The life of Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke these seventy years has been undoubtedly phenomenal in content, impressive in impact and graciously splendid. In various contexts, greatness defines it. Being motorised by the transformative power of grace, it stands as a lighthouse that illuminates others with the light of faith, knowledge and wisdom. His faith-filled words set hearts on fire with divine love and liberate benighted souls from constraints that register their presence through different forms of enslaving pseudo-freedom. In his teaching, preaching and execution, he has invested himself in using the human mythos to make intelligible and available the divine Logos. Thus, he wins disciples for Christ through his lectures, homilies, conversations, writings, and works. The Archbishop suffuses society with the Word of God, which he explains with an enviable and profound spiritual insight expressed with grammar textured with elegance and eloquence. His life these years has been an instrument of grace and a liberating dynamic force penetrating the world with the ‘kindly light’ of love, truth, knowledge and skill to liquidate forlornness, abridge misery, enlarge the coast of goodness and lead people to God.
Born of Gabriel and Catherine Okeke of blessed memory on October 20, 1953, and raised to love learning and virtues, the Archbishop attaches a profound value to the holistic education of the human person. As the definitive anchor of development, an adequate formation of man inexorably interweaves with the transformation of society and raising citizens for heaven. Beyond standing out as a leader who has excelled by disciplining his desires, schooling his appetites and aligning his instincts with the common good, the Archbishop’s life evinces the intentional cultivation of a profound relationship with God. Hardly can one be a selfless and transformative leader without a deep love for God and personal discipline. No wonder he ceaselessly reaches to the divine Groom and spends himself to become entirely dedicated and devoted to the august vocation of the priesthood. In other words, he stays the course of Christian discipleship, leading his life as an ongoing thanksgiving liturgy, daily celebrated in self-expenditure for the glory of God and the fullness of life of others.
Living the sacred vocation of the priesthood as a self-oblative service forms the orientation of the Archbishop to life. His philosophy of life recognises human stewardship as the fulcrum of his trusteeship of creation. It is such that by human application of intelligence and industry, man adds value to God’s gift for maximum benefit.
In seeking to minister that abundant life for God’s people under his care, Archbishop Okeke commits himself to equipping, mentoring and building persons to attain the fullest possibilities of their lives and godliness. While each society is peculiar relative to its ethos, mythos, challenge and aspiration, the meteoric change in the frequency of the greatness of Onitsha is a lesson in leadership. It presents a model to leadership experts and aspiring leaders. The fascinating rejuvenation of the institutions and personnel, which readily and daily translates to an amazing result with immense multiplier and exemplar effect, is phenomenal. The greatness of Onitsha, in its blossom and splendour, offers a model for the injection of life and recharging of souls of any organism, be it biological or sociological. Organisms survive to the degree of the health of their systems, for systems run them. When the system is atrophied, lethargic or moribund, the organism pales, wanes, and may die.
One of the principles of the Onitsha Archdiocese’s transformation is the person-centred development paradigm of Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke. The profound value of man with his God-given talents and opportunities is paramount, and this centrality of the human person in the pastoral leadership of Archbishop Okeke is beyond question. The human person is pre-eminent; thus, societal institutions are meant for the true good of man, maduka. This centrality is geared towards aligning him with his vocation to fulfil his mission and arrive at his ultimate destiny. This narrative is intellectually captured in his foundational letters, That They May Have Life, Love Without Measure, If Only You Have Faith, Family and Human Life, and You and the Common Good, which chartered the course of his Episcopal ministry. His determination is to institutionalise the faith and spirit of invincibility bequeathed by the missionaries as a rock foundation for development that will span centuries. Going around the Archdiocese, it is expected to be struck by the in-your-face developmental strides of Archbishop Okeke’s episcopacy and not just a relic of past efforts.
On this account, these seventy years of grace, impact, excellence and gratitude of Archbishop Okeke are more of a chronicle of greatness and a catalogue of goodness. These years have unveiled His Grace as a man with a sevenfold grace who possesses it sufficiently for his human and spiritual operations. This sevenfold grace, the interpretative framework of his life, has yielded a sevenfold impact – that is, an excellent impact in all sectors: spiritual development, pastoral leadership, social services, human capital development, infrastructural development, self-reliant projects, and investment in dialogue, peace and good human relationships. And this sevenfold impact bears a sevenfold excellence mark. His ministry cultivates a new ethos of love and culture of excellence―being of the finest and highest quality in words and work, his life spells excellence, characterising his ministry with distinction. And it leads to a sevenfold gratitude. For the Archbishop, gratitude is not just a theory; it is life and his personal experience. It is the milieu and the spiritual space of his thoughts, words, and actions.
Within his two decades of episcopacy, the Archbishop has led the Archdiocese from good to great, inspiring greatness, sustaining excellence and making the great greater. For all practical intents and purposes, he has not only made his flock aware of the greatness of their heritage but has caused them to own and assume it. In this way, the Archbishop has taken this greatness to be the home page of the consciousness of any Onitsha priest and faithful, taking the Archdiocese from analogue operations to digital operations. By so doing, he has inspired them to hand on a greater Church known for its robust spiritual health, firebrand ministry to the world, zealous missionary apostolate to the nations, great personnel who shed the light of Christ in all sectors of society, driving the needed transformation of society. Under Archbishop Okeke, the Onitsha Archdiocese has moved from goodness to greatness, from mediocrity to excellence, involving all the sectors as a family.
To the credit of the Archbishop’s leadership acumen, in the West African sub-region, the Archdiocese has sent the highest number of priests to other nations for the various aspects of the apostolate (precisely 20 countries). He established Radio Sapientia, adjudged the best east of the Niger, and transformed Oluchukwu Microfinance Bank into the best in Eastern Nigeria and the league of the best ten microfinance banks in the country. He transformed the health sector by raising the standard and number of health institutions and providing good and affordable health services with the best hospitals, and revolutionalised education in the Archdiocese with a broader impact in the state and beyond. Students and schools of the Archdiocese are used to winning prizes at the state, regional, national and international levels. They have woken many other schools from slumber and lethargy and challenged many, including the government. This past decade has seen a harvest and bazaar of awards and victories. He established Shanahan University Onitsha; Holy Family Youth Village, Amansea Awka; and College of Nursing Sciences, Onitsha. Going forward, he also created over 120 parishes with their attendant developmental ramifications and dedicated many churches, trained over 100 priests who specialise in various disciplines from theology to medicine, to computer engineering, to pharmacy and the list is mind-blowing, and many other infrastructural and systemic-developmental strides.
His impact in the spiritual realm is something else. The level and depth of spiritual growth are evidence of having a good shepherd who delivers good and rich, nutritious spiritual food in person and by the structures and programs he has set up. Chapels of adoration, spiritual retreats, prayers, promotion of solemn and faith-filled celebration of the liturgy, accommodation of different tendencies of ecclesial expressions are his tools for spiritual development. The Charismatics are mainstreamed, Marian spirituality is promoted, even the traditionalists of the Latin Mass are accommodated and cared for so that the mosaic of Catholicism in Onitsha presents a beautiful rainbow of diversities united by our Lord in the Church under the authority of the hierarchy represented by the Ordinary. This piece will not bore us with the accomplishments of these seventy years, but a few are mentioned as indicators. Indeed, these seventy years have been spent for the honour and glory of the Lord and for human flourishing. They are phenomenal in impact by any standard. With these few lines, I join thousands of friends and flock to wish the Archbishop a happy birthday celebration.