This Religious Institute was founded by His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Charles Heerey, C.S.Sp. of revered memory, when he was the Vicar Apostolic of Onitsha-Owerri. As a missionary priest and bishop, he witnessed the havoc that lack of health and medical services, combined with the oppressive effects of ignorance, inflicted on his flock especially the underprivileged in the 1930s. Women and children were the greatest victims.
Part of his loving and compassionate response to the situation was to found an indigenous Women Religious Institute for a better promotion of the Christian education of women and children, of works of charity and mercy among the poor and their own people. This Institute born out of the prayerful reflections of this great Herald of Christ, was the first indigenous Religious Institute of Women in Igboland founded in Nigeria to work in Nigeria and any part of the world.
As God would have it, an opportunity for Bishop Heerey to actualize his dream of founding a women religious institute presented itself when two young ladies: MARIA ANYOGU (Late Mother Mary Bernadette Anyogu) and CLARA ORANU (Late Mother Mary Magdalene Oranu) both trained teachers and Onitsha indigenes, with courage and determination, indicated their desires to give themselves up to follow Christ.
Exactly on October 7, 1937, the mustard seed was planted at Ihiala with these two young women. Following an inspiration during his pilgrimage to Lourdes, he named the new foundation "Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Pure Heart of Mary." In the course of history this religious institute came to be known as the Religious Institute of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ.
The two candidates started their religious formation at Ihiala under the direction of SR. MARYROSE Maquire, one of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary then working in the Vicariate. For seven good years, this mustard seed grew in very humble circumstances. Between 1940 and 1943, six more girls had joined them. Their life revolved around prayer and participation in the Holy Eucharist, sessions with formators, visits to and care of lepers in leper settlements, visits to and works of compassion in the hospital, maternity homes, dispensaries, catechesis in schools and home visitations in the vicinity. They also alternated their work experiences with in-service training as teachers, nurses and midwives under the care of the Holy Rosary Sisters. Their humble and charity-filled lifestyle attracted other girls and became a challenge to many.
As the number of candidates slowly but steadily increased, Bishop Heerey started to look for a more suitable place for the Novitiate. Late Rev. Fr. Michael Foley, C.S.Sp, the then Parish Priest of St. Michael's Parish, Urualla, made relentless efforts in helping to secure and prepare the place at Urualla for the Sisters. On 6th January 1944, the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, the first two pioneers were received into the Novitiate in a festive Eucharistic celebration in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, now the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha.
In the evening of that same day, the 12 members of the new foundation made up of : 2 novices, 4 postulants, 2 aspirants and their formators moved to Urualla to settle in their new home. They met with the war reception and hospitality of the Urualla people and the local chief. Urualla has now become the Mother House of this new Institute. It is worthy to note that our Founder had earlier hinted in one of his letters to Sr. M. Rose Maquire: "I feel that Ihiala is not the place...'
Late Mother Mary Bernadette Anyogu
Late Mother Mary Magdalene Oranu
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