Most great things have humble beginnings. Such is the history of the Metropolitan Catholic Archdiocese of Accra. On 31st January 1893, Fathers Otto Hilberer and Eugene Raess arrived in the Gold Coast – Accra to found Catholicism in then budding city which was to become the Nation’s capital in later years.
Rev. Frs. Otto Hilberer and Eugene Raes of the Society of African Missions (SMA) celebrated the first recorded Holy Mass in the Accra Mission, as it was called, for the small Catholic community on 31st January 1893 in the house of Chief John Quartey situated on today’s High Street about the location of today’s CFAO.
In the same year, the first Catholic Baptism in Accra took place as it was administered to Louis James Buckle on 25th May, and on 12th August 1894, the first recorded Holy Matrimony was celebrated between Herbert Cheetam and Rose Mary Quaye.
In 1894, a devastating yellow fever epidemic swept through the coastal towns of Ghana, then Gold Coast, and dealt a great blow to both the local people and the missionary priests. In all 7 out of 10 SMA Missionaries in the Elmina-Accra died as a result of this epidemic. Soon, the Accra Mission was without a pastor. It was as if Satan himself was waging war against the establishment of the Kingdom of God in Accra. For about 30 years, Accra was to remain without a resident priest.
The Accra Catholic community was left in the care of a lay Church committee led by Messrs. Brown Andoh and Yankah and others. These held the fort and were visited from time to time by SMA Missionaries from Elmina and Cape Coast until Rev. Fr. Joseph Stauffer was posted to Accra in 1924 and he purchased an old cocoa shed situated on the Derby Avenue, which he later refurbished into a Church that was to become the Sacred Heart Catholic Mission.
Thus, the Sacred Heart Church, located in the very heart of then Accra and also within the indigenous people of the land, became the premier and mother Church of Accra, mother of all Churches of the Accra Church. Before then, Church services in Accra were held in rented houses. Among the many houses used for worship were those of one Miss Quaye and Mr. Andoh.
On 23rd May 1925, the remodeled church which was now serving as the only Church was dedicated by Bishop Hauger, SMA. The solemn High Mass by a Bishop on that day was the first ever recorded Episcopal Mass celebrated in the Accra Mission.
For more than forty years, the SMA Fathers continued to minister actively as the principal clerical pastoral agents to the Accra mission until gradually they handed over to the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD). In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 16, St. Paul had a vision of a Macedonian who urged him in these words: “Come across to Macedonia and help us.” That was the way in which the Holy Spirit inspired the early Christian Church to launch its missionary apostolate to Asia Minor and Europe.
The call for the SVD to come to the Gold Coast materialized in 1938 when the pioneering missionaries of the Accra mission, the SMA’s, officially sought help for its missionary works in the Gold Coast. At that time they were so overwhelmed with the task of the missions that they were unable to develop the other areas surrounding the city of Accra.
It was evident that Accra would become the centre of government, business, industry, and indeed of the faith. At that time, in the whole area that later became the Accra Diocese, there were only two residential mission stations. Evangelization had only started in the Akim and Kwahu Districts, and the Church had hardly impacted the Krobo and the Afram Plains.
From The Accra Mission Church to a Particular Church
In the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, a particular Church is an ecclesial community headed by a Bishop or someone recognised as the equivalent of a Bishop. There are two kinds of particular Churches: Local particular Churches and Autonomous (“sui iuris”) particular Churches (these are aggregations of local particular Churches that share a specific liturgical, theological, and canonical tradition. They are called “particular Churches or rites”. The largest of such an autonomous particular Church is the Latin Rite.
The others are referred to collectively as the Eastern Catholic Churches an example with the Accra precinct is the Maronite rite Church located at Osu RE). The Accra mission falls under the designation of a local particular Church, one in which and from which the one and only Catholic Church exist in a concrete way in this part of the world.
For most people, a diocese is the most familiar form of such local particular Churches, but there are other forms, including that of a territorial abbacy, an Apostolic Vicariate, and an Apostolic Prefecture. Unless the contrary is determined, these other forms of local particular Churches are equivalent to a Diocese in terms of administration.
The Accra mission as we know it today as the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra evolved under the SVDs as a particular Church from being elevated to a Vicariate, Prefecture, Diocese, and now an Archdiocese. Over the years, many other missionaries have joined the SVDs and SMAs to serve as pastoral agents of Accra. These clerical and lay pastoral agents are now strongly today maintained by the heavy Diocesan Clergy (145 Diocesan Priests) and one female local religious congregation (ie the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer, HDR).
Accra Under Bishop Noser
From 1938, Father Adolf Noser was selected by the Superior General of the SVD to be the first Superior of the Accra mission. But the Doctor who examined him declared him unfit for life in the tropics. The Superior General suggested: “Find another Doctor.”
The second Doctor too considered him unfit. So a third one was consulted who finally did agree to his going to Africa. One Doctor is said to have observed: “I give him 6 months,” but as history proved, he was wrong. Fr. Noser became an indefatigable missionary in the Gold Coast-Accra along with Rev. Fr. John Dauphine SVD, the first African-American Priest from the USA. Fr. Noser was both a very spiritual man and a rugged missionary and under his leadership, the Accra Mission made phenomenal advances.
He himself became the model of the so-called “bush missionary” on trek facing unflinchingly the hardships of traveling and living in the more primitive conditions which prevailed in the Gold Coast of that time. During his 15 years of being the Mission Superior and later on, as Bishop, the Accra Mission made truly astounding progress.
On 2nd December 1943, the Holy Father elevated the Accra mission then known as the Vicariate Apostolic of Costa d’Oro (Gold Coast) into the Prefecture Apostolic of Accra, and Fr. Noser become the Prefect Apostolic of Accra from 1944 to 1947. On 12th June 1947, he was named and consecrated the first Bishop of Accra when the then particular church, the Prefecture Apostolic of Accra was now elevated into the Vicariate Apostolic of Accra. He was Bishop Accra for only 6 years.
Under his tenure, on 18th April 1950, the Vicariate Apostolic of Accra was elevated to the Diocese of Accra. On 8th February 1953, he blessed and laid the cornerstone of the Holy Spirit Cathedral of today. In the same year, 1953, Bishop Noser was transferred to Papua New Guinea as Archbishop of Alexishafen, and Rev. Fr. Joseph Oliver Bowers, SVD, an African- Caribbean from the Commonwealth of Dominica, succeeded him as the first black Bishop of the Gold Coast colony. When Bishop Noser left the Gold Coast in 1953, there were 14 residential stations, 227 outstations, 35,000 Catholics, 177 schools, and 775 teachers.
Accra Under Bishop Bowers
When Bishop Bowers took over from Bishop Noser we can say that the strong skeleton of the Church in the Gold Coast was in place. It would be Bishop Bowers’ task to put the flesh and blood on those bones – which he did most admirably. Bishop Bowers brought the Dominican Sisters of the Diocese of Speyer into the Mission and they built up hospitals in Battor and Akwatia and established the Girls’ Secondary School in Akwatia.
In 1957, Bishop Bowers founded the Diocesan Congregation of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer (notice the closeness of the name to the Divine Word). The Congregation grew up rapidly and is flourishing.
In the educational field, several top-rate Secondary Schools were established. Pope John Secondary School was started as a Minor Seminary for the training of Diocesan Priesthoods. The Catechists were given special attention and a Diocesan Catechetical School was started at Asamankese.
Most Parishes and Outstations grew and multiplied as also did the Catholic Youth Organization and other pious associations of the lay faithful. Looking back now, it is difficult to even imagine how one man could be shepherding that vast area of the Church which is now the Archdiocese of Accra, the Diocese of Koforidua and the Vicariate Apostolic of Donkorkrom.
On 5th January 1957, Bishop Oliver Bowers completed the Holy Spirit Cathedral and declared it open for public worship. This was followed by a Thanksgiving Mass on 6th March 1957 to mark the Independence Day of Ghana.
Under Bishop Bowers, Accra Diocese celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. Then on 16th January 1971, Bishop Bowers was appointed the first Bishop of St. John’s Basseterre in the West Indies.
Accra Under Bishop Andoh
In 1971, Bishop Bowers was transferred to the West Indies and was succeeded in the same year by the first Ghanaian Bishop in the person of Most Rev. Dominic Kodwo Andoh DD, JCD.
The history of the Accra Diocese under Most Rev. Dominic K. Andoh is a story of remarkable growth and development. On 3rd October 1971, Bishop Andoh was consecrated in the Holy Spirit Cathedral as the first Ghanaian Bishop of Accra by Archbishop John Kodwo Amissah of Cape Coast.
He went on to oversee a number of key events and milestones that helped shape the future of the Diocese. One of the highlights of Bishop Andoh’s tenure was the Solemn dedication of the Holy Spirit Cathedral on 2nd June 1974. This event was presided over by Bishop Andoh, assisted by Bishops Joseph O. Bowers and Francis A. K. Lodonu.
This was a significant moment in the history of the Accra Diocese, as it marked the completion of the Cathedral, which had been under construction for several years, though it was opened to public use.
The visit of Pope John Paul II to Accra on 8th May 1980 was a key event during his tenure. The Pope arrived in Accra to begin a three-day Papal visit to Ghana, which culminated in his blessing of the National Catholic Secretariat of Ghana, known as the Centenary House in Accra. This visit was particularly significant as it came during the Centenary celebrations of the Catholic Church in Ghana.
In August 1992, Bishop Andoh launched the year-long Centenary Celebration of the Catholic Church in Accra, under the theme: ‘Shine in the world’ (Phil: 2: 15- 16). During this celebration, the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua was carved out of Accra by Pope John Paul II. Accra was elevated to a Metropolitan See, and Bishop Andoh became the first Metropolitan Archbishop.
Very Rev. Fr. Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle of Accra Diocese, then Chaplain of Achimota School, was nominated Bishop-elect for the newly created Koforidua Diocese. On 29th June 1993, Archbishop Andoh received the Sacred Pallium of Office as Metropolitan Archbishop in Rome from the hands of Pope John Paul II. He was then enthroned as the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra on 25th July 1993, by Most Rev. Abraham Katumana, the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
The First Synod of the Catholic Archdiocese was convoked by Archbishop Dominic Andoh from December 1996 to January 1997. It was held at St. Paul’s Catholic Seminary at Sowutuom, under the theme “Renewal of the Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Accra”. The synod concluded with the publication of an outcome under the theme “Challenges and Hopes for the New Millennium”.
He retired in 2005 and was succeeded by Most Rev. Charles G. Palmer-Buckle, the pioneer Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua, The following year, Donkorkrom was carved from Koforidua Diocese and became an Apostolic Prefecture with Fr. Gabriel Edoe Kumordji, SVD, as the Apostolic Prefect.
Accra Under Archbishop Palmer-Buckle
The appointment of Archbishop Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra in 2005 ushered in a new era for the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra. In June 2005, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle received the Sacred Pallium from Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Italy. A few months later, he took canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Accra.
Two major innovation made in the early years of his tenure was first the convocation of the second Diocesan Synod. In August 2008, the Second Synod of the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra was convoked at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Adabraka, Accra. The Second Synod was successfully celebrated in February 2009 at the St. Paul’s Seminary, Sowutuom under the theme, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
This was in preparation for the Archdiocese’s 125th anniversary. The second milestone was to accept the Catholic Institute of Business and Technology in Tantra Hills, Accra, to the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra in 2008 as property of the Accra after the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference ceded the management of the University. In 2011, the campus was relocated to the Social Advance Institute.
In July 2012, the 120th Anniversary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra was launched at the Holy Spirit Cathedral with the theme: “The Accra Catholic Mission: Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Building the Future”. The slogan was “Arise Catholic faithful! Rejoice and Renew” and the climax was celebrated in 2013.
Sadly, during Archbishop Palmer-Buckle’s tenure, the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra also saw the passing into eternity of two of its former Bishops. The first was Bishop Oliver Bowers (Emeritus of Saint John’s-Basseterre), who had just celebrated his 100th birthday in March 2009. He passed away in November 2012. The second was Archbishop Emeritus Dominic Andoh who died in May 2013 at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, two weeks after his 84th birthday.
Despite these great losses, there were also reasons for celebration during Archbishop Palmer-Buckle’s tenure. In August 2013, 23 Priests were ordained for the SMA, SVD, Spiritans, and Comboni religious Congregations working within the Archdiocese of Accra.
Additionally, in November 2013, a Thanksgiving Mass was held at the Independence Square to mark the end of the Year of Faith and the official preparation for the 125th Anniversary of the Accra Catholic Mission. The climax of the anniversary was graced by the then President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. John Dramani Mahama at Independence Square, Osu.
On 11th May 2018, he was transferred to the premiere Archdiocese of Ghana, the Cape Coast Archdiocese where he is currently serving as its Metropolitan Archbishop.
Accra Under Archbishop Kwofie
On 2nd January 2019, Bishop John Bonaventure Kwofie of Sekondi-Takoradi was nominated the Archbishop of Accra and on 1st March, he took canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Accra. He led the Church bravely in the COVID-19 era and gave hope to the Church. No wonder, in 2021, he launched the Legacy of Hope Project which has plans of mobilizing funds to commence the construction of a Modern Children’s Hospital.
When the governance of the Archdiocese became huge on his shoulders, he appealed to Rome for support. Then on 14th February 2023, the Holy Father responded to his request by nominating two great sons of the Archdiocese as Auxilary Bishops.
Thus, following the announcement, history was made in the annals of the Church in Accra and Ghana as two Auxilary Bishops were named simultaneously. This is the 2nd time the Accra Church is witnessing the presence of Auxiliaries and we are all proud to be part of this history-making.
The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Accra is today the gateway to the beautiful country of Ghana. Thus, on Wednesday 19th April 2023, a new gate of history was opened in the Archdiocese as the clergy, laity, and people of all walks of life gather at the Holy Spirit Cathedral to witness the Episcopal Ordination of Msgr. Anthony Narh Asare and Msgr. John Kobina Louis.
To God be the Glory for the great things He has done.
Arise Catholic Faithful, Rejoice and Renew!