Father Raphael: dynamic Nigerian parish priest

Father Raphael: dynamic Nigerian parish priest

Madonna Brosnan

Whirlwind, a force of nature, best describes Father Raphael Madukwe whose accomplishments over the past six years at St Charles Borromeo Parish, Lilu, Anambra State, Nigeria, are testimony to his dedication, tenacity, and, most importantly, love for his people.

Fr Raphael was ordained in 2003 by Bishop Hilary Okeke at Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral, Nnewi. As sole parish priest at St Charles Borromeo he is responsible for the spiritual and physical well being of 3,000 parishioners. Lilu is a rural area, with the majority of his parishioners being subsistence farmers. Fr Raphael is also responsible for the outstation church and school at of St Denis, where he is currently building a priest's house in order for Bishop Okeke to establish it as a separate parish.

Health and education

On assignment to St Charles, Fr Raphael encountered a parish house and school buildings in a sad state of neglect. He has renovated the house to provide a comfortable and relaxing abode to retire to at the end of a busy day. A welcoming front garden has been established with a sign atop the house front, "To Jesus through Mary our Mother".

Two immediate and major concerns for Fr Raphael were health and education for his parishioners. With no clinic or hospital in the area, mortality rates, particularly for children, were very high with Father presiding over funerals on a daily basis. Parents of a sick child would not "risk" the money it would take to get the child to the nearest clinic, but rather wait and hope that eventually the child would start to eat. It was viewed as "wasted money" if the child was taken to the clinic and then died.

Three years ago Father Raphael established a small clinic on the ground floor of the secondary classrooms, which are still in the process of being built. Two nurses (one part-time) run the clinic and a female doctor (friend of Fr Raphael) comes from Onitsha every Saturday to provide free consultations, and at this stage only asks Father for fuel money. The clinic is government registered enabling the doctor to buy the necessary drugs and medications for the patients.

The clinic comprises two very small sick rooms, one with just an old vinyl mattress on the concrete floor and the other with two beds from Queen Victoria's era, pharmacy room and doctor's consulting room. The clinic requires basic furniture, medical equipment, wall paint, linen, and curtains to lighten and give some sense of care and comfort.

If after a day and night of nursing care patients are still sick, they will be transported to the nearest hospital by an ambulance vehicle Father has acquired. In the three years the clinic has been operating the mortality rate has dropped considerably. Four-year-old Felicity Chiamaka Ubajekwe is one child saved by Father's clinic. Chiamaka's mother suffers mental illness and two months after giving birth was intending to throw the baby daughter away on the rubbish tip. Fr Raphael sent for the mother's father to have him convince her to give the baby to Fr Raphael. The mother gave the baby girl to Father and clinic nurses took care of Chiamaka until she could be looked after by Father's cousin who house-keeps for him. Chiamaka now attends nursery school, calls Father Raphael "Daddy" and his cousin "Aunty". The grace of God.

Some years ago the government took possession of all Catholic schools. St Charles Borromeo school was in the parish compound along with the church, adoration chapel, presbytery and other buildings. With the students being his parishioners, Father was mortified at the state of the buildings and complete absence of furniture and teaching resources. Of even greater concern was the obvious lack of a teaching program or structure to the day.

The government teachers were basically providing "freedom reigns" daycare. In preparing candidates for First Holy Communion, Father encountered children with little orientation towards learning and lacking the basic skills of listening and processing. The lack of meaningful engagement in the early years credibly explained the unwelcome activities of the young adults.

Nursery school

Fr Raphael, who has an MEd degree, made the decision to establish his own Catholic nursery school, with the objective of capturing and moulding the young minds before sending them over to the government primary school. Enrolment began with three pupils the first week, increased to 19 the second week, and 190 the following week. Recognising that any skills and knowledge gained in nursery school would soon dissipate at the lax government primary, Father established a primary that same year and in 2011 a secondary section.

A small attendance fee is charged for those who can pay to assist with salaries and equipment. Current school enrolment is 186 nursery, 200 primary and 84 secondary. These numbers will increase come September, with the government returning some schools to the Church. Once under Fr Raphael's jurisdiction, the plan is to renovate the deplorable government building and merge the two schools into one Catholic school.

In Father's current classrooms there is a desperate need for desks, seats, tables, blackboards, computers, teaching equipment and resources. Blackboard paint is applied to the actual walls of the buildings. In the secondary classroom a chalk drawn picture of a keyboard is drawn on the blackboard to teach computing skills. Anyone wishing to assist Father Raphael at St Charles Borromeo Parish please contact the author on 0487328891 or email jesusabandoned@skymesh.com.au.

Madonna Brosnan comes from Too woomba and is co-founder with Fr Anthony Ananwa of Jesus Abandoned.

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