It is a great honor and privilege for me to address you all as President of the Dominican Institute as we commence the 2016/2017 Academic session. Contrary to my expectation, the Chancellor of the Institute, Very Rev. Fr. Charles Chukwuemeka Ukwe, OP. appointed me as President of DI with effect from July 1, 2016, following the end of the Presidential mandate of my predecessor Very Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Akinwale, OP. I express my deepest gratitude to the Chancellor for reposing such great confidence in me by this appointment. Trusting in God, with whom all things are possible, and counting on the collaboration of every staff and student of DI, I promise to work very hard to validate this great confidence that has been reposed on me.
Twenty years ago, during an interactive session with students of the Institute which then often place after the inaugural Mass, the pioneer President of DI, Rev. Fr. Iheanyi Nwadinma Enwerem, OP., asked each student what he hoped to become after his studies at DI. Expectedly, there were various responses to his question. But one of these responses took many by surprise. To Fr. Iheanyi’s question, one of the young students responded: “I will like to become the next DI President.” That response drew a lot of laughter and Fr. Iheanyi jocularly responded: “So you are eyeing my seat, you want to take over my job? Okay we shall see about that”, giving room for further laughter as the interactive session continued. That young student was me!
I must confess that my spontaneous intervention that day was intended to be a joke and I believe that everyone in that hall—the Hall of Martyrs—including Fr. Iheanyi, had taken it as one. Although I did express that day the desire to become DI’s President but I never consciously set out or worked towards it. On the contrary I had always wanted my friend and colleague, Rev. Fr. Michael Akpoghiran, OP to become DI’s President. Well, Divine Providence has, in His inscrutable wisdom, arranged that one of us in that 1994 pioneer class will become the first DI alumnus to head this institution twenty-two years later.
I must acknowledge that this is another of many marvels the Lord has done in my life. As I have often explained to people, I see my name, Chukwuemekalum—God has done marvels for me—always play out in the various events and circumstances of my life. And so in the words of the Psalmist I would say: Not unto us O Lord, not unto us, but to your Name be glory for your love and faithfulness (Ps. 115). And using those beautiful words of praise by St. Paul, I would further add, “To the King of ages, the immortal, the invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen! (1 Tim 1: 17).
The appointment of one of the pioneer students of the Institute as President is, indeed, a culmination of the success story of the Dominican Institute in its very brief history. It is the fruit of years of committed service put in by both the Founding Fathers of DI and so many lecturers who for years, shaped and continue to shape the hearts and minds of students, including myself. And so while the credit goes to God the Author and Source of all we are and have, credit must also go to the Founding Fathers and to the past and present lectures of DI. Today I stand tall, in spite of my limited height, on the shoulders of these men and women who built DI and formed its students with their sweat and dedicated service. I would like to take a little bit of your time to acknowledge some of them.
Distinguished colleagues, staff, students and invited guests, I cannot sufficiently acknowledge and laud the pivotal role and contributions of the Founding Fathers of DI. These include Rev. Fr. “Alhaji” Prof. Joseph Kenny, OP of blessed memory, Rev. Fr. Iheanyi Nwadinma Enwerem, OP. the Pioneer President of DI and others. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be fully paid. Along with our Founding Fathers, we also owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneer lecturers of the Institute. These were men and women who saw to the actualization of the vision and mission of the Institute as conceived by our Founding Fathers. Some of them have remained committed lecturers in DI even to this day. It is proper, even at the risk of boring you, that I recognize at least a few of them by name. I acknowledge heartily the Grand Rabbi of the Dominican Institute Rev. Fr. Clement Dioka, OP. He was both my student master and teacher. He is a distinguished scripture scholar and yet a very simple priest who has formed generations of priests and sisters and I guess one or more bishops. The Institute is, indeed, very grateful for your years of dedicated service. We still have in our teaching faculty Prof. Isaac Ukpokolo of the University of Ibadan. He is one of the pioneer lecturers of DI. He taught us, the pioneer students the rudiments of philosophy. We are very grateful that he has remained a very close collaborator of the Institute. There are many other pioneer lecturers of DI who selflessly dedicated themselvesduring the early years of the Institute; these include Rev. Fr. Jean Pierre Chevrolet of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), Prof. Sarah Oloko, formerly of University of Lagos, Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Akinwale, Rev. Fr. Edward Riley, and so many others. We acknowledge and deeply appreciate their immense contributions to the foundational years of DI. We cannot fail to mention at least one among several pioneer benefactors and collaborators of DI in the person of Dr. Mrs. Pat Bello. We thank her and all other early benefactors and friends of DI who helped to midwife the birth and survival of DI.
In a different forum, each of these categories of persons will be duly acknowledged by name the success of DI was not achieved only by the contributions of the Academic staff of the Institute. Without the selfless and committed service of both the pioneer and present Administrative staff, much of what DI has achieved would not have been possible. Hence, we owe a lot of gratitude to the pioneer Registrar of the Institute, Rev. Fr. JohnBosco Ikemeh, OP, currently on mission in Charleston, SC. USA. He closely collaborated with Fr. Enwerem during the teething years of the Institute. The Institute acknowledges your enormous contributions. The same debt of gratitude is owed to his successor, Rev. Fr. Fidelis Okudolo, OP, currently serving as Associate Pastor at St. Patrick Parish, Agbor Obi, Delta State. Words are grossly insufficient to express the Institute’s appreciation to the immediate past Registrar of the Institute, Rev. Fr. Kenneth Nkadi, OP. For eighteen (18) years, Fr. Nkadi diligently served as Registrar of the Institute even in the midst of very difficult and challenging situations. I can personally attest to the fact that Fr. Nkadi contributed enormously to the development and success of the Institute, thus earning an important place in the annals of this Institute. Although it may not be known or visible to many of you, DI bears much of his imprints. We thank you for your unflinching support and dedication to the Institute. We thank you for graciously accepting to continue to serve the Institute as Bursar. May the Lord continue to renew your energy and zeal. I would like also to express my sincere appreciation to all other Administrative staff who have dedicated long years of service to the Institute. Permit me to single out one of them, Mrs. Titilayo Abijo, who has dedicatedly worked for close to seventeen years in DI. We are very appreciative of your loyalty and dedication to the Institute. We pray that you all will continue to show the same degree of selfless dedication.
It goes without saying that without the sterling leadership of my predecessors, DI’s story would have been different. Again, I would like to pay very special tribute to Very Rev. Fr. Iheanyi Nwadinma Enwerem, OP. He wears the double hat of being a Founding Father and the pioneer President of the Institute. As President he laid very solid academic and institutional tradition which gave DI its unique character and identity. He had big dreams and great vision for the Institute, and dedicated his time and energy to realizing them. Sadly, the circumstances of a certain period of our history as a Province truncated those dreams. Nevertheless, he was able to establish very strong foundations in those few years he served as DI’s pioneer President. The institute will forever remain indebted to you. May God bless you. We heartily thank Very Rev. Fr. ChrisAngelo Otuibe, OP. who succeeded Fr. Enwerem as President and who taught in DI for several years. You served the Institute at a critical moment in her history and successfully steered the wheels of the Institute’s ship which kept it from foundering. We sincerely acknowledge and appreciate your contributions. Our greatest gratitude goes to my immediate predecessor Very Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Akinwale, OP. For the past twelve (12) years, you skillfully guided the wheels of the Institute and established it as an important theological institution. The Institute is greatly proud of your intellectual and academic accomplishments which in many ways have rubbed off on the Institute. We thank you for insisting on high intellectual standards and moral integrity. Throughout your tenure, you continued to teach many courses both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This clearly attests to your strong commitment to intellectual and academic pursuit. We appreciate the fact that you have chosen to teach for one more academic session before proceeding on a well-deserved sabbatical. The Institute will continue to cherish your enormous contributions. We are optimistic that you will continue to employ your academic and administrative experience and skills for the growth and development of the Institute. We will continue to pray for your wellbeing.
I would also wish to acknowledge the important contributions of other key management staff who by virtue of their various offices collaborated with my predecessors in building up the Institute. These include the former Deans, such as Rev. Fr. Reginald Nnamdi of Okigwe Diocese. Incidentally the wake keep of his younger brother, Tony Nnamdi, will be held this evening in their hometown Ikenanzizi, Obowo, Imo State. May he rest with the Lord. Amen. We acknowledge the contributions of Fr. Prof. Joseph Kenny, OP. of blessed memory. His contributions are unquantifiable. We equally thank Rev. Fr. Ben Faneye, OP who was my immediate predecessor as Dean. We also acknowledge the contributions of the former Heads of Departments, among which include Rev. Fr. Jude Amaoh-Dawson, OP. of blessed memory. The Institute greatly misses your presence and contributions. We also thank Rev. Fr. Jude Mbukanma, OP. for all his academic and administrative contributions to the Institute.
My having dedicated a significant part of this speech to appreciating certain person may appear a complete waste of time. On the contrary, it is absolutely important that we duly recognize the contributions of these men and women considering the fact that DI’s top management positions are now being gradually taken up by alumni of the Institute. This development confirms the effective and dedicated labors of our institutional ancestors. In addition, therefore, to the office of the President, the office of the Registrar and that of the Dean of Studies are now being occupied by alumni of the Institute. I am happy to announce that Rev. Fr. Samuel Onyiba, OP, is now the Acting Registrar of the Institute and Rev. Fr. Benjamin Kwaghgba, OP, who recently completed his doctorate at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Salamanca, Spain is appointed Acting Dean of the Institute. These are two alumni formed in the intellectual and academic anvil of the Dominican Institute. It is a great milestone in the history of the Institute and we are, indeed, grateful to God and to our forebears.
In a way, I consider myself and my other colleagues such as Rev. Frs. Michael Akpoghiran, OP., Shola Adewole, OP., Slyvanus Anyadiegwu, OP., Tukura Michael, OP., Wilfred Chiwetalu, CssR, George Okorigwe, CssR, and the rest as the immediate disciples of the Founding Fathers of the Dominican Institute. Therefore, like the Apostolic Fathers and other early Fathers of the Church, who were privileged witnesses and authentic bearers of the Apostolic tradition, we too can be considered privileged witnesses and bearers of the tradition of the Dominican Institute. It is this tradition that I commit myself to firmly uphold and to hand on during my tenure as President.
The tradition of the Dominican Institute is encapsulated in both the vision and mission of the Dominican Institute. In the words of its premier President, Rev. Fr. Enwerem, OP., the Dominican Institute must always strive to be, especially in the midst of a parched and scorched desert, an Oasis of Excellence. As an Oasis of Excellence, the institute strives to form young men and women who by their commitment to the pursuit of excellence will serve as catalysts and transformative forces within the very heart of both church and society.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, several individual and institutional attestations—either from those to which we are affiliated, or from institutions that have oversight functions, such as the NUC—confirm that DI’s vision and mission of being an Oasis of Excellence is not mere rhetoric. In fact, we just received the report of the last NUC Accreditation visitation, and I am pleased to announce to you that our Philosophy program was given full accreditation. This, if my records are correct, will be the third full accreditation in a row. What else can better demonstrate DI’s commitment to excellence?
We are proud that several of its graduates have taken up key ecclesiastical and civil positions. As President, I am deeply committed to pursuing and consolidating this Institutional vision and mission. The pursuit of excellence will, therefore, constitute the hallmark of my administration. With the mercy and grace of God and the collaboration of each of you, I will restructure and consolidate the Institute for greater excellence. Excellence is a very rigorous virtue. Like other virtues, it demands a lot of discipline, sacrifice and commitment. These are values I will demand first of myself, and then of every staff and student of the Institute. And so, I would like to make a passionate appeal to all the teaching faculty of the Institute, both full-time and part-time: the burden of excellence rests on our shoulders. We must be very wary of encouraging and sustaining mediocrity. We may advertently or inadvertently do so when we fail or refuse to make the necessary demands on our students by not teaching the full curriculum that ought to be taught, not giving research papers and assignments, giving over-bloated grades, infrequent class attendance or any other behavior that does not challenge students to strive for excellence.
I would also want to call your attention to a cardinal pedagogical principle and value of the Dominican Institute, namely, the importance of research. The Founding Fathers of DI envisaged an Institute where students are not taught answers but are taught to discover answers themselves. They wanted students who do not merely memorize and regurgitate answers but who, rather, are capable of creative and critical thinking. Our role, therefore, is to subject our students to the rigors of research so that they can learn how and where to find answers to whatever questions they may be confronted with in future. For this reason, we must be very vigilant and watch out for students who seek easy way out by simply resorting to internet resources. We must insist that students read the primary authors and other major texts. We will be failing in our duties if we do not insist that our students learn the rigors of primary research. We may become unpopular on account of this, but there is no option to this since, mediocrity is too high a price for our society to pay when we fail to motivate our students towards excellence.
But our students can only begin to strive for excellence if we ourselves first do the same. It requires, therefore, that we too must nurture a spirit and culture of excellence. We must be willing to spend long hours preparing our lectures and grading our students. We must constantly seek to improve our knowledge of various subject matters through continuous research and refrain from rehashing stale ideas and repeating old lecture notes. In a word, we must constantly update ourselves so that our students too can stay updated. At this juncture, I would like to highlight the importance of academic research and publications. We cannot excel as an institute if our lecturers do not research and publish. By way of motivation, DI will set aside a Research and Publication Fund for its full time lecturers. Details of this will be communicated later.
I will demand the same spirit and culture of excellence from all other staff of the Institute. I expect every staff of the Institute to always ask the question, “How can things be done more efficiently and effectively?” The untiring quest to make things better is the basis of all excellence. It is, therefore, crucial that all staff develop a consciousness of excellence. Henceforth, the career advancement of every staff of the Institute will depend on his/her creative and excellent performance. There will be no room whatsoever for mediocrity.
Needless to say, I will demand even greater standard of excellence from each DI student. There will be no room for students who merely wish to pass exams rather than commit themselves to serious learning. For this reason, academic offences such as plagiarism or exam malpractice will continue to attract severe sanctions as stipulated in the byelaws. These offences go against the very spirit of excellence which you all should strive for. I invite you, therefore, to strive for the best at all times. You must appreciate and esteem lecturers who task you and continually seek to push forward the boundaries of your academic and intellectual knowledge. You must always bear in mind that any lecturer who does not stimulate and challenge you intellectually by failing to set high academic standards or make serious demands of you is not doing you a favor. Rather, he/she is robbing you of your finest opportunities. You must politely challenge this and if necessary, draw the attention of the Institute’s management to that fact. As you are aware, the Institute provides you the opportunity to evaluate your teachers at the end of every semester. You must, therefore, take those evaluations seriously.
To ensure that the Institute remains on the path of efficiency and excellence, some restructuring and consolidations will have to take place. This will be a cardinal agenda of my administration as I have earlier noted. Such restructuring is necessary in view of the upcoming licensing of the Dominican University. Contrary to what some think, the coming on stream of DU will not mean the end of DI. For a number of reasons which I cannot articulate in this forum, DI will continue to operate as an autonomous institute alongside with DU. This is absolutely necessary because DI will continue to serve as an important center for the formation of the Catholic clergy. It is therefore, essential that it retains that character and ambient that makes it a center for priestly and religious formation. We, therefore, wish to assure our participating religious entities that they have nothing to fear regarding the future of DI as a center for priestly and religious formation. With time the nature of this restructuring will be unfolded. But suffice it to say that apart from the pursuance of the upcoming licensing of the DU, top on the agenda is the realization of the Institute’s quest to attain the status of a Pontifical Faculty of Theology. My administration will work very hard to realize this dream within the shortest possible time.
The last administration signed two important memoranda of understanding with two international institutions. First is the Online Dominican University (Domuni) which offers online degree programs in theology. This initiative will open up a wide range of opportunities to laypersons and consecrated persons who wish to undertake theological formation at their own pace and while engaged in other apostolates or professions. Closely related to this initiative is that of the School of Pastoral and Religious Education which has concluded a similar initiative of offering online Diploma programs in Theology and Pastoral Ministries. This initiative is set to take off from this academic session.
The second memorandum of understanding was signed with the Liverpool Hope University. This initiative will boost the mutual exchange of teaching faculty thus bolstering the cross-fertilization of ideas. As part of the initiative to internationalize the composition of our faculty, I have already begun reaching out to Professors from other international Universities. I am pleased to announce to you that one of them, in the person of Rev. Fr. Cyril Orji, OP, who is an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Dayton University, Ohio, has generously accepted to become a Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology in our Institute. He will be coming to teach in DI in May 2017. In addition, he has graciously accepted to link us up with other professors who will be willing to offer their services to the Institute. As we aim at strengthening these foreign relationships, my administration will equally strive to promote and sustain local inter-institutional relationships with other theological institutions and seminaries. As the popular saying reminds us, “charity begins at home.”
Another important initiative which my administration will pursue with great vigor is collaboration with the Songhai Project, an excellent initiative of Rev. Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo, a Nigerian Dominican of the Vice Province of St. Augustine. My recent visit to the Songhai Farms, which I see as providential, has opened my eyes to an enormous vista of opportunities for both DI and DU. Already, Fr. Nzamujo and myself have begun preliminary talks towards working out some form of institutional collaboration.
There are other initiatives which I cannot fully elaborate at this moment but suffice it to say that in the next few years we will witness a consolidated DI with new operational units and centers of research. Although the challenges of establishing these may appear daunting, the possibilities are, however, limitless. I ask that we do not allow the enormity of the challenges to frighten us rather we must be realistically optimistic and courageous to venture into new grounds. Having witnessed the evolution of DI over the last twenty-three years, I am more than convinced that the future belongs only to those who dare to dream and who dare to believe in God with whom all things are possible. The future also belongs only to those who are courageous to take risks and never hindered by the fear or possibility of failure. The famous physicist, Albert Einstein, is quoted to have said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” I, therefore, invite particularly members of the top management team of DI never to be afraid of venturing into new grounds. We must believe in the power of success more than in the risk of failure. We must learn to be courageous enough to break new grounds.
I am very much aware that without a robust financial base even the best initiatives and projects may not see the light of day. Excellence, it could be said, runs on the wheels of robust finance. Broadening the financial base of the Institute would certainly be the most daunting of the challenges that I might face as President. I remain, however, undeterred because I am convinced that there is always a solution to every problem. Finding solutions may take long, sustained, arduous, critical and creative thinking but solutions can and will always be found. And so, DI’s top management has an uphill task in broadening the financial base of the Institute. As a matter of fact some of the initiatives enunciated above are tailored towards doing that. As part of this drive towards a broader financial base, I will, in the coming weeks, mandate the Academic Board to establish—in consultation with the Academic Council—two (2) Chairs that will be endowed in the name of two eminent scholars of the Institute.
My distinguished colleagues, staff, students and invited guests, I would like to end this Inaugural Presidential Address by acknowledging once again the enormity of the task entrusted to me as President of the Dominican Institute. But I also want to affirm even much more that it is a task that can be more easily achieved with the cooperation of every one of you. I, therefore, humbly solicit for your cooperation. Let us all join hands in consolidating the Dominican Institute as an Oasis of Excellence. Finally, I ask for and sincerely count on your daily prayers. Pray for me. Pray for the Management of the Institute and pray also for the Institute itself.
Thank you for listening.
God bless DI
And God bless each of you.