2nd July 2022 marks a significant day in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Ghana, especially the Catholic Diocese of Jasikan and the people of Baglo in Buem.
Rev. Fr. Anastasius Odaye Kofi Dogli, the third of five siblings, was born in Baglo in August 1888 to his father Yawo Okanta Dogli and his mother Justine Nzowu Englobe. Baglo is one of the towns of the Buem traditional area, a group of indigenes belonging to the Lelemi-speaking people with the paramountcy located at Bodada.
On 25th December 1904, the then Kofi Dogli, now Rev. Fr. Anastasius Odaye Kofi Dogli of blessed memory, was baptized at Baglo by Rev. Fr. Heinrich Schröder, SVD.
Fr. Dogli’s formal education began about 1902 at Lipke Avedzeme. In 1903, he was taken to Agome where he received training as a catechist “under a three-year bond” with the German SVD missionaries. After completion, he served as a teacher-catechist and organist for five years, from 1907 to 1912.
Whiles appointed to teach during this period at Gbi-Atabu, Dogli was promoted Head-teacher in 1909 after he successfully completed training at the Ackerbauschule in Notsé. He was later transferred to Adzanu Fiagbe.
On April 19, 1909, in the Church of the Holy Spirit, in Agoue, Kpalimé, Anastasius Dogli married Agnes Doklo. Their marriage was blessed with a daughter, Philothea Akosiwa Dogli.
The joy of the family was however to be short-lived as in April 1912, Agnes passed away leaving Dogli behind with their fourteen-month-old infant. He would take his daughter Philothea to the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in Keta later and request of them to raise her up.
The death of Dogli’s wife, turned a page in his life. Dogli was now set on becoming a priest. According to Bishop Hummel, Dogli during his days as a teacher with the missionaries had “manifested the desire to become a priest”.
He again recounted that Dogli’s request to the Divine Word Missionaries to be accepted
as a seminarian in 1912 was born out of a desire he had nurtured for a long time rather than out of shock from the death of his wife.
Dogli was admitted as a mature student at the minor seminary at Bla (Hohoe) in 1913 where he began his study of Latin. In the 1914 academic year, Dogli was permitted to work as a teacher at Gbi-Atabu during the day and take lessons at the seminary in the evening.
His formators, realizing the challenge the situation posed, recommended that Dogli be transferred to Anecho (in Togo), in 1915 as a full-time seminarian. In 1917 due to the First World War, the missionaries left Anecho and this brought Dogli to Lomé where he continued his formation to the priesthood.
In June 1919, after having successfully completed two years of philosophical studies, Dogli commenced his theological studies.
It was during this period that Dogli received the first tonsure. Dogli was subsequently sent to continue his theological studies at Keta to study under Fr. James Fisher. In August 1920, the minor orders were conferred on him.
He was subsequently received into the sub diaconate on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1922 and was ordained deacon on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 1922, all in Cape Coast.
The period of immediate preparation for Dogli’s ordination to the presbyteral order began in December 1921 when Bishop Hummel wrote to Cardinal Van Rossum in Rome requesting to ordain Dogli after having completed three years of theological studies.
A positive response of Cardinal van Rossum led to the ordination of Anastasius Dogli to the priesthood on Sunday, July 2, 1922, as the first indigenous Catholic Priest of the Gold Coast The event was one of great joy for the entire city of Cape Coast and the Catholic Mission.
A large and compact crowd attended the celebration, including protestants and pagans as well as many youths, who saw in Rev. Fr. Dogli, a role-model for perseverance and success, one who had demonstrated that it was not impossible for one of their own to arrive at the altar.
In response to a presentation made to him on the said day, Rev. Fr. Dogli is reported to have said that he was no extraordinary person. It was God in his mercy who had been good to him. He thus urged other young people to follow this example and come to the assistance of the missionaries.
On July 23, 1922, Rev. Fr. Dogli was in the Cathedral in Lome to celebrate his first Holy Mass. According to Bishop Cessou, the celebration began on the vigil of that Sunday with a procession which took about two hours. A dense crowd welcomed Rev. Fr. Dogli with songs and acclamation.
This, Bishop Cessou observed was evidence that a black person could become a Catholic priest. Rev. Fr, Dogli in his homily, also narrated his vocational journey to the priesthood, emphasizing the need for indigenous priests, while urging the youth to respond to the vocation to the priesthood and religious life and encouraging parents not to oppose the call of their children.
On August 6, 1922, the first record of Rev. Fr. Dogli’s baptisms appear in the Baptismal Register at Kpando. Similarly, his first baptism at Baglo is dated August 30, 1922. Twenty-nine baptisms are recorded between this date and September 17, 1922, in his name, indicating a spike in baptisms on his arrival, and suggesting that some locals might have been eager to have their children baptized by the indigenous priest.
Rev. Fr. Dogli’s charisma as a man who earned the respect and admiration of his people is not in doubt. The above testimony of Bishop Cessou is ample evidence of the kind of impact his ordination had on the faith of the ordinary Christian of his day.
His personal validation of struggles as necessary for achieving the goal of an indigenous clergy, must have been crucial in encouraging the young seminarians present to persevere in their own vocations. This would have led to the altering of perceptions both among the faithful and of potential indigenous candidates for the priesthood, that it was indeed possible for an African to become a Catholic priest.
Fr. Doglis’s first station was Kpando. He travelled with Bishop Herman (on bicycle) to Papase and Kete Krachi where he opened stations. He was sent to Gbi-Bla from Kpando in 1928. While at Kpando, he was requested by Bishop Herman to open and to start the Catholic Church at Jasikan.
He worked at Kpando, Jasikan, Hohoe, Abor, Liati, Baglo and Lome. In his zeal to have financial support for the printing of the Lelemi Book (Vol. 1-12), he went to Rome and Holland. He finally settled at Baglo to continue his ministry. He died on May 28, 1970 after 48 years of priesthood. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
It is worth knowing that, Rev. Fr. Dogli did not only encouraged young men and women to enroll in the seminaries and novitiates but also whipped up the interests of his compatriots to allow boys and girls to pursue formal education.
No wonder a Vocational/Technical Institute has been established in his memory at New Ayoma. As a minister of the Gospel, Fr. Dogli fought a good fight of faith. He finished the race. We are confident that the Lord, the just judge, has granted him a seat among the angels and saints at the table of the heavenly banquet.
Source; Rev. Fr. Gabriel Kojovi Liashiedzi
(Executive Secretary, DPME/NUGCDPA)
1. Father Anastasius Odaye Dogli (1888-1970)
2. Inception of Indigenous Clergy in Ghana by Michael Kodzo Mensah, University of Ghana, Legon