SASKATOON — The parish communities of St. Michael and St. Peter the Apostle are preparing to bid farewell to their pastor, Rev. Iheanyi Enwerem, OP. After 10 years in the Diocese of Saskatoon, and 23 years away from home, the Dominican scholar has asked his superiors to recall him to Nigeria.
Enwerem came to Toronto in 1982 for graduate studies in theology. While there, he got to know London, Ont. Bishop Michael Sherlock, who asked him to serve as chaplain of Kings College, University of Western Ontario. Enwerem combined the role with a teaching position in the department of history and political science.
He returned to Nigeria in 1993 to serve as president of a new Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology at Ibadan, where he spent six years as the founding administrator. He then became a senior lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university.
In 2000, the Nigerian bishops approached Enwerem to lead a new department they had created, Church and Society, to liaise between the bishops’ conference and the government. The country had been under military rule for decades, and this was the beginning of a new civilian administration.
The experience was an eye-opener. “I saw the Catholic Church in Nigeria in its very raw nature, the good and the bad,” Enwerem recalls. “The church is supposed to be the voice of the voiceless, to stand on the path of truth and justice. It was not sufficiently playing that role.”
Enwerem chronicled the corruption and collusion involving church officials and organizations in Crossing the Rubicon: A Socio-Political Analysis of Political Catholicism in Nigeria, published in 2010.
Enwerem returned to Canada in 2004 in response to an invitation from the Diocese of London, where he worked in parish ministry and took a teaching position at St. Peter’s Seminary. It was there he met Rev. Gerard Dewan, a priest from Saskatoon who introduced him, in turn, to the late Msgr. Len Morand and then-Bishop Albert LeGatt, who regularly visited Saskatoon seminarians studying there.
Enwerem put LeGatt in touch with the provincial superior of the Dominican order in Nigeria. In the summer of 2007, they asked him to go to Saskatoon “to have a look at the place” and report back.
Enwerem toured rural and urban parishes with the late Rev. Paul Donlevy, who was serving as chancellor of the diocese. The Dominican wrote his report, and in due course a contract was drawn up between the Order of Preachers and the Diocese of Saskatoon. To his surprise, Enwerem was asked to join his confrères who would be serving here.
His mother was not well, and he wanted to go home. Asked to serve one year, he ended up serving 10.
For a time he taught at St. Thomas More College, but his service in the diocese has primarily been in parish ministry, which he has thoroughly enjoyed, establishing relationships throughout the diocese, most recently at St. Peter the Apostle and St. Michael the Archangel churches in Saskatoon. “I have had a wonderful staff here, with whom I have really bonded.”
As a social scientist, he was able to navigate the differences in culture, and continues to stress the importance of the laity in the life of a parish: “The priest comes and goes, but the community remains. I would say to the parish, ‘Take your community in your hands. The pastor is only here to help you navigate.’ ”
One disappointment of his time in Saskatoon is that the Dominicans assigned to the diocese have not had the opportunity to live in community as they serve their different parishes.
Reflecting on his time in Canada, Enwerem strongly advocates that priests “return to the schools” and build relationships among children and youth. “We can never abandon the young people,” he emphasizes. “They are starved for faith, starved for relationship. The future of the church of Canada is in the schools.”
Enwerem suggests that the diocese invite missionary orders of sisters — not just priests — to teach in the schools or provide youth ministry. He would like to see more outreach to the growing African-Canadian community. He and others have taken to offering a monthly African mass, but this is not reaching everyone. “We don’t know what is happening with our immigrant families,”_he says. “How do we nurture them?”
Enwerem is looking forward to returning home, to being close to family, and his return to university teaching. “I will never regret being in parish work, but I am a scholar.”
A farewell celebration, which will also mark the 40th anniversary of Enwerem’s priestly ordination, will be held July 8 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, followed by a program and reception St. Peter the Apostle. Those wishing to attend are asked to obtain a free ticket at www.picatic.com or call 306-384-3270 to register before May 31.