The Missionary Society of St Paul began as an idea in the mind of its founder, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem. He first conceived the idea in 1950, but it took about 27 years for it to mature and see the light of day.
The Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria finally made the decision to establish the National Missionary Seminary of St Paul in its meeting in Kaduna in September 1976. The timely prophetic call of Pope Paul VI in Kampala, Uganda, for Africans to be Missionaries to themselves had created the needed momentum to make the idea a reality. For the institution to take off, Most Rev. Dr Anthony Sanusi, the Bishop of Ijebu Ode Diocese then donated the premises of the former St Mark’s Teacher Training College at Iperu Remo, Ogun State to be used as its first home. On Mission Sunday, October 25, 1977, the seminary was opened on its temporary site in Iperu Remo. Priests of St Patrick Society of Ireland were invited to assist in the formation program of the seminary. In 1978, the Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria erected the Missionary Society of St Paul as a pious union. The erstwhile Vicar General of Calabar Diocese, Rev. Msgr. Godwin Akpan, became the first rector of the seminary (1977 – 1988), and later the first acting superior general of the Society (1988-1995).
On October 13, 1984, a new permanent site of the seminary campus was opened in Gwagwalada, Abuja, for the study of Philosophy and theology, and the Iperu campus remained the two-year spiritual formation house. The headquarters of the Society was moved to Abuja as well. The first member of the Society trained in the seminary, Fr John Osom, was ordained on June 22, 1985, and eleven other members were ordained the next year. Since then, priestly ordinations have become a yearly event in the seminary/Society. So far, the Society ordains an average of nine priests a year.
The words of St Paul “we are ambassadors for Christ,”(2Cor 5:20) is the motto and basis for the existence of the Society. Its members take on the missionary activities to all nations in accordance with the mandate Jesus Christ gave. Like St Paul, the members are driven by the love of Christ (Cf 2Cor 5:14) to “be all things to all people” (1Cor 9:22). Though primary evangelization is its central mission, the Society is also committed to New Evangelization and the apostolate of the printed word. The close partners of the priest members of the Society are the Associate Missionaries of St Paul. These are generous lay faithful who support the work of the Society with their time, talents, resources and prayers.
In 1986, the members of the Society were sent on foreign missions for the first time to Cameroon, Liberia and the United States of America. Since then, in addition to these countries and Nigeria, members of the Society now work in Botswana, Gambia, Malawi, Chad, South Africa, South Sudan, UK, Ireland, Italy, Liberia, Sweden, Grenada, Kenya and the Bahamas.
On March 17, 1994, the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith gave approval for the canonical erection of the Society as a Society of Apostolic Life of Diocesan Right. The erection officially took place in 1995. Since then the Society has had four General Chapters; 1995, 2001, 2007, 2013 and 2019, with one extraordinary chapter in 2008. These General Chapters elected; Rev. Fr Felix Elosi, MSP-1995; Rev. Fr Hyacinth Egbebo, MSP–2001 and 2007 re-elected; Rev. Fr Anselm Umoren, MSP–2008; Rev. Fr Victor Onwukeme, MSP-2013, and Rev. Fr. Callistus Isara, MSP- 2019, as Superiors General. Three members of the Society are now bishops in Nigeria: Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Adaji, MSP, of Idah Diocese, and Most Rev. Dr. Hyacinth Egbebo, MSP, Bishop of Bomadi Diocese and Most Rev Dr. Anselm Umoren, MSP, auxiliary of Abuja Archdiocese.
The Society as at September 2020 has a total number of 284 members. The Society which began as an act of faith and trust in God, has continued to be touched by providence, and it has grown into a large missionary family. It has been a symbol of unity in diversity in Nigeria, and has continued to meet the needs of the Church in Nigeria and the universal church. This indeed is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. To Him be the glory.