the first Catholics in Tamale, acting as interpreter. David added that he could not remember in which house near the Mosque he and the first Catholics had first met. Nor did he remember any infant baptism having taken place; Marriages, if any, were performed in Bolgatanga. And Fr. Rohrmayer adds in his notes: “After the present cathedral was completed, this small church served as Diocesan store. It was removed altogether to create space for the new Secretariat in January 1994.”)
It is around that time that the first church of the Assemblies of God in Tamale was built near the Central Bus Station. It is still in service today, and bears the inscription 1933. The size of the Assemblies of God church (about four or five times bigger than St Anthony chapel) indicates that Assemblies of God Christians must have been quite numerous and well organized already in 1933. There may have been a Baptist Church too…
The AOG missionaries were prompt to defend the interests of all Christians: “Some colonial officers from Nigeria had wanted to introduce Hausa as the lingua franca in the Northern Territories and take Muslim scribes as clerks. This would have facilitated even more the spread of Islam. To their credit the Assemblies of God missionaries opposed this motion successfully.” (J.McN)
Some ten years after the building of St Anthony church, “as the work of the missionaries progressed, they found it necessary to travel quite frequently to the South, so as to get supply for the missions. The General Bursar for example travelled quite often. On their journeys to and from the South, the missionaries usually stayed at least one night at Tamale.
Fr. Lallemand came over quite often, and so did Fr. McCoy when he was General Bursar. Sometimes, Fr. McCoy spent the night in the sacristy attached to the small chapel which had been built by the Christians in Tamale; at other times, he stayed with the family of Mr Utardo, a Spaniard locally known as “Langa-Langa” nicknamed in this way after the print cloth he was selling round the villages.
Early in 1946, the Tamale Catholics had sent a delegation to Bishop Morin in Navrongo to ask for a residential priest. The bishop had told them he had no money for a new foundation. But, he added, if they would build a house, he would send them a priest. Some months later, much to his surprise, the delegation returned to tell him: “We have built the house, where is the priest?” So, true to his promise, the old bishop sent his General Bursar Fr. Remy McCoy to take up residence in the round thatched hut in September 1946. (J.McN) This community of Christians was made up exclusively of people from outside Dagbong, mainly from Southern Ghana (Akans and Ewes), and from further North where Christianity was already taking deep roots.
And so, on that historic Friday 13th September 1946, as the Tamale Mission Diary records it: “Fr. McCoy, arriving from Kumasi, took possession of the new house built for us by the Catholic Community of Tamale, and on 15th September 1946 celebrated the first Sunday of the Tamale Mission.”
“Such was the genesis of the Tamale Town Mission. Before then, Tamale was more or less an outstation of Navrongo and Bolgatanga. Fathers came from these two stations on occasional treks, mainly at Christmas and Easter.” (CB)
September 1946 – December 1951
The White Fathers in Tamale:
Fr. McCoy arrived in Tamale on the 13th September 1946. Unfortunately he stayed only eighteen months. After which he was appointed to Jirapa where his great talents had already been so fruitful. He left Tamale on the 8th May 1948. (See Appendix 2)
Fr. Tryers, transferred from Navrongo to Tamale, arriving on the 29th September, stayed less than two years. He left Tamale on 26th August 1948 for other appointments to Bolgatanga and Navrongo, and was back in Tamale from 1953 to 1958. After which he was transferred first to Damongo then to Nigeria. (See Appendix 3)
Fr. Paul Haskew, the third White Father to arrive, was appointed superior of the community, but only from October 1946 to January 1947. He was soon transferred to St Mary’s Minor Seminary in Navrongo, leaving Fr. McCoy as superior in his place.
Fr. McNulty, who had been teaching at St Mary’s Minor Seminary, came to Tamale in January 1947. On the 23rd September 1949 he was sent to help in the new Major Seminary at Wiagha for six months. It is there that he first met Peter Dery (later Bishop) as a seminarian. In January 1950 he was summoned to Tamale as Parish Priest and Superior of the Community with Father Abatey as his assistant. (See Appendix 5.) Two years later, in January 1952, he was appointed to Jirapa and Fr. Champagne took over the parish. In all, Fr. McNulty spent about five years in Tamale. (See Append.4)
“These three pioneer missionaries (Frs. McCoy, Tryers, McNulty) were distinguished from one another by the colour of their beards: white, black and red respectively” (CB) “Among the White Fathers appointed to Tamale in those first years were Fr. Leblanc, who succeeded Fr. McCoy as superior, Fr. Melançon, Fr. Deroziers, Brother Lorenzo, and Brother Aidan.” (CB)
A “Feed Yourself” House:
Coming back to the years 1946-48, we must remember that the Second World War was just over, and that it had left Europe exhausted. It is difficult for people today to grasp that the Vicariate of Navrongo and the Mission of Tamale were on the rocks. The Fathers were living from hand to mouth just like the people around them. Therefore fund-generating projects were encouraged, and for that reason the Fathers bought a grinding mill. They also made an arrangement with Mr Utardo, by which they would keep the grass short between the trees of his large kapok plantation of Datoyili to prevent any danger of fire in return for three thousand pounds, urgently needed to keep Navrongo Vicariate afloat.
In 1949 Mr Utardo was so angry when a few kapok trees were slightly damaged by a bushfire that he decided to take the White Fathers to court. The D.C. Eric Packam almost went down on his knees begging Utardo not to do this. But he would not listen. He was adamant; he would take the Fathers to court. Fr. McNulty got the Catholics of Tamale to make a novena to St Anthony for a special intention. On the last night of the novena, Utardo turned up at the Mission that evening, unannounced, to tell the Fathers that he had decided to drop the case… much to the relief of the General Bursar, Fr. Deroziers.
The first community of White Fathers was also doing a bit of clinic work, at the Fathers’ house with the help of MrDaniel Danaa. The entry of 16th October 1946 in the Diary comments on this in the best style of Fr. Tryers: ‘There is a regular influx of people every morning just now, for medicine and treatment of sores. Quite a number of them consider they are doing the Father a service in supplying him with wounds for treatment. The attitude of some is ‘What will you dash me now that I have allowed you to clean and dress my sores?’ The clinic was closed down early in 1949, and reopened in 1950 under joint control of Fr. McNulty and Fr. Abatey.
Acquisition of land in Tamale
Right from the start, Fr. McCoy had put in applications for plots of land for the mission in different parts of Tamale. In this way, he got the plot where St Joseph’s Primary and St Charles’ Secondary are built. He got the present site for Tamale Cathedral. He also got the old Army Firing Range on Yapei Road as a possible site for St Victor’s Seminary. But despite digging in different places on this site to a depth of fifty meters, no water was found. So another application was put in for a new plot on the Kumbugu Road where St Victor’s now stands. We can only speculate as to what would have happened if Fr. McCoy had stayed longer than eighteen months in Tamale.
The Fathers wanted to know the people and to be known by them. Around Tamale they visited Wayamba, Savelugu, Pong-Tamale, Diari, Nanton, Nyankpala (Nyankpal’lana Naa Damba), Tolon, Tali, (Tali Naa was Alhaji Yakubu who later on became Chief of Tolon), they went to Bamvim where they met Naa Andani who later on became Chief of Savelugu Yoo Naa Andani. All these chiefs returned the visit made to them, and they did so with great solemnity. Fr. McNulty went on trek to Tolon, Chirifoyili, Lengbunga, Kasuliyili, Voggu, Kumbugu, Savelugu and Pong Tamale.Outside the sector of Tamale, Salaga, Yeji, Yendi and Damongo were also visited.
The White Fathers’ community life.
As Tamale was the first real urban mission in the North, Fr. McCoy and his confreres had to adapt the White Fathers’ timetable, geared more to a rural setting, in order to make it more suitable for the town of Tamale. The missionaries put their spiritual exercises in the afternoon and took an early supper around 5.30pm, so as to be free to go to different catechetical centres in town in the different languages. This meant that they got back late to the mission house. One of them would take it in turn to say the early mass at 6.00am, while the others had a lie-in, to make up for the sleep they had lost. These were the days of the “Lettre de Règle”, a letter which confreres were obliged to write at least once a year to the Generalate (Head Office) of the White Fathers. Tamale was reported to the General Council as not keeping to the timetable observed in the other missions. The result was that Fr. Scherrer, the Regional Superior in charge of the whole of West Africa, was instructed to proceed at once to Tamale and bring this community of Anglo Saxons back into line. So he rushed down from Mandyakuy in Mali to Tamale where he spent a fortnight, taking part in all the activities of the community. At the end of this, and after a peaceful arrangement had been made as regards the reading of the Constitutions which, at that time, stated that White Fathers get up at 4.45am, he approved the timetable, assured his confreres that “in their shoes, he would do exactly the same”, and congratulated them for what they had done.
Whatever was achieved in Tamale in these first years was all the result of team work: the night school, the multi-lingual catechism groups, the work among Dagombas in addition to caring for all the Southerners, etc. all this was done under the leadership of Fr. McCoy. Ideas were exchanged, discussed, thrashed out in the regular community councils as well as during meals. It is during one of these councils, in February 1947, that it was decided to dedicate this first mission to St Patrick on the proposal of Fr. McNulty who had cherished the hope of dedicating a mission to St Patrick in memory of his native parish, St Patrick Shieldmuit in Scotland.
“Experience had taught the Fathers, especially Fr. McCoy, to value the services of catechists. It was not surprising therefore that Fr. McCoy went to Dagaaba land and brought some Dagaaba catechists to assist the Fathers in the work of evangelizing the Dagombas. The first catechist he brought was Remy Kabiri whom he put at Savelugu and who was to visit the Christians of Pong Tamale. Later he brought Norbert Gurubie and some others.” (CB) One of them was posted at Diari.
Norbert Gurubie, appointed to Tolon, was absolutely dedicated to his vocation. One day he told off his fellow catechists who wanted to ask Fr. McCoy for an increase in the allowance which was that of catechists coming from the West. Their wives found that the allowance was far from sufficient to meet their needs in an urban setting. Norbert pointed out to them how poorly the Fathers were living: they had no bread nor did they drink like the other Europeans because they wanted whatever they had to go into the Mission. He told them that they should be proud of sharing the sacrifices of the Fathers in spreading the gospel. Norbert would have loved to stay and work among Dagombas but his wife was homesick for Dagaabaland. (J.McN)
“Unfortunately, the zealous efforts of these Dagaaba Catechists did not produce the expected results….” The Diary of Tamale Mission suggests that the language barrier could have been one of the reasons for this. Yet Dagaaba catechists did make some contribution to Catholicism in Western Dagbong, even if they would have had a bigger impact elsewhere. For example, Norbert Gurubie translated some parts of the Dagaare question-answer catechism into Dagbani. That was to be of great help especially to pioneer Dagomba catechists.” (CB)
“Thomas Kambi was the catechist-interpreter for the Akan peoples for several years. He was the right-hand man of the priests for dealing with Ashanti and Fanti people. He was a volunteer and received no salary or allowance. The mission provided the pressure lamp and kerosene for evening catechism. Simon Atakora, who was one of the few Southerners who took the trouble to learn and speak Dagbani, seconded him.
Actually, one of the obstacles that the Fathers had to overcome in their early days was the fact that some of the Southerners kept chasing Dagomba children away from the mission grounds. Dagombas even called our church “Kambonsi Jangli” (the mosque for the Ashantis). Simon Atakora stood out among them by his ability to relate with Dagombas: Some of the Muslims admired him for this and for his honesty, and told him that there was only one thing lacking: he should become a Muslim. To this, Simon simply replied: ‘But you don’t understand. If I am honest and respect you and try to speak your language, it is because I am a Christian and try to follow the Fathers’ path. Otherwise I would just be like you!'” (McN)
As the apostolate developed, some Dagombas were sent in 1948 to the Catechist’s school at Kaleo, from which they came back two years later: They were Alan Alhassan whose family house was very near the mission, Neindoobila, and Mathias Napari from Cheshe.
Foundation of a bigger church.
The small church of St Patrick was now too small; a bigger one was needed. Foundations were made and Father Bertrand laid the first stone on 7th March 1948. When the new building reached window level it appeared that it would be too small. The plan was then modified and the building became the Fathers’ house, before it ended up as the present SMI convent. Sunday mass was celebrated in what is now the Social Centre, till 1962 when the present cathedral was built.
Establishing a Dagomba Mission?
As the Catholics of Tamale became more and more numerous, most of them being Non-Dagombas, the Fathers saw that they were no longer able to give enough time to the evangelization of the Dagombas. Although they were of course ready to be at the service of all Christians without distinction of origin, they considered that their primary task was to bring the gospel to the Dagombas themselves. And as we can read in the Diary of the Mission, the idea then came to them that this ministry would be more effective if it was centred outside Tamale town: “It becomes more and more evident that the real mission for the Dagombas must be established outside Tamale, while the mission in Tamale should concentrate on the town” (Diary 27th September 1948). Right at the beginning the Fathers had already felt the need of a foundation in Yendi: Dagombas in Tamale and Western Dagbong, who could not understand why the White Fathers had not opened a mission in Yendi, had asked them: “If, as you say, you are coming to teach us God’s path, why do you not go first to our father in Yendi the Ya-Na, and then he himself will tell us?” The fact that there was no foundation at Yendi in the early days of the Mission greatly lessened the influence of the missionaries among Dagombas… But Yendi was S.M.A. territory in the Vicariate of Keta, which included the whole of British Togoland; and how could the Fathers explain to the Dagombas that Yendi was S.M.A. territory and not White Father’s territory?
The Fathers thought to establish a new parish on the Bolgatanga road, on the hill of Damankonyili, but the government intended to build there a secondary school and the project did not come through. Added to that, lack of personnel and money prevented any foundation. The entry in the Diary, in any case, shows the importance that these pioneers gave to the apostolate among Dagombas and illustrates the missionary vocation of the White Fathers, a vocation to what we now call primary evangelization.
In the words of Fr. Tryers, Education was the main work of the Fathers. Apart from studying Dagbani, the missionaries were involved in literacy classes (which we now call functional literacy). The night school opened in 1947 was one of the first ones in Ghana after that of Navrongo opened by Fr. McCoy some years before. It is there that Contractor Yahya Iddi learned English.
A bookshop was opened in the round house in 1947 selling Catholic Truth Society pamphlets and catechisms. The scholastics (theology students in a major seminary) at Rossington Hall, England, sent out regular bundles of pamphlets. The Fathers also tried to get the literates to read the Catholic paper “the Standard”, trying in this way to counteract Communist propaganda in the post war years.
St Joseph’s Primary School.
As regards formal education, at first and for some time, the Fathers met with strong opposition from the colonial authorities who had planned that only a restricted number of Northern children would go to school. Three schools already existed for this purpose: a primary and a middle school at Bagabaga, and the Methodist-Presbyterian United Primary School which was using the premises of the African Club directly behind the Mission.
Already, in 1950, a Fanti priest from Cape Coast who had been learning Dagari at Kaleo had spent a fortnight with the Fathers in Tamale. Fr. McNulty had taken him up to Bagabaga to introduce him to the students and give them a talk about the Christian faith. When Colonel Wentworth, an opponent of any mission school in the North, heard of this, he came along at once, ordered the priests off the Bagabaga property, and told them not to set foot again on this place. Fr. McNulty was not ready to admit that the colonial authorities, who in 1948 had faced riots in Accra and subsequently published all kinds of Christian messages in the Gold Coast Bulletin saying that Christ would never have behaved as did the rioters, were now preventing missionaries from spreading the Christian message among the students of Bagabaga. Words which he exchanged with Colonel Wentworth at this occasion cannot be written down…
The United Primary School behind the Mission was transferred to its new school building further along the Cemetery Road towards 1949/50. It was these same premises of the African Club that Fr. McNulty was able to use in 1950/51 to house the first Catholic school in Tamale, St Joseph, so called because it opened on 19th March 1951. The African literates or “clerks” as they were called in those days were only too happy that their premises should be used for a school and did not charge any rent. Prior to this, in 1950, Fr. McNulty and Fr. Abatey had gone round many compounds to recruit children.
Colonel Wentworth was absent from Bagabaga, replacing Tom Barton the Director of Education in Accra. Fr. McNulty took advantage of this absence to open this first school in the African Club. Wentworth ordered his temporary replacement at Bagabaga, Mr Page, to go at once and close down the illegal school on Cemetery Road. Mr Page arrived rather sheepishly and passed the order to Fr. McNulty. “Over my dead body!” said the Father, “Now the school is opened, you can’t close it, otherwise there will be a riot!” Fr. McNulty appealed to his good friend Major Burden, the Chief Commissioner, who summoned a meeting which Colonel Wentworth attended. Major Burden said: “The school is indeed illegal, but now that it is opened we can no longer close it. We have to find a formula to save face.” It was agreed that if Fr. McNulty got a paper from Bishop Bertrand undertaking to put up a permanent school building, Wentworth would have no further objection, provided the teacher was sufficiently proficient in Dagbani.
Father McNulty was on his way up to Navrongo to get this document from Bishop Bertrand on Holy Thursday 1951 when the mission lorry was involved in a head-on collision with another lorry at Pong Tamale. This left him with a damaged right hip which only got worse over the years and obliged him to spend about twelve months in various hospitals and finally to use a stick for the rest of his days. But he did get the necessary document from Bishop Bertrand. The first teacher at St Joseph’s was Roger Agighikwena from Navrongo who did a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances.
As Fr. McNulty and Fr. Abatey were fully taken up with parish activities, Fr. Arsenault was sent from Navrongo in 1951 to build the permanent school building for St Joseph’s Primary on its present site next to where St Charles Secondary School would be built. To economize on cement, two empty beer bottles were buried in each cement block. These empty bottles were collected from the European Club in Tamale.
When Pope Pius XII established the hierarchy in Anglophone West Africa, in 1950, the Episcopal See of Navrongo was transferred to Tamale, with Bishop Bertrand as the first residential Bishop of Tamale Diocese, a diocese that covered the whole of the Northern Territories. (Petit Echo 1976/9 No 674) Archbishop Porter of Cape Coast came up to Tamale to preside at the installation of Bishop Bertrand. Father McNulty had to read out the big papal Bull in Latin to a bewildered and bemused multi ethnic Catholic community. When he read that Pius XII was delighted to transfer his brother in the episcopate Gerard Bertrand from Navrongo to the Episcopal See of Tamale, Archbishop Porter looked round the little temporary chapel and said in a stage whisper: “God! I hope infallibility is not involved!” Bishop Bertrand continued to reside in Navrongo for some time before moving to Tamale some years later.
In 1956 Tamale Diocese was divided into what is now the Upper East and which became Navrongo diocese, and the rest which included what is now the Northern Region and the Upper West. In February 1957 Father Champagne became bishop of Tamale. The diocese of Tamale was still very large, and it is in 1960 that its western part became Wa Diocese.
When Ghana gained independence on March 6th 1957, British Togoland was incorporated into the Gold Coast to form the new Ghana. In keeping with this the Vatican incorporated the Northern part of British Togoland, partly into Tamale and partly into Navrongo dioceses. Thus Yendi was no longer part of Keta Diocese, it was now part of Tamale Diocese.
Education work in progress (Tamale town)
As we have seen, right from the start of the Mission, the Fathers had met with almost insurmountable obstacles as regards formal education that they wanted to give to Dagombas.
Fr. Tryers was not put off by this refusal. He would drive his motorbike near the schools during playtime, disconnect a wire in the electricity system, and ask two or three children to come and push him. After some unsuccessful trials, more and more children would come to his rescue till he was satisfied that there were numerous enough to hear what he wanted to say. He would let them push him at some distance of the school and converse with them in all tranquillity. Or he would drive his motorbike near the playground and start dismantling it, sure to be soon surrounded by a host of apprentice fitters.
(He who had been a football player in his school time, and a man with some punch in the boxing club of his school, promoted these two sports here in Tamale, and was instrumental in the making of the first football park at Sakasaka. At some time he also organized running and bicycle racing competitions.)
Due to the persevering efforts of Fr. Tryers, Fr. McNulty, Fr. Abatey, and also to the help of a Dagomba Catholic, Mr J.H. Alassani (Minister of Education from 1954 up to 1959), more schools had to be opened. Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop’s Middle School, Gumbehini and Nyanshegu were opened in the nineteen fifties. St Charles Secondary School opened at Wiagha in 1953 was transferred to Tamale in 1955. A good number of Dagombas would benefit from its training.
The beginnings of Damongo, Yendi and Salaga parishes.
In January 1952 Fr. McNulty handed over the parish to Father Gabriel Champagne who also became the Superior of the White Fathers’ community and Vicar General. Father Champagne was then returning from sick leave. This was his first appointment to Tamale. It was to enable him to be near the hospital for any emergency with his health that he was appointed there. Before that, Father Champagne had been at Bawku and Binduri.
Salaga, Yeji, Damongo were then regular outstations of Tamale. Damongo was, I think, the first outstation that became a parish. Fr. Herrity was there from 1955 to 1960, before he went to Jirapa to learn Dagari. Salaga Parish was officially opened on 18th February 1962.
Yendi too became a regular outstation. Until 1956 it would still be part of Keta Diocese, but the S.M.A Fathers rarely if ever visited the place. That is why Father McNulty had written to the Dutch fathers in Kete-Krachi early in 1950, offering to visit Yendi once a month from Tamale. The S.M.A. priests gladly accepted, and from that time Fr. McNulty and Fr. Abatey, accompanied by the Catechist Alan Alhassan from Tamale, paid monthly visits to Yendi (4.000 inhabitants) and to the few Christians there. These Christians were under the leadership of Simon Atakora (who now had a store in Yendi) and of J.H. Alassani who was at that time secretary to the Ya Na. The priest on trek would usually stay at Simon Atakora’s house.” (J.R.) Later Simon Atakora returned to Tamale and Bishop Champagne got the Bene Merenti medal for him from Rome. As for Fr. McNulty, he was transferred to Jirapa in January 1952 where he stayed until his appointment to Yendi as Parish Priest in 1957.
In June 1958, Fr. Tryers was transferred from Tamale to Damongo Parish where he stayed for some time with Fr. Herrity. Fr. Bayor replaced Fr. Tryers in Tamale, a parish priest and local manager of schools whose patience was such that he could distribute second hand clothe till midnight. His memory is deeply rooted in the hearts of many Dagombas, Christians and Muslims alike.
Fr. Bayor took care of the night school at Changni. He also looked after another one at Kalpohim. He started teaching religious hymns and catechism to children, making use of a version in Dagbani of the Dagare catechism. Fr. Bayor was helped in this work first by Mr Emmanuel Amadu, then by Mathias Napari from Cheshe, catechist. It is in this manner that the Dagomba Catholic Community of Changni came to existence. Fr. Bayor sent the following people to the catechist school of Walewale from 1959 to 1962:
James Abdulai, who later on would bring the catholic faith to Yong Dakpemyili, and who would visit Wulshe Kukuo, Gumbehini, Bulpiela, Dabokpa. Joseph Niendoo, who would be appointed to Malishegu. John Naporo who would go to Gumo and later on to Chirifoyili. Zakariya who would later on visit Cheshe and Lahagu. They went to Walewale, together with a Bimoba young man called Salifu. Clement Iddi and Martin Azumah started their training as catechists at Walewale and terminated it at Sunson.
In 1959, Fr. Peter Dery was Vicar General and General Manager of schools in Tamale, till his consecration as Bishop of Wa in 1960 in Rome by Pope John XXIII. Fr. Paul Zoungrana of Ouagadougou, later Cardinal, was also ordained bishop in Rome in this same group of African bishops.
When Fr. Champagne became Bishop of Tamale, Fr. McNulty was called back from Jirapa to open Yendi parish. The bishop had told him that he had nothing to give him apart from his blessing. The new mission, opened in December 1957, was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. Thanks to the good offices of J.H.Alassani, Father resided until 1958 in a compound built by the Government for the Ya Na and which was part of his palace. There he was, living on his mass stipends, doing his own cooking and his own laundry. Alan Alhassan from Tamale was his catechist and Simon Atakora was his right hand man for the Southerners. Parish activities, which included a night school, were limited to the town of Yendi. It is interesting to know that the Eucharist was celebrated in the Ya Na’s palace, until the S.V.D. Missionaries took over the parish and built the present fathers’ house and a permanent church.
In 1958-59 three White Fathers were appointed to Yendi: Fr. Jacques Haring, transferred from Ko Parish, Fr. Pageault who had been a professor in the WF Major Seminary of Monteviot in Scotland, and Fr. Milette from Canada. If I am not mistaken, Fr. Pageault and Fr. Milette visited regularly about 10 villages around the town where Dagomba catholic communities had been formed. A plot was acquired for the Mission where a modest rectory was built, together with a primary and middle school.
With the coming of the SVD Missionaries to Yendi, the White Fathers were transferred to Tamale: Fr. Pageault, in July 1960 to the Major Seminary from where he would visit some of the surrounding villages, and in this way began the apostolate among Dagombas in this sector. Fr. Haring in September 1960 to the parish of Tamale, Fr. Milette to the same place, in April 1961.
SVD in Yendi. (From The Standard…..)
Fr. Henk Janssen was the first SVD to work in Yendi. He put up new buildings and opened a small clinic for medical aid to the residents of Yendi. Sometime later Fr. Charles Erb arrived and was appointed the first SVD Superior and the Vicar Delegate for the same district. The two missionaries teamed up and embarked on a vigorous pastoral outreach. In addition to visiting villagers like their predecessors, they also used a Mobile Cinema showing films in the villages, and this created a lot of interest for the Church. This was done by Fr. Erb. As for Fr. Janssen, he operated a small bookstore selling pamphlets and books on Christian faith. Later, other missionaries joined the two pioneers. They were Rev. Br. John Klein Douwel, and Frs Connolly and Gelinck. New outstations were opened in Bimbilla, Gushegu, Bagbane, Chereponi, Saboba and Tatale.
The Divine Word Missionaries in Yendi felt that the Christian message must also be seen to affect peoples’ lives both spiritually and materially by improving peoples’ lives qualitatively. Catholic schools were started as well as night schools.
According to Fr. John Straathof SVD, the missionaries dug boreholes, built schools and promoted Primary Health Care programs especially for mothers and children. Better methods of farming were also introduced in the area. However, they painfully realized that they could only go at the local people pace. Generally, the pioneer work in Yendi was not easy. At time it involved lengthy negotiations with chiefs, begging for land on which to carry out development activities.
Sunson Catechists School
When Fr. Erb was appointed to Yendi, he soon arranged that a diocesan catechist’ school be opened at Sunson. Parishes were asked to send young people without delay for training. No time was wasted in looking for candidates, and a number of Dagombas were sent to be trained there as catechists for a period of four years. It all went very fast: Actually, most of them remained faithful Catholics, some of them functioned indeed as catechists, but others left the Church and became Muslims.
1960’s around Tamale Mission
Fr. Milette in Tamale
Fr. Milette stayed in Tamale up to July 1963 and, like Fr. Tryers and Fr. McNulty, he too was very much involved in education work: Responding to the request of Nkrumah who was asking all the Churches in Ghana to contribute to the general effort towards education of the people, he arranged with Brother Germain Lussier and Brother Lorenzo to build 20 primary schools with the money provided for that purpose by the Department of Social Welfare.
Fr. Milette did a lot of trekking with Clement Iddi from Changni in the sectors of Nyankpala, Tolon, even Lingbunga and Tibung, Kasuliyili, Voggu, Dalung and Kumbugu. These visits to villages and schools usually included a bit of dispensary work. Fr. Milette was sometimes seconded by Fr. Van Ham who would soon be appointed to Salaga. Clement Iddi had also to do his own visits by bicycle to Yong-Dakpemyili, Kakpagayili, Wulshe-Kukuo, Viting, Lahagu, Yihimanayili, Nyanshegu. Fr. Milette built the catechist’s house of Cheshe in 1962. (The church of this village was built in 1963 by Fr. Herrity)
When Fr. Herrity and Fr. Vezeau came to Tamale in 1963, Fr. Milette could then prepare to hand over to them his activities and go to Canada for further studies. On his return from Canada he would be appointed to St Victor’s Major Seminary where he would soon open Malishegu Parish.
The SMI Sisters came from Yendi to Tamale around 1962. “They were of great assistance to Fr. Milette who had added the health needs of the people to his tasks. The Sisters went to the villages and they did not just dispense medicine but also worked with the Dagomba women, some of whom became converts.” (C.B)
Fr. Herrity was parish priest from 1963 to 1967; he visited some schools in town where he took care of religious instruction. About 60 children from Gumbehini PS, most of them Dagombas, were baptized at the Cathedral between 1965 and 1966. He also took interest in some of the villages near Tamale, which became outstations of the Cathedral: Cheshe, where he built the church, Wulshe-Kukuo, Yong-Dakpemyili, Viting, Dabokpa, Kalarga, Kakpagayili, Kotingli. He organized CYO activities in some of these villages. Unfortunately when he was transferred to England for several years of promotion work, there was no Dagbani speaking priest at the Cathedral Parish. At that very moment the Presbyterian Church, which had established the centre of its rural apostolate at Viting, started regular visits in this sector. When Fr. Henk Janssen (M.AFr.) was appointed to the Cathedral in 1967 after a short stay with Fr. Milette at St Victor’s Seminary, there was no one on the spot to introduce him to the work done by Fr. Herrity… Among the Christian communities initiated by Fr. Herrity and his predecessors in that sector of Viting, only Yong-Dakpemyili had remained a Catholic one. We should take a lesson from this as regards the importance of continuity in our efforts of evangelization.
The names of other priests who were attached to the Cathedral Parish during the period of time which goes from 1946 up to the late sixties should not be forgotten: These priests were not mentioned because they were engaged in different activities at parish or diocesan level. Among them: Fr. Hague, Fr. Arsenault, Fr. Ouellet, Fr. Gingras.
1960’s around St Victor’s Major Seminary.
Transferred from Yendi to St Victor’s in July 1960, Fr. Pageault visited the villages around the Major Seminary. The seminarians, and particularly among them the members of the Legion of Mary, introduced him to the people whom they used to visit regularly. He started Sunday Mass in Dagbani at St Victor’s, and, with the help of Joseph Niendoo, catechist at Malishegu, and John Naporo, catechist at Gumo, gave regular Mass Education and catechism instructions to many young catechumens. The Dagbani question-answer catechism of old which he had just revised and renewed, was a useful instrument in their hands. Father Pageault also found the time to write a dictionary of verbs and to gather, translate and classify a lot of Dagomba proverbs. He did this precious work with the help of Thomas Issah (Kukuo Yipalsi).
Fr. Beyer was appointed to Saint Victor’s in November 1962. For a short time he took over from Fr. Pageault responsibility for the work in the villages, and did a bit of clinic work for lepers.
The seminarians were very numerous and zealous. Two by two they were going to villages nearby: Malishegu, Gumo, Yong Duuni, Napag’yili, Kanfiayili, Kumbuyili, Gurugu. Archbishop Gregory still keeps a good memory of the visits he made as a seminarian.
Fr. Milette at St Victor’s.
In August 1964 Fr. Milette was appointed to Saint Victor’s for parish work, and took over from Fr. Pageault and Fr. Beyer the care of the villages. Thus was opened Malishegu Parish, centred in St Victor’s Major Seminary.
The parish work as Fr. Milette organized it was very much based on school apostolate. But school children were not the only ones interested: some of their friends of the same age group whom their parents had not sent to school, also wanted to join. Fr. Pageault had already encouraged all these young people and children to meet every evening in their village, outside the house of one of them, for a night prayer recited in common.
Fr. Milette enforced this custom by visiting normally every evening one or the other of these prayer groups which gradually developed into the catholic communities now found around St Victor’s Major Seminary. Sunday Mass was celebrated at Malishegu and Chirifoyili, and with the help of catechists (Joseph Neindoo, John Naporo, Thomas Issah), Sunday services were held at Malishegu, Chirifoyili, Zangbalung and Nabogu. Clinic work in the villages had been handed over to Miss Casey, (one of the Lay Missionary Helpers of Los Angeles present in the diocese of Tamale). Tireless in this activity, she was driving her pickup with great speed and dexterity.
When Fr. Henk Janssen (M.AFr.) was appointed to Ghana after his ordination in 1966, he joined Fr. Milette for the purpose of learning Dagbani and of being introduced to parish work. He was transferred to the Cathedral in 1967, after Fr. Herrity’s departure. I was appointed to Malishegu Parish in January 1968.
But although the Parish of Malishegu had its own church and office at some distance from the main buildings of St Victor’, (on the ground which is now that of the SMI convent), it soon appeared that a Major Seminary and a Parish in expansion could not function too well in these conditions. In 1969, Fr. Milette first, then myself, were transferred to the Cathedral.
The Beginnings of Holy Cross Parish.
As mentioned earlier, in 1948, exactly two years after the arrival of Fr. McCoy, Fr. Tryers, Fr. McNulty, these founders had noticed that the load of work on them was such that they had less opportunity than expected to bring the gospel to Dagombas. “It becomes more and more evident that the real mission for the Dagombas must be established outside Tamale, while the mission in Tamale should concentrate on the town.” (27 September 1948)
I suppose that this entry of the Tamale Diary must have inspired Bishop Champagne when he decided to make of Holy Cross Parish the base of the apostolate among Dagombas, and for that reason appointed Fr. Janssen and myself there on the 6th of September 1969 (Fr. Tryers’ Diary quoted by Fr. Camillo Bonsuuri in his Memoir). It is at that time that Malishegu Parish lost its name and became part of Holy Cross Parish.
Holy Cross was already opened as a Parish on February 2nd 1967 with Fr. Tryers as its first parish priest. Fr. Tryers was just back from Nigeria (1961-1965). Fr. John Desmond, SMA, secretary of Bishop Champagne, was on the staff too. At the time of its opening “The new parish consisted of the Education Ridge and that section of the Tamale Cathedral parish North of the Gumbehini road and extending along the Savelugu Road to Mile 11; then west of this line as far as Nyohini village on the Daboya Road.” (Entry in the diary of the Cathedral Parish.) The parish house had been built in 1961 for the Grail Members who had opened a bookshop in town, and who gave catechism instructions to a lot of children from the neighbourhood.
The Grail were led by Evelyn Pugh, a wonderful missionary from the States who later died in Nigeria. She had a great influence on women and girls and had at one time been on the staff of Antigonish University, Nova Scotia. It was Fr. McNulty’s letters to Antigonish about Credit Unions in Ghana and in Africa that sparked off her interest in coming to West Africa and Ghana in particular. She was a very zealous missionary and she also worked in Wa. In Tamale she helped to push the Credit Union idea in the sixties. It was a great tragedy that she died so young in Nigeria. One of her fellow Grail members taught at the Secondary School of Bagabaga. It was Bishop Champagne who got the Grail to come.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary had built St Gabriel’s kindergarten in 1963, and since there was a good number of Catholics around the place, someone had the idea to ask that Sunday Mass be celebrated in the veranda of the kindergarten, a demand which was answered by Fr. Charbonneau. People then started coming for Sunday mass.
In 1966 a hall was built by Br. Lorenzo, consisting in nothing else than a roof on pillars, following the pattern of the rural schools built by the Catholic Church at that time. This hall was later on transformed into the church that was in use till the new church was built.
When the Grail Members left the house, the FMM Sisters then moved in and stayed there till their convent was built. The house was then free and Fr. Tryers came in (February 1967) and resided there with Fr. Haring, who was hospital chaplain and was at the same time very busy preparing plans for the Pastoral Centre. Brother Germain Lussier was there too, building the Bishop’s Home Science Block and adding rooms to the Primary School of Gumbehini.
Fr. Janssen succeeded Fr. Tryers as parish priest towards the end of 1969; and I was appointed his curate. Fr. Rafael Esteban joined us around that time. Fr. Esteban was at Holy Cross for a year of pastoral work before taking his teaching appointment at the Major Seminary. Later on other confreres joined us for some time. They included Fr. Couture, Brother Alex Schrenk, Brother Case Koning and for a longer time Fr. Rini Van den Oord, and Fr. Pageault.
FMM Sisters (Sr.Sheila Patenaude, Sr.Augustina Saasem), White Sisters (Sr.Edith Podevin, Sr.Catherine Van Kaam) and in 1979 St Gildas Sisters, (Sr.Alice Baguet, Sr.Elise Couroussé), must be mentioned for their active participation in the parish apostolate in these years. The SMI Sisters were in charge of the mobile clinic in many of the villages where we find the Christian communities of Holy Cross Parish.
More details on the apostolate done at Holy Cross Parish during the period of time going from 1970 to 1980 will be found in Fr. Camillo’s memoir.
Bishop Morin did well to send people to Tamale 50 years ago: the tiny community which had welcome Fr. McCoy and his confreres in September 1946 has developed in the way we know: a big congregation at the Cathedral, and a good number of the parishes which today constitute the Archdiocese of Tamale and the Diocese of Damongo. In the presbyterium of the Archdiocese, two priests are Dagombas: Fr. Cletus Naporo, diocesan priest, from Changni, and Fr. George Alhassan, SVD, from Accra.
As regards the apostolate among Dagombas: There must be, I think, about 1,000 names of Dagombas in the baptismal registers of the three parishes of the Cathedral, Malishegu and Holy Cross. There must also be some in the register of Yendi Parish. But, it is clear that, during the first years of evangelization, the priests or catechists in charge of the catechumens had underestimated the influence of Islam and of the Traditional Religion among Dagombas. (But, how could it be otherwise? It is only with time that their successors could evaluate this influence more precisely…) Today, after 50 years of evangelization, if we have a look at the normal attendance on Sunday in the churches and chapels of the Catholic Church, in Tamale town and in the villages around, we will count about 500 Dagomba adults and young adults present in these churches. (If the total population of Dagombas amounts to half a million people, then these practicing Catholics represent 0.1% of the population…) These Dagomba Catholics, together with the Christians of other Churches: Assemblies of God, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, are an illustration of the parable of the Sower:
“Some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, and as soon as the sun came up they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. But others fell on good soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!”
The sower of the parable is Christ, acting through his messengers. Like any farmer who knows from experience that a good part of his efforts are done in vain, the sower also knows that, in the long run, his efforts are blessed with a valuable harvest: indeed some seeds fall on good soil and produce their crop, some a hundredfold, others sixty, others thirty. That is why for Christ the Sower, there is no question of allowing the land to lie fallow, no question of looking for a more productive land. Listen, anyone who has ears!
As we celebrate the Fifty years of evangelization of this parish, let our celebrations fill some of us with the missionary zeal of the pioneers, which is that of Christ himself. By God’s grace, let some young ones among Dagombas here present hurry up to take over the fascinating work of their predecessors. In fact, it is God’s work: they will not be disappointed.
Fr. Olivier Lecestre, Tamale Cathedral, 12th September 1996.
(1st revision: 26th September 1996)
(2nd revision – by Fr. McNulty – January 1997)
An address by the Regional Minister Hon. Alhaji B.A. Fuseini (MP)
On the occasion of the 50TH anniversary of the Catholic Church
on Sunday 15th September 1996 in the Cathedral.
Your Grace Archbishop Gregory Kpiebaya, Your Grace Archbishop Emeritus Peter Dery, The Vicar-General, The Cathedral Administrator, The Clergy and the Religious, fellow worshippers, ladies and gentlemen.
I am privileged to be with you today to share in this enviable anniversary of the 50 years of the Catholic Church in this Region.
Fifty years of one’s life or of an institution or an event is considered mature enough to warrant commendation, and must therefore, be observed with absolute reverence and prayer. Congratulations Our Lady of Annunciation Cathedral Parish, for attaining this age of maturity in the face of global religious intolerance.
The Catholic Church, I must say, has played very useful roles in the spiritual and material requirement of the people of this Region. None of you here needs to be told the pioneering role this Church has played in times of disasters. The role of the Catholic Church during the Tamale floods of August 1989, in providing food relief and shelter for many displaced victims is still fresh in our minds.
No one here needs to be told the immense contribution the Catholic Church has played to this Region in the fields of Education and Health. In her bid to provide potable water for our rural folk, the Church has established the Village Water Reservoir Project.
The need for peace, for development, is the cherished ambition of every civilized society, and I can venture to state that the Catholic Church has been the champion of peace in this Region. I am happy to note that the Catholic Church played very useful roles in alleviating the suffering of our brothers and sisters during the unfortunate incident of the 1994/95 ethnic conflict that engulfed the eastern corridor of our Region. The Church did not only offer relief assistance to the victims, but is assisting the Permanent Peace Negotiating Team through the NGO Consortium to negotiate permanent peace among the people in the conflict area. The result of this peace negotiations has brought reconciliation between the Dagombas and Gonjas on the one hand, and the Konkombas, Nchumurus and Basares, on the other hand. The reconciliation between the Nanumbas and the Konkombas, Nchumurus and Basares will soon follow.
The Inter-Religious Dialogue Programme instituted by the Catholic Church in her social outreach programme is also worthy of praise. In fact, this programme is very dear to me and the Archbishop, and I believe it is the same for all well-meaning Christians and Muslims who believe that the love of God is in understanding, tolerance, peaceful co-existence for the development of human beings. The Inter Religious programme is intended to address any misunderstanding and confrontation among the various religious groups in the Municipality. You are all aware of the devastating effects of these religious confrontations that have become rampant these days. I therefore urge you all to lend your support to this programme.
I am also aware, that an Eucharistic Congress is scheduled to be held in Tamale in January 1998. This is a worldwide event and we are privileged to be hosting it in Tamale. This Congress, I am told, is to bring all Catholics, other Christians, and worshippers together in Tamale to celebrate this unique occasion. For this event the Catholic Church of Ghana, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Tamale in particular, may be worried about the peace in the Region particularly in Tamale.
On behalf of the Government, I am assuring the Catholic Church that by the time this great event will take place, total peace would have been achieved in this Region, particularly in Tamale, to crown the efforts of all Christians and Muslims alike in their prayers for total peace in the Region.
Fellow worshippers, before I conclude, I wish to appeal to you all to keep on praying for a peaceful electioneering campaign this year. God has blessed Ghana with stability and development during the last four years of democratic rule. We should therefore give him praise and ask for continuous peace, stability and development in our social and political life.
On this note, I wish you a happy and fruitful anniversary and may God’s guidance be with us all in our search for peace and development.
Appendix 2: Fr.Remigius McCoy.
“In 1946 Bishop Morin decided he could no longer delay establishing a Christian presence in the fast-growing capital of northern Gold Coast. I was sent with his blessing to Tamale on 13th September to open the first mission among the predominantly Muslim population.
My arrival there was far different from that in Jirapa seventeen years earlier. No welcoming committee awaited me, nor was the government representative there to lend support. Bishop Morin had informed the chief commissioner personally of his intent to move into Tamale and the latter had not hidden his disapproval. As far as the British colonial government was concerned, Tamale was strictly a Muslim preserve.
Looking for a place to stay, I took possession of a big round hut like all the rest houses in the North. In a few days I was joined by Father Tom Tryers and Father Paul Haskew, and later on by Father John McNulty. Together we set about learning Dagbani, a language similar to Dagaare but quite different, and contacting the Dagomba people of the area. There would be no movement into the Church here as there had been in Jirapa. God, after all, was not unknown to the Dagombas in quite the same way he had been to the Dagaabas. And Islam maintained a much stronger hold on its adherents than the fetish priests or witch doctors of Dagao had been capable of exercising. The Christian presence would grow among the Dagombas, but by individual rather than group conversion.
In May 1948 I was assigned once more to Jirapa. It was a real homecoming for me.”
(From the book: Great Things Happen, a personal memoir of Remigius McCoy. M.AFr. P. 206.)
When he returned to Jirapa Fr.McCoy built the permanent church and was instrumental in getting the hospital based there. Tamale’s loss was Jirapa’s gain. (J.McN.)
Appendix 3: Some words about Fr. Tryers.
(Homily given at the occasion of Fr. Tryers’ funeral celebration,
a celebration with the participation of Fr. Tryers’ Muslim friends.)
Fr. Tryers was born in Liverpool, England, on 27 May 1914. Liverpool was for many years an international harbour with trading links to many parts of the world, including West Africa. As a teenager, he was not only a good football player and a contender number one in the boxing club of his school, but he also used to go to the harbour and meet seamen and passengers off the boats. Some of these seamen were Africans. It was there that he got to know Africans on a personal level.
Training and appointment to Ghana.
He did his priestly training with the White Fathers at Autreppe in Belgium, in Algeria and Tunisia, and was ordained a priest in 1941. It was during the Second World War, and it was not easy to travel during that period. For this reason it is only in 1943 that he was appointed to Navrongo Vicariate. On his way to Africa, his ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Father Frank Briody was on this ship too. They were rescued by an American ship and taken to Casablanca, from where they later made their way to the Gold Coast in 1944.
In the Northern Territories:
His first appointment was to Navrongo Parish where he learned Kassem. He constantly went around villages, meeting people on a personal level and listening to their problems. He also taught for a while in St Mary’s which was the first school opened by the Church in the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. He was transferred to Tamale in 1946 and then to Bolgatanga in 1948.
(While in Bolgatanga, an outbreak of meningitis occurred. There was only one medical doctor for the Upper East Region at that time, and the outbreak far over-taxed the medical resources of the time. With enormous energy he set about building local rooms to house and isolate the victims of the disease at Zokko not far from Bolgatanga. He gave them treatment and buried the dead, consoled the bereaved and gave the little money he had.)
In 1946, Fr. Tryers was appointed to Tamale with Fr.McCoy. A catholic community already existed made up of Southerners. They gathered in a small church built in 1929 and known as St Anthony Church. This church was situated on the ground of the Archdiocesan Secretariat. At that time the total population of Ghana was about four million and that of Tamale about nine thousand people. Fr. Tryers directed his attention to the Natives of Tamale and made house to house visits to all, and in this way built a good relationship with the people of the town.
In the many years he stayed in Tamale, Fr. Tryers was always active in the field of education.
A night school was started in 1947, one of the first of its kind in Northern Ghana. Some of its former pupils may be here today.
As regards formal education, at first and for some years, the Fathers met with the opposition of the colonial authorities who had planned that only a restricted number of Northern children would go to school. Three schools already existed for this purpose: a primary and a middle school at Bagabaga, and the United Primary School behind the fathers’ house. The Fathers wanted to meet the children in these schools and, if possible, give Religious Education to those among them who wanted it. But the head masters would not let them in: one of the priests had even been expelled from Bagabaga Middle School.
Fr. Tryers was not put off by this refusal. He would drive his motorbike near the schools during playtime, disconnect a wire in the electricity system, and ask two or three children to come and push him. After some unsuccessful trials, more and more children would come to his rescue till he was satisfied that there were numerous enough to hear what he wanted to say. He would let them push him at some distance of the school and converse with them in all tranquillity. Or he would drive his motorbike near the playground and start dismantling it, sure to be soon surrounded by a host of apprentice fitters.
The colonial authorities would not authorize the Fathers to open any school. Just the same, the fathers started recruiting Dagomba children. Due to their combined efforts, and particularly in 1950 after the transfer of Fr. Tryers to Bolgatanga in 1948, due to the efforts of Fr. McNulty and Fr.Abatey, permission was reluctantly given to open a Primary School. It was opened on the feast of St Joseph, 19th March 1951, hence dedicated to St Joseph. Later on, as the school population increased, Our Lady of Fatima, and “Bishop’s Middle School” would be opened. And as Dagomba children became more and more numerous, the Director of Education had to open more schools for the local councils and for the churches: Choggu, Gumbehini and Nyanshegu primary schools came up at that time. Fr. Tryers who was reappointed to Tamale in 1953 saw to it that nim trees would be planted near some of these schools as windbreaks and also for shade.
– Many of us will remember Fr. Tryers as a lecturer teaching Religion and Social Studies, in Tamasco, in Bagabaga Training College and in other Training Colleges of the Northern Region, as well as in various Centres for Adult Education. The Ghana Publishing Corporation printed his lectures at that time. They were not meant to convert people to Christianity, their aim was rather to foster the human development of those to whom they were addressed.
Other fields of activities:
– Fr.Tryers had been a football player in his school time, and a man with some punch in the boxing club of his school. He promoted these two sports here in Tamale, and was instrumental in the making of the first Football Park at Sakasaka. At some time he also organized running and bicycle racing competitions.
– Whenever he could, he tried to improve the water situation in places around Tamale, by renovating existing dams or sometimes arranging to dig new ones.
– Some people may remember his determination to improve in various ways the situation of the Central Hospital when it was necessary. And many who, at one or the other time of their life, were admitted in Tamale hospital, particularly those who were admitted for a longer period, will remember the visits he paid to them.
These are some of Fr.Tryers’ activities in Tamale. Something could also be said about his stay in Damongo, and Daboya to which he was very attached, or about his stay in Nigeria From 1961 to 1965. But the timing of this ceremony does not allow for it. I shall therefore conclude with the following points:
The words of Jesus that we have heard in the gospel remind us that what matters is not first of all our frequent attendance to Church or our ritual practices: what matters is our attitude of service towards neighbour, whomever he may be. On this point, the Quran message is the same: “To spend of your food out of love for God, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the traveller, for those who ask… this is true righteousness. To be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity…. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.” (Quran. 2:177)
It is this spirit of service to all without distinction which moved Fr. Tryers to be what he was: Indeed, many will keep of him the memory of a man who led a simple style of life, a man with an acute and prophetic sense of justice, totally dedicated to the service of his neighbours whoever they were, and particularly of those in greater need of attention; always ready to give his time, his strength, his money up to the last pesewa, and in time of water shortage even ready to give up his last bottle of water to anyone who gave him the impression to be in need of it more than himself.
The gospel which we have heard also enjoins Christians to be opened to all without distinction of race, ethny, religion. The Quran also teaches that “God made us into nations and tribes that we may know each other.” (See Quran 49:13) And that “If God had wanted he would have made us a single people, but he chose to test us in what he has given us; so let us strive as in a race in all virtues. Indeed to him shall we all return. (See Quran 5:48)
Being opened to all without distinction, Fr. Tryers had the privilege of being invited several times by the Imam and elders of the Central Mosque to speak to the Muslim congregation on various issues.
He has shown by his own example that, although Christians and Muslims follow different ways, yet it is possible to know and appreciate each other. He has shown that it is possible for us, Christians and Muslims to live together in mutual esteem and true friendship. His example shows that we can work together in true harmony for the benefit of all, and particularly of those who need special care.
Really here in Tamale, he was the pioneer of the religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims. In line with the example that Fr. Tryers leaves us, May God help us, Christians and Muslims living in Tamale, to accept our differences. May God foster among the Christians and Muslims of Tamale and of the Northern Region a similar spirit of religious tolerance and of active cooperation to the benefit of all.
The above homily takes some information from two articles about Fr. Tryers, which can be found in the archives of the Missionaries of Africa. One of them is signed by Christopher S.Issaka.
Appendix 4: Fr.John McNulty.
Fr. McNulty came back to Tamale in 1992 to celebrate his golden Jubilee of priesthood. On this occasion Fr.Rohrmayer asked him a few questions on the beginning of Mission work in the Northern Territories. A solemn Eucharist was celebrated with Fr. McNulty in the cathedral on Sunday 15th November 1992. Fr.Rohrmayer introduced him with these words:
“Fr. McNulty arrived in Navrongo towards the end of 1946. Already before that date, Fr.McCoy, Bursar of the Bishop of Navrongo, would on his journeys to Kumasi stop in Tamale for the weekend and celebrate Mass for the few Catholics living there. It is these Catholics, mostly Akan and Ewe, who had approached the Bishop to open a parish in Tamale. They then organized themselves and built the round house (at the Secretariat), in this way confronting the Bishop with facts. Bishop Morin then sent Fr.McCoy to open the Mission. He arrived on 13th September 1946 and was joined by Fr. Tryers on 29th September and Fr.Paul Haskew.
When Fr.Haskew was transferred to St Mary’s Minor Seminary in Navrongo, Fr. McNulty who had been teaching there, came to Tamale (January 1947). Apart from studying Dagbani, he and the other missionaries were involved in literacy classes (which we now call functional literacy). By September 1949 Fr. McNulty was sent to help in the new Major Seminary at Wiagha for six months. It is there that he first met Peter Dery (later Bishop) as a seminarian. He was summoned to Tamale as Parish Priest and Superior of the White Fathers’ community in January 1950, with Fr.Abatey as his assistant Parish Priest. Two years later, in January 1952, Father was appointed to Jirapa where he started the Credit Union, and Fr.Champagne took over the parish of Tamale. (As the Diocese of Tamale covered at that time all the Northern Territories, missionaries of this large diocese could be sent to many parishes all over the North.) In all, Fr. McNulty spent about five years in Tamale. During this period of time he was proposed to become the assistant of the Diocesan Bursar. But he declined, saying that it would be incompatible with his duties to the Dagombas.
When Fr.Champagne became Bishop of Tamale in 1957, Fr. McNulty was called from Jirapa to open Yendi parish in that year. He resided in a building at the Ya Na’s palace and stayed until mid/1958. He was then appointed to Kaleo to be Fr.Kyemaalo’s assistant. He then went to Nandom for the replacement of Fr.Deserres, and to Daffiema where he was Superior of the White Fathers community. He started the Credit Union both in Kaleo and Daffiema.
It is in Daffiema that a letter came from the Superior General of the White Fathers appointing him to the Generalate in Rome to help introduce English into the documents of the Society as English had become the other official language of the Society.
J.Rohrmayer 19 09 96 (together with additional notes from Fr. McNulty)
Appendix 5: Fr.Alexis Abatey.
From Fr. McNulty’s handwritten notes:
“Father Alexis Abatey, first African priest in the North, was ordained in 1946 by Bishop Oscar Morin and appointed to Navrongo his home parish. From there he joined me in Tamale in January 1950. Together we were solely responsible for Tamale Mission until 1952. He was my zealous assistant and made a big impact on the Southerners who, at that time, could not imagine a priest from the North.
I was appointed to represent Navrongo Vicariate on the Eucharistic Congress Committee; this necessitated frequent absences from Tamale for meetings at Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi, Koforidua etc. leaving Fr.Abatey in charge. We acted as a team, he shared with me the running of the night school, and we took it in turn visiting the hospital and different quarters in town as well as the Army Barracks on Yapei Road. Together we recruited children for the first ever Catholic school in Tamale opened “illegally” during the absence of Colonel Wentworth on 19th March 1951, hence dedicated to St Joseph. I sent Fr.Abatey to represent Tamale at the Kumasi Eucharistic Congress in February 1951 while I stayed behind to look after Tamale. What was achieved in Tamale and Yendi in 1950-52 was achieved together by Fr.Abatey and myself.”
Tamale Mission 1946-52
Remy McCoy 13 Sept 46 – 8 May 48
Tom Tryers 29 Sept 46 – 26 Aug 48
Paul Haskew Oct 46 – Jan 47
John McNulty Jan 47 – 23 Sep 49
Jan 50 – Jan 52
John McNulty (Yendi) Dec 57 – Jun 58
Stanislas Leblanc 27 Apr 48 – Dec 49
Alexis Abatey Jan 50 – Jan 52
Gabriel Champagne Jan 52 – ?
NB Fr.Leblanc took over as Superior from Fr.McCoy in April 1948. When Fr.Bertrand went on leave in 1948 to be ordained bishop in Canada as Vicar Apostolic of Navrongo, he appointed Fr.Leblanc as Vicar Delegate during his absence. When he returned to Ghana in December 1949 he appointed Fr.Leblanc back to Nandom as Superior, and called Fr. McNulty back from Wiagha Seminary to be Superior in Tamale. He gave him Fr.Alexis Abatey as his assistant.
General Bursars in Tamale
Remy McCoy Sep 46 – Dec 46
Lucien Melançon Aug 48 – 5 Apr 49
Victor Deroziers 5 Apr 49 – ?
(From Fr. McNulty handwritten notes)
The praesidium was started around 1957 at the initiative of British members of the Legion who had come to SVS (information from Archbishop Gregory Kpiebaya).