Of Many Things

Sometimes after a rain-swept day the skies clear and a golden sunset promises better weather for tomorrow. And sometimes, as Jeremiah said, the Lord provides consolation after tears (Jer 31:8-9). Loyola Jesuit College, a coeducational secondary school in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, has during the past 12 months lived through one of these mysterious alternations between darkness and light. Last December it was drenched in mourning; last month it joyously marked the 10th anniversary of its founding.

L.J.C., which is today considered one of Nigeria’s top schools, opened on Oct. 2, 1996, with 101 students. By now its six-year program is fully established and enrolls some 600 boys and girls, all of them resident students on its 70-acre campus. Of the 54 men and women who make up the faculty, 53 are Nigerians and one is a Ghanaian.

Last Dec. 10, as the Christmas recess was beginning, 60 L.J.C. students were among the 107 passengers killed when the plane on which they were returning home for the holidays crashed in Port Harcourt.

On May 8 America published a moving account of this tragedy by J. Peter Schineller, S.J., the school’s president (“From Grief to Hope”). People surfing the Internet last month could have discovered that this invocation of hope was not misplaced. If they followed up the Google listings of recent references to Jesuits they would have been directed to “Loyola Jesuit Celebrates 10th Anniversary,” a story from This Day, one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers.

Juliana Taiwo, reporting from Abuja, summarized the anniversary events in a dispatch that would have gratified both Americans and Nigerians, because both their countries have had a hand in launching Loyola Jesuit College.

In 1962 the New York Province of the Society of Jesus assigned two of its members to establish a mission in Nigeria. Over the next four decades, these pioneers were joined not only by other U.S. Jesuits but also by a considerable number of young Nigerians and Ghanaians who entered the Society. In 2005 this Nigeria-Ghana Region became the Province of North West Africa.

Ms. Taiwo noted that L.J.C. was built at a cost of $10 million. Eighty percent of these funds were provided by the New York Province and its benefactors. An additional $2.6 million was a grant from ASHA, a program supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development to assist “American Schools and Hospitals Abroad.”

Father Schineller, who holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Chicago, began working in Nigeria in 1981 and was the superior of the mission from 1989 to 1998. When he was interviewed by Ms. Taiwo last month he pointed out that the school currently gives scholarships to 15 percent of its students and hopes to raise enough funds to double that percentage. “But,” he said, “the school is now doing fund-raising in Nigeria rather than overseas, because this is a Nigerian school for Nigerians.”

The anniversary week began on Oct. 2 with a Mass celebrated by James F. Kuntz, S.J., who was from 1994 to 1999 L.J.C.’s first principal. Before he left Abuja the people of the village of Gioan Mangoro proclaimed him Sarkin Yakin First, or Chief of Warriors.

The Mass was followed by a “march by,” a parade of all the students on the soccer field. On Oct. 9 the Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, secretary of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, gave a public lecture; and the festivities concluded on Oct. 12 with a dinner to raise funds for a multipurpose building to be called Memorial Hall in honor of the students killed last December. Frank and Olivia Ellah are among the most generous benefactors of this project. Two of their older children are graduates of L.J.C., and their daughter, Ibra, was one of those who died when the DC-9 crashed.

For the past four years, Loyola Jesuit College has won a trophy for the best results in the examinations set by the West African Examinations Council. Gregory Ugwi, an L.J.C. graduate of 2003, placed first among one million students who took these regional tests that year.

The school does not exist, however, to produce front-runners, although its graduates have done well in English and American universities as well as African ones. “Our focus,” says Father Schineller, “is not only on academic excellence, but on leadership and service.”

The school’s principal, John-Okoria Ibhakewanlan, S.J., adds that the founders of L.J.C. decided from the beginning that it would be a Nigerian school and not a Western school on Nigerian soil. “We purposely built Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja so that the doors would be open to all Nigerians, boys and girls, from all states and from all religious backgrounds. The dream is now a reality, with Christians and Muslims teaching and learning together.”

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