Short History of Catholic Diocese of Makemi
The Diocese of Makeni was established as an Apostolic Prefecture of the Archdiocese of Freetown and Bo in the year 1952. On the 24th February 1962, Makeni was elevated to a diocese with Bishop Augustus Azzolini as its first bishop.
Makeni Diocese is located in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone with a population of about one million eight hundred (1800) people. The Northern part of Sierra Leone is predominantly Muslim dominated. The first missionaries to evangelise the area around the middle of the last century were the Holy Ghost Fathers from Ireland and the Xaverian Missionaries from Italy.
The Holy Ghost Missionaries evangelised predominantly the Southern province and continued to the east and the west However, they opened a mission in Lunsar to give assistance to the workers at Marampa and also opened a small primary school in Makeni. Around the 1950s, the Northern Province was blessed with the first Xaverian Missionaries and Pioneers, namely: Frs. Augustus Azzolini, Camillo Olivani, Attililo Stephani and Peter Calza. These had difficulties in their ministry of evangelisation because of the high concentration of Muslims and Protestants who had occupied the main centres.
However, from the outset, the Xaverian fathers dedicated themselves to evangelisation and education. They built primary schools which they used as their main avenues of evangelisation. Secondary schools were also gradually founded in the main towns of the north. The first catholic secondary school was also founded by them in the year 1958.
In 1964, the St. Augustine’s Teacher’s College was founded as a further step towards improving education for the formation of primary school teachers of whom many were unqualified. It was later changed to the Makeni Teachers College and now the Northern Polytechnic. This training college also nurtured priestly vocations. Through this a few young men entered the seminary with the first diocesan priest ordained on the 17th December, 1977. After him came many others.
Most Rev. George Biguzzi took canonical possession of the diocese on the 6th January, 1987. Since then, the local church in Makeni has been experiencing a peaceful and steady growth in its evangelising mission. Villages, schools and colleges are the main avenues for her evangelisation. Individual Christians grew into communities and formed Christian families.
In 2009, the Diocese of Makeni can boast of 29 diocesan priests and a deacon, 15 senior seminarians, 27 Junior seminarians, 8 Male Religious Congregations, 5 Female Religious Congregations, 21 Parishes, the University of Makeni, The Fatima Institute Campus, 2 Catholic Hospitals, 4 Catholic Clinics, a Radio Station (Radio Maria), more than 300 Primary Schools, more than 40 Secondary Schools and about 30 Pre Schools. Added to this, at the beginning of May 2006, we had the first diocesan synod from which the following Pastoral Priorities were drawn: Evangelisation, Liturgy and Inculturation, Marriage and Christian Family Life, Education, Justice and Peace, Governance and Self Reliance. Diocesan commissions have also been formed for each of the above diocesan priorities.
The eleven-year war in Sierra Leone which left untold sufferings in the lives of its citizens did great destruction on the part of the Catholic Church in the diocese of Makeni. The entire territory was affected. Almost all the mission houses, churches and chapels were destroyed, vandalised and extremely looted. Tens of thousands of people and in particular the catholic faithful were displaced and many lost their lives.
However, the faith of our people was not completely shattered. The living local church is still alive and vibrantly active. With the advent of peace at the end of 2001, the diocese began a slow but steady period of reconstruction and spiritual healing for its people. The parishes/ mission homes and our pastoral plans have been redefined.
As a beacon of hope, the church remains steadfast and committed to its work of evangelisation. In January 7, 2012, Most Rev. Henry Aruna was appointed the third bishop of the diocese of Makeni. He is the first Sierra Leonean bishop of Makeni.