THE LONGEST SERVING MISSIONARY TEACHER IN NIGERIA, FR ANGUS FRASER IS GONE

Fr. Fraser was born on a Saturday, the 18th day of April, 1931 into a modest country home, at Cane Cove Grove House in the Buccamount Valley, St Vincent Island in the Caribbean. The home was full of love with all the siblings close-knit. He started schooling at Clark Primary School, and then went to St. Vincent Grammar School where he chanced upon Catholicism.

Angus’ conversion to Catholicism was purely by accident. Having grown up in a predominantly Anglican family, it was therefore sacrilegious that young Fraser would venture into the Catholic fold given the wide gulf in doctrinal issues and animosity that existed (and still exists) between the two churches.

He was about the age of 11-12, at St. Vincent Grammar School when he announced to his elder sister, Mona whom he was living with at the time that he had attended the nearby Catholic Church courtesy of a friend’s invitation, Mona was alarmed and sternly rebuked her little brother. “You cannot go to a Catholic church. Yes, we are great friends of Father Charles but don’t ever go to that church again!”

But the boy was immovable. He insisted on going to the Catholic church from then on. He and Mona had an argument, which she tabled before their parents that evening during the daily conversation on phone.

“We don’t mind,” their parents said after examining the matter. “You can continue going to the Catholic church if you wish, but remember, we will never give you permission to become a Catholic. You can go to the church as frequently as you want. We know Father Charles, and the Catholic church is not as bad as people say it is.”

So, it was that the youngster who was baptized an Anglican became a Catholic. It was as a Catholic that he moved to the neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago where he attended Mt St Benedict’s secondary school located in Tunapuna, a school run by Monks from the College of the Benedictine.

From there he proceeded to St Mary’s College in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he got enrolled for his Higher School Certificate (HSC). This latter school run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, was to present the young Angus Fraser his inroad into priesthood, which would enrage his parents. He opted for the Order of Holy Ghost Priests!

What marks the Order of the Holy Ghost Priests apart is that it sends its priests to strange distant parts of the world, away from Mummy and Daddy where the priests must take vows to live a life of obedience, chastity, humility, poverty and sacrifice denying themselves several niceties of the world open to other types of priests.

After undergoing further training and acquisition of degrees: Philosophy from the University of Montreal, Canada and Theology in Kimade, Dublin, Ireland, young Angus Fraser with thirty six other deacons were ordained priests on the 12th day of July, 1959 in the Chapel of Clonliffe College by the Arch Bishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuails CSSp. By this ordination, Fr Fraser had become a missionary of some sort and was prepared to be sent to “strange distant lands”.

After his priestly ordination, Fr Fraser was posted to Diocese of Owerri in south eastern Nigeria in what is now Imo state. He landed in Nigeria in the morning of March 7th, 1961 on an KLM flight from London in the company of Fr. Michel de Verteuil (his classmate) in Kano. His first Mass in Nigeria was said on arrival at Our Lady of Fatima church, Kano. From Kano, they (with Fr de Verteuil) left for Kaduna and then Enugu all in one day.

At Enugu, he was received by Rev. Fr. Godfrey Okoye who would later become the Bishop of Port Harcourt. Okoye took him to a friend of his by name Fr. Ineje who later became the Bishop of Enugu. From Fr. Ineje, they headed to the Bigard Memorial Seminary where they met a young priest who at that time had just returned from Rome on further studies and was appointed to serve as a staff of the seminary. Can you guess the priest’s name? Today he is a prince of the church, Francis Cardinal Arinze. From Bigard, Fr. Okoye drove them to Hallows Seminary, Onitsha where Fraser spent his first night in Nigeria.

The following morning, March 8th 1961, Fraser met with Bishop Whelan, CSSp. He was subsequently appointed to Port Harcourt and specifically to Regina Caoeli Teachers’ Training College, Ibori in Ogoni land but he did not report immediately but rather replaced Fr. Tom Slevin, CSSp who was sick at Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt. Later that year, Okoye was consecrated a Bishop and made Fraser his secretary. In this position, Fraser worked for nine years but lived and taught at Stella Maris during the day but would go the Bishop’s house after supper and worked till midnight. Concurrently, he also served as the diocesan liturgist. All these he did until 1969, when he left Nigeria on December 8,1969 for Sao Tome at the height of the Nigerian Civil war on an errand for his Bishop (Okoye).

While out of Nigeria, Fr. Fraser was later appointed Bursar of the Scholasticate at Aldenham Radlett.  This was about March, 1970. It was while working at the scholasticate that Bishop Donal Murray then Bishop of Makurdi Diocese came visiting and told him “you must come back to Nigeria, but this time not to Port Harcourt but to Makurdi”. All Fraser would say was, “Yes my Lord”.

With a visa obtained for him by Bishop Murray, Fraser returned to Nigeria but first stayed with the Jesuits in Port Harcourt. From Port Harcourt, Fraser was conveyed in a small pickup by Fr. Desmond Bryne, CSSp to Makurdi. At Otukpo, they were joined by a young lady who had volunteered for the sisterhood in the new congregation that was begun by Bishop Murray. That young lady later became Sr Christiana Obe.

On arrival in Makurdi, Bishop Murray took Fraser to Mt. St. Gabriel’s Secondary School and told him ‘”I am making you principal of Mt. St. Gabriel’s Secondary School”. At that time, Mr. Eugene O’Connor was the school’s second principal. The first being, Rev. Fr Stanislaus Roman. The school itself was founded in 1964 by the Catholic church whilst Donal Murray was Bishop of the Makurdi Diocese. Fraser had initially protested being the principal and opted to go to Udei where later Fr. Simon Iverver then a deacon was serving. Fraser’s protest was premised on the reason that he wanted to work in a parish since he had been working as a teacher since ordination. But the Bishop had told him “don’t tell me anything”. Though Fraser went on to work in Udei for months since the parish had no resident priest at that moment.

Finally, Fr. Angus Fraser assumed duty as the principal of the school on July 9, 1971 and worked there as the school’s Principal for 43 years only leaving rather unceremoniously in 2014. The first person to arrive at St. Gabriel’s was Marcel Lefebre, the then Superior General of the congregation on March 29, 1964.

For the so many years Fraser worked in the school, he mentored young boys who are famous both nationally and internationally in almost all fields of endeavour. Not by any means the least, his old students at Mt St Gabriel’s includes:
Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, a former Senate President and two-time Minister.
Mr. Michael Kaase Aondoakaa (SAN), a former Attorney General and Minister for Justice.
Rt. Hon. Dr. Terhemen Tarzoor, a former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly.
Rt. Hon. Terseer Tsumba, another Speaker of the Benue state House of Assembly.
Rt. Hon. Terngu Tsegba, a three-time Member of the House of Representatives.
Late Andrew Agom, a one-time MD of the defunct Nigeria Airways.
Hon. Dave Idoko, a former member, House of Representatives and Hon. Herman Iorwase Hembe also a former member, House of Representatives.
Music icon, the inimitable Innocent “Tuface” Idibia.

Under his tutelage, the school produced several priests out which two have risen to become Bishops. These are, Bishop William Amove Avenya, a pioneer Bishop of the Gboko Catholic Diocese and another pioneer Bishop of the Katsina-ala Diocese, Bishop Peter Adobo.

Fr Fraser brought education to both the rich and poor. A story is told of Bishop William Amove Avenya then as Fraser’s student. Avenya who was dubbed the “millionaire debtor” was missing in school for not paying school fees. When Fraser discovered this, he wrote a letter to William which said “William come back to school. Kobo or no Kobo, books or no books, uniform or no uniform”. A man who can do this is the man who cares about the future of young ones. Those words he wrote has today produced a Bishop.

While Fr. Fraser lived, he did incredibly well across the length and breadth of Nigeria where ever he traversed in mentoring and tutoring the young students to be good citizens. Whatever good they do is credit of the good upbringing he gave them.

Fr. Fraser will never die!

For more on Fr. Fraser, read, “A Lifetime of Sacrifice”
Authorized biography of the Very Rev. Fr. Angus Fraser by MSGOLD ’91.

*Copies of the book can be obtained from Mr Diego Odoh Okenyodo, on 08091443322, the lead editor of the said book or Hon. Doocivir Yawe: 07038223331.

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