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136 glorious years of Saint Gregory’s College

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By M.L.O. Ugwo

For education to be considered to be meeting the needs of humanity, it should be delivered in a manner as to transform the whole being of each recipient.

What this means is that education should lead to profound academic, physical, mental, moral and spiritual transformation of Man.

This is in tandem with the Catholic Philosophy of educating the whole man resulting in the proper nurturing of an individual’s intellect, heart, will, physique, character and soul.

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Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos aptly exemplifies the catholic philosophy of education with excellence in academics, morals, spirituality, sports and community service as its defining features.

This was one of the motivating factors in establishing Saint Gregory’s ,College, Ikoyi, Lagos on January 27, 1928 on a sprawling land in the South-West area of Ikoyi, Lagos considered to be of the size of a village.

That was an era when Broad Street, Lagos held an attraction for some of the nation’s colleges.

Educational institutions like Nigeria’s first secondary school, the Church Missionary Society, C.M.S Grammar School, Bariga, Lagos, Methodist Boys High School, Lagos and the Baptist Academy, Lagos were at that time domiciled on Broad Street, Lagos-considered to be choky.

As had been envisaged, Saint Gregory’s College had the luxury of space to engage in the multiplicity of academic, spiritual, physical and sporting activities that would lead to the education and transformation of Man, into a civilized being.

Indeed, it was from the expanse of land occupied by Saint Gregory’s College in South-West, Ikoyi, Lagos that the Catholic Church established an all–female college ,the Holy Child College with the motto: “Action, Not Words.”

Saint Gregory College, Ikoyi Lagos has, no doubt, made invaluable contributions to the different sectors of human endeavours within and outside the country.

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Sports is one of the areas where Saint Gregory’s college has showcased more than a million stars.

The college has produced students who have not only excelled in school sports competitions but also in national and international sports contests. The harvest of the sporting ambassadors include the followingRafiuOluwa, P.V.Sho-Silva, Ibisi, and I. Ekpeti. Oluwa competed for Nigeria in 100 and 200 meters while Sho-Silva was the country’s miler.Ekpeti was the country’s pole vault champion leaving,Ibisi to lead the pack in hurdles. With these and the other records, it was, indeed a long season of feats in the field of athletics by Saint Gregory’s College.

Cricket probably up till now remains another forte of Saint Gregory’s College.

The Akerele Brothers, DeluKarunwi, Alex Quist, Eddie Hughes and, Tete Silva were all distinguished cricketers whose names would continue to ring bells, long after their graduation from their alma mater (Saint Gregory’s College). Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos even has a richer history. The college was one of the educational institutions that blazed the trial with the playing of hockey in Nigeria in 1928.

No account of the growth and development of football in Nigeria maybe considered worthy of acceptance, without prodigious reflections on Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Up till 1940 the concept of national football teams was completely novel. Indeed, Nigeria was reported to have not been able to establish a single national football team at that time,

The West African Anglophone neighbours, Nigeria and Ghana were constantly challenging each other to a supremacy football test.

This was despite the fact that the concept of a national football team was out-of-the world, to say the least for some countries, especially Nigeria then. The year, 1940 came

and Nigeria longed earnestly for a secondary school football champion in the boys senior category.

When the competition started, it was clear that there was a high level of football wizardry domiciled in the nation’s male secondary schools.

But two Catholic colleges namely the Christ The King College(CKC), Onitsha and Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos were unstoppable in their quest for honours. They dispatched other colleges for an eventual final match in Lagos that attracted the spectatorship and media type usually given to World cup final match.

Before a full house in Lagos, CKC and Saint Gregory’s College settled for a goalless draw. The same full house returned for a yet another explosive replay in Lagos ending in a one goal win, in favour of the visiting CKC, Onitsha. Both sides exhibited profound promise in the match.  Either side could have won the encounter.

The final match between the two prestigious Catholic educational institutions, C.K.C and Saint Gregory’s College, had a positive cathedral impact on the growth and development of football in Nigeria.

Given the overflow of football wizardry displayed by two Catholic colleges, the country felt that the time and circumstance were suitable to initiate the establishment of national football teams namely the Nigeria Academicals and Nigerian Eleven.

A reasonable percentage of the foundation players of the Nigerian Academicals were not only from C.K.C and Saint Gregory’s College, but wore colours of the two colleges in the historic final match of 1940 in Lagos. The two colleges- CKC and Saint Gregory’s College – continued to supply players to the Nigerian Academicals throughout its existence.

The concept of Nigerian Academicals eventually helped prepare the ground for the setting up of one of the junior national teams, Junior Eagles which later got renamed as Flying Eagles. The Nigerian Academicals did not constitute the only fall-out of the 1940 CKC/Saint Gregory’s College final match. Of course there were other bye-products of the epic clash.

Serving and past students of the two colleges were among the foundation players of the country’s senior football team, Nigerian Eleven. Nigerian Eleven was known as Red Devils, and Green Eagles at different times. At present, the senior football team is called the Super Eagles.

Another fall-out of the C K C/ Saint Gregory’s College 1940 final match was the emboldening it gave Nigerians, to be more vigorously committed in her football supremacy claims over Ghana.

When what eventually became known as the Nigerian/Ghana football matches kicked off the ground, serving and past students of CKC, Onitsha and Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos, in the regular, were among the players who featured for Nigeria against Ghana in the regular football matches between the two Anglophone West African neighbours. That Saint Gregory’s College was a major Nigerian sports factory is an incontrovertible fact as she in later years, paid fellow Catholic College, CKC, Onitsha back in her coin with a 2-1 triumph on home ground in Onitsha.

To limit the Saint Gregory’s College narrative to the realm of sport would amount to its being a gross and unacceptable abridgement of the 136 year old history of the college.

A rather quick reflection on the academic milestones of Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos is, no doubt, apt at this juncture.

Over the years, the college has recorded splendid performances in School Certificate Examinations. One of them was the 2015 Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, where Saint Gregory’s College, recorded between 97% and 100% credits and distinctions in about 18 subjects including English Language, Mathematics, Physics, Economics, Biology, Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK), Government, History, Literature, Chemistry and Further Mathematics. The College repeated its splendid performance in the 2016 Senior secondary school Certificate examination by recording between 98% and 100% credits and distinctions in about 10 subjects including English Language, Literature, Chemistry, Technical Drawing, Agriculture, Science and Geography.

The college also dusted other secondary schools to emerge champion in the Performing and Creative Arts Competition at Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, Radio One 103.5 FM Debate and the Wole Soyinka Essay Competition.

From 1928 to 1972, Saint Gregory’s was privileged to have seven expatriate catholic missionaries who were committed to making the college. The academic destination of   many Nigerians thirsting for secondary education. The seven catholic clergyman who helped in laying a solid an academic foundation at Saint Gregory’s College were Reverend Fathers Leo Hale Taylor, James Soul, Francis Bunyan, T. J. Moran, James McCarthy, J. W. McAndrew and Francis McGovern. Reverend Father Taylor was the founding principal from 1928 to 1934. He later became Most Reverend Dr Taylor and made history as the pioneer Catholic Archbishop of Lagos from 1950 to 1965. Reverend Father Soul, who succeeded Reverend Father Taylor in 1934, was in office till 1937. Reverend Father Buryan served as the third Principal from 1938 to 1942. The fourth Principal was Reverend Father Moran who was in office from 1943 to1957. He was succeeded by Reverend Father McAndrew who held the mantel of leadership for only two years from 1957 to 1959. The sixth principal, Reverend Father McCarthy was in office for six years from 1960 to 1969 leaving the seventh Principal, Reverend Father McGovern to serve from 1969 to 1972.

Monsignor EdumondAkpala, himself an old boy of Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos presided over the college as Administrator from 2001 to 2014 and did his best possible to restore the age-long Gregorian standards. As a student, he was one of the great football and athletics brands of the college. Monsignor Akpala went on to wear national colours  against Ghana in football and athletics events before the priestly vocation took him away from further national sporting activities. Monsignor Akpala’s successor, Reverend Father Emmanuel Ayeni, has been in office since 2014 and like his predecessors, has continued to preserve the excellent academic, religious, moral and sporting traditions of Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos.

The pride and enthusiasm of the past students of Saint Gregory’s College regarding their alma mater could be likened to something of monastic commitment.

The President of the Old Boys Association (OBA) of the college, Dr. John Abebe, unmistakably exhibits the positive attributes referred to.

“The academic, moral, spiritual and sporting formation and polishing we had at our alma mater, Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos under our wonderful tutors led by the visionary and committed Catholic missionaries who were the Principals over the years stood us out of the crowd and made us to regard obstacles as mere challenges that would help bring out the best in us, Dr.Abebe remarked. “On my return from my postgraduate studies abroad, in 1979”, he continued,”I attended a meeting of the Old Boys Association despite the fact that I was one of the youngest at that gathering. It was at that meeting that I resolved to make my modest contributions towards further development of my alma mater”.

Under DrAbebe as the President of the Old Boys Association (OBA), Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos has been transformed with facilities that would make some universities look mediocre.

The rehabilitation of the College Chapel, Football Field, and Cricket pitch as well as the erection of a Grotto and the Monsignor Pedro Martins Laboratory Complex are some of the many projects carried out at Saint Gregory’s College, during the DrAbebe’s leadership of the Old Boys Association.

Perhaps, the only major setback suffered by Saint Gregory’s College in its existence was its change of ownership, during the forceful takeover of private educational institutions by the Government.

But this misadventure was checkmated by concerned stakeholders like the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, then under the leadership of the then Archbishop, Anthony Cardinal Okogie and the old Boys Association of Saint Gregory’s College, who put up vigorous crusade resulting in the eventual return of the college to its rightful owner, the Catholic Church.

Perhaps, one of the finest things to have happened to Saint Gregory’s College was to effect a correction of her history. While the college was opened at its present site on January 27,1928, its parent, Saint Gregory’s Grammar School had earlier been established on March 12,1882 at Igbosere, Lagos. The institution (Saint Gregory’s Grammar School) took off with 18 pioneer students under Mr. O.M. Pagnow as its pioneer principal.

The adoption of March 12, 1882 as the foundation date of Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos has produced two positive and enduring consequences. One is that it leaves Saint Gregory’s College with a growing list of Old boys which include the first indigenous

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Sir AdetokunboAdemola, first African catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. John Aggey, first Africa Chairman of the Daily Times Nigeria Limited, Sir AdeyemoAlakija and the first Muslim lawyer to register in the courts of the Colony, AlhajiJubril Martins.

The second consequence is that Saint Gregory’s College is no longer 90 years, but now 136 years.

This is made possible by the ecclesiastical approval of the present Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Revered Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins.

But it was the Dr. Abebe-led Old Boys Association that actually set the ball rolling by seeking the imprimatur of Most Reverend Dr. Martins to enable it properly situate the history of the college in the right context.

There  is no better way to mark the anniversary of Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos than with what the Gregorians commonly refer to as ‘the Crossover’ from 90 years to 136 years of age.

If Saint Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, Lagos has achieved this much in 136 years of its existence, what then will this scorecard look like in the next 136 years? Your guess is as good as mine, the future can only get better.

*Ugwo is an international journalist

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