#ThursdayThrowback: Early Days in Nigeria

On the first Thursday of every month we will feature an image from our archives. Today we take a look at why Irish Sisters went to Nigeria and how they set about their mission.

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“Sisters travelling by canoe on the creeks around Lagos in the early 1900’s”. Image courtesy of the OLA Provincial Archive.



The following is an excerpt of  the special 1976 centenary edition of the Tidings, the OLA mission magazine, which was edited by Sr. Borgia Thomas between the years of 1966 and 1982:

In the latter part of the 1800’s, the British, who were then protectorates of Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Nigeria, were anxious that English should be taught.  If they were to take their place in the field of education the resident French (SMA and OLA) missionary societies needed English speaking missionaries for their schools. This led to a focus on Ireland. The fact that Ireland at the time was under British rule counted towards OLA involvement in schools across the two lands.

The first Irish OLAs arrived in Nigeria in 1877. In 1886, three Sisters went from Lagos to start the first house in the interior at Abeokuta. Today Abeokuta is  sixty-five miles from Lagos by modern road, but in 1886 the journey was considerable longer and was made by canoe up the Ogun river and partly by bush track.

Communicating the value of education

Early missionaries concentrated on the future by educating the youth. Initially the idea of schooling was regarded as a waste of time by the people, but as colonial administration developmed and jobs became available for educated boys the population began to avail more and more of the schools provided by the missionaries. The education of girls however remained a problem until well into the 20th century, as jobs were not available for girls during the early years of colonial administration.

Schools such as St. Mary’s Broad Street in Lagos soon had a reputation for excellence. Most girls stayed in school until they married (at a relatively young age).

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"Pushing off on the ten hour journey to Topo" as described in the special 1976 centenary edition of Tidings.


Education legacy and care of the sick

It was eventually through showing that education could enhance this female role that Sisters succeeded in establishing schools for girls. Many of leaving school became teachers in the small schools that were springing up in and around Lagos. The status of women in West Africa today is an achievement for the Sisters may justly claim a large share of the credit.

The Sisters did not confine themselves to the work of the school. In the evening accompanied by some of the girls from the school they would visit the homes of the sick and ages in all quarters of the town. Soon the white-clad figures became part of the Lagos scene and their care for the distressed well known. Orphans were brought to them and they were on constant call to the sick and dying. In this work of charity, they were greatly encouraged by the hospitality and friendliness of the people of Lagos.


Today the OLA Sisters in Nigeria have twenty one convents across ten states with more than one hundred Sisters whose mission includes schools, hospitals, pastoral and social work.



-Click here to visit the website of the Nigerian OLA Province.