The idea of a catholic centre in the University of Lagos was first mooted in 1961 when the Apostolic Delegate to Nigeria, Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli appealed to the Society of Jesus through Fr. Paolo Dezza, S.J for English speaking Jesuits to be sent to the University of Lagos which was scheduled to open in September 1962.
When the Archbishop of Lagos finally gave approval for a chaplaincy to be established, Fathers Joseph Schuyler and Joseph Schuh were the first Jesuit lecturers in the University of Lagos. Fr. Schuyler was made the first chaplain of the UNILAG chaplaincy. It is pertinent to note that Fr. Schuyler contributed a great deal to the growth of catholic community, UNILAG. He was chaplain and lecturer in UNILAG and combined these with being chaplain at various times to other schools like St. Joseph Teachers Training college, Yaba College of Technology, both in Yaba, as well as the Federal College of Arts and Science ad College of Medicine, Idi-Araba.
The Catholic centre, initially planned for UNILAG, by the Jesuits, never really came into being. Instead an ecumenical centre for both Catholics and Protestants planned by the authorities became the project that saw the light of day. By 1st of May 1976, the heads of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos and the Anglican diocese of Lagos respectively laid the foundation stone of Christ Our Light chapel (ecumenical centre). The funds for the building, however, were slow in coming, thus the chapel of Christ Our Light was only ready for use in 1984.
The catholic community even without a catholic centre remained active with Sunday and daily masses held at the ecumenical centre. As earlier noted, the pioneer in all of this was Fr. Schuyler, one of the first professors in UNILAG. He taught here for 23 years. When he retired as chaplain, Fr. John ‘Jack’ Ryan S. J took over in 1993 and continued until the baton was handed over to Fr. Francis Isichei O.P of the Dominican order in 1999.
The then Archbishop of Lagos (His Grace Most Rev. Dr Anthony O. Okogie) and the prior provincial of the Dominicans Very Rev. Fr. Tom McDermott O.P on the 28th of February 2001 finally completed the process of administrative take-over of the UNILAG chaplaincy of St. Thomas More from the Jesuits. Fr. Isichei started official duties therein.
Fr. Isichei had been a lecturer in educational philosophy in the faculty of education at the University of Lagos since 1993. On the assumption of the chaplaincy Fr. Isichei immediately sought and acquired land from the university authorities for the erection of a catholic centre in 1999. This action was born out of the needs of Catholic Church which could not be met by the ecumenical centre. The ecumenical centre had no tabernacle to keep the Blessed Sacrament which is of huge significance; there was no counselling centre for married couples, catechism classes for young people, nor were there retreat rooms for the catholic community. Another prominent problem was compounded in the fact that the chapel no longer hosted only Catholics and Protestants but also diverse Christian movements.
Fr. Isichei spent most of his non-teaching hours in shepherding the flock, especially mobilizing the staff, students, and catholic alumni of the university and friends for the building of the catholic centre. The centre was designated to have a chapel with seating capacity of 1400 worshipers every Sunday, a father’s house for two to three resident priests and a multi- purpose hall for activities, counselling and retreat rooms.
That the chaplaincy survived and took firm steps to build a place of worship for UNILAG Catholics is a tribute to both the Jesuits and the Dominicans. As St. Paul says in 1st Cor 3:6 – I planted seeds, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. To God be the glory.
Today we have standing, completed and firm St. Thomas More Catholic Chaplaincy in a building of its own alongside the Civic Centre with the third of the tripartite zoning. The Chaplains house construction is in progress. Once again we say all glory to God Almighty