The news of the passing of our most Reverend Father Festus Ogbonmwan took all of us by surprise on that fateful Saturday morning the 24th of January 2015 when a phone call from a Catholic Lay Reader informed us of the sad news. Everything seemed still; coming to rest in that ever perpetual motion of our time through life. Initially it was unbelievable but it was confirmed by further phone calls that Rev Father Festus Ogbonmwan has truly been called to the great beyond.
Until his death he was the Parish Priest of St Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church on Sapele Road Benin City amongst many hats he wore including the Episcopal Vicar for Public Relations in the Benin Dioceses.
Father Festus Ogbonmwan was more than a Parish Priest, Father absorbed problems from members of his congregation, he was a leader who led from the front and by example, provided pastoral care for his flock, a teacher who taught by giving everyday examples; a preacher par excellence, a builder of mind and body and physical structure and a great winner of souls for the Lord.
The Grace of God made him more caring and compassionate further enhancing his calling as a Catholic Priest. The Grace of God made him to consider others’ view points and less critical even in un-savouring situations. He was the face of Jesus in the lives of others around him, in the hospitals when he visited the sick, the prisoners in the prisons, at the funeral services, at weddings and christening ceremonies he performed for members of his congregation and his friends.
Rev Father Ogbonmwan was on the job for Jesus Christ; the more he served others in love and friendship, the more he influenced them towards Christ. He was an exceedingly successful Evangelist. Though he was free, Father Festus was a slave to everyone. He gave his time and life so that many of us will know Christ and strengthen our faith.
In Rev. Father Festus Ogbonmwan one saw evidence of God Almighty through His Grace bestowed on his life. Where ever he went there was the Grace of God in him which he shared unreservedly to members of his congregation. Because there was grace in him, there was growth where ever he worked and there was evidence of it. As Parish Priest of St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Abudu, he worked hard to create the Catholic Nurses Guild in his time and improved the physical structure of the Church.
His tenure as Parish Priest at St Patricks’ Catholic Church Ugbowo Benin City transformed it into a bigger, better and a more modern church where he physically supervised the extension of the church and the building of the Parish Priest Residence. He was transferred from there to the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Okhoro, Benin City where he built a school for the children including physically challenged children; only one of its kind in the state. It was from here he moved to St Gabriel the Archangel where his preaching attracted more Christians to the congregation and he has reached the advanced stage of the erection of a Church Hall for marriage reception and other sundry uses before his calling to the great beyond. There was evidence of God’s Grace wherever he worked.
Father Festus Ogbonmwan hailed from Egua Eholor in Isi in Uhunmwonde Local Government area of Edo State. He attended St Kizito Grammar School in Egua-Eholor during the tenure of another great man of God as Principal of the School, Rev Father Elahor. Father Ogbonmwan excelled in academic activities which drew the attention of his principal to him and in a short while Festus became Father Elahor’s acolyte from where he moved to the Seminary in Benin. He has never looked back in his faith since. He harkened to the prodding of Father Elahor that he should come to God’s vineyard as the labour was huge and the labourers very few. Rev Father Ogbonmwan is the 3rd Benin Priest to have passed on the last two years. What a great loss to evangelization in Benin Diocese.
The pain of Rev Father Festus Ogbonmwan death was further accentuated when the circumstances surrounding his death were revealed. UBTH doctors were on strike as usual without thinking of the consequences of their action so he had to be taken to a private hospital in Asaba. In the UK where I have worked for the last 25 years, there has never been a strike by doctors no matter the disagreement with government. The Black man’s attitude to work should change. He should remember his responsibility to his profession, to God and to Man.
Father Festus Ogbonmwan started off without a parish after his ordination in 1980 into the Catholic Priesthood the same year I graduated from the medical school. He came as a visiting Priest to Ogbahu whilst I was the Medical Officer at Igbanke General Hospital Igbanke. He would minister to the sick and staff especially those who were always moaning about working in the village like Igbanke. He would stress if no one appreciated their work that God was recording their good deed. He was very encouraging. He worked in various places including as a Parish Priest in Ekpoma before being transferred to Benin City. Rev Father Festus was always there for all of us and he sanctified my hospital in Benin in August 2013 and dedicated the place to God.
It is less than a year ago when we gathered at his residence at St Gabriel the Archangel to celebrate his 34th year in the Priesthood. His blood sisters and brothers, Christian brothers and sisters, congregants and friends were all present. It was truly the celebration of His Life on that day. Speeches to exhort him were made by friends and family members and a very rousing toast by me for my Rev Father, my Friend, and my Brother, my co-traveller in the Catholic Faith and a spiritual adviser and pillar of support.
Father Festus Ogbonmwan will be dearly missed by all who knew him. His smile was infectious; he had a good laugh and a very pleasant and sociable personality which attracted the congregation and all of us to him.
May his souls be accepted into the bosom of the Lord, may his family, friends and members of his congregation have the courage to bear this huge and irreparable loss.
Adieu Father Festus Ogbonmwan. You were truly different; a primus inter pares.
Dr Stephen E O Ogbonmwan MBBS, MMED, FMCOG (Nig.), CCST, FRCOG (UK), KSC.