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Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka
1937 to 1999
Catholic
Nigeria

Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka was the first indigenous Roman Catholic bishop of Jos Diocese and the first archbishop of the archdiocese of Jos.

Ganaka was born in Pankshin on May 24, 1937 to Chinkida (later christened Peter) and Gwanwa (later christened Cecelia). Chinkida was from an Ngas village called Wuseli, south of Pankshin. Due to some family misunderstanding, he moved and settled in Ampang East (further southeast) where he met Cecelia Gwanwa and married her. He came into contact with the missionaries of the Cambridge Universities Missionary Party (CUMP), an affiliate of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) which had began to work among Ngas in 1910. He was converted and entered the local mission school where he learned to read and write. Later Chinkida joined the police and was posted to Pankshin where the Ganakas had their two sons, Joshua Sati and Gabriel Gonsum. Gonsum means "one who came from Sum" and this name served as a reminder that the family belonged to the Sum clan in Wuseli. Ganaka was a nickname given to Chinkida by his Hausa friends, which means "you should also have yours."

Gabriel Gonsum was baptized Gabriel in 1947 in the Holy Cross Church, Pankshin at the age of about ten by Father Benedict Sands. [1] Gabriel admired Father Sands and wanted to be a priest. After his confirmation, Gabriel Gonsum became a Mass server. Gabriel Gonsum enrolled at Holy Cross Primary School in 1945 and at Sacred Heart School, Shendam from which he graduated in 1952. He did his secondary education at St. Theresa's Minor Seminary from 1952 to 1957.

It appears Chinkida later lapsed in the faith because he had at least three wives. One of his other wives--probably the second one--gave birth to a boy, John Jiki, who died in infancy and the other gave birth to a girl named Azumi. While Gabriel was being trained as a priest, he brought his father and mother into the Roman Catholic faith and they were both baptized in the Holy Cross Church, Pankshin. Their marriage was also solemnized in the same church. But Joshua Sati remained Anglican until his death.

After secondary school, Gabriel enrolled at Sts. Peter and Paul Seminary, the Roman Catholic Major Seminary, Bodija (in Ibadan) where he trained to be a priest from 1957 to 1965. He returned to Jos and in 1965, he was ordained a priest in Fatima Cathedral by Bishop of Jos Most Reverend John Redington. He became the first indigenous Roman Catholic priest on the Jos Plateau. His parents, Peter Chinkida and Cecelia Gwanwa were among the persons who received the young priest's blessings. This was a very joyous moment because he had made it to the priesthood, one of only five out of twenty-five in the class.

As a young priest, Gabriel Gonsum's first assignment was to be assistant priest at Sacred Heart Church, Shendam. Gabriel Gonsum was a tall and very handsome man. In Shendam, it is said a woman wept saying Gabriel Gonsum was too handsome to be a priest. From Shendam, Gabriel Gonsum was admitted into the Pontifical Urban University where he obtained both the licentiate in theology in 1967 and a doctorate in theology in 1970. He returned to Nigeria and served the church in many capacities, such as project secretary of the Diocese of Jos, then was seconded to the National Catholic Secretariat, Lagos, where he served as assistant secretary in the Social Welfare Department, assistant secretary general and secretary general. Pope Paul VI appointed him auxiliary bishop of Jos in 1973 and acting bishop in 1974. On February 2, 1975 he was enthroned as bishop of the Diocese of Jos, then one of the biggest Roman Catholic dioceses in Nigeria, covering almost six states.[2] In 1994 he was installed as the archbishop of the archdiocese of Jos by Apostolic Pro Nuncio, His Excellency Most Rev. Carlo Maria Vigano.

Apart from being the bishop of a vast diocese, Gabriel Gonsum held many other positions in the church and outside the church. A few of these were vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, vice president and later president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar through which he promoted inter-religious dialogue. In 1996 he was appointed by the Nigerian government to serve as a member of "vision 2010," and also served as the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria Plateau State Branch from 1975 to 1991. He shunned being dragged into partisan politics which he believed would hinder him from fighting for justice and fairness in government. Social justice was the desire of his heart. In one of his addresses to newly ordained priests, he told them, "The rite of ordination is not a magic that turns a crook into a saint, and your vocation as priests does not grant diplomatic immunity from suffering and even being unjust, therefore theologize yourselves well by addressing issues of injustice." [3]

Gabriel Gonsum led the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal till his death. He said charismatic Christianity was one of the good things that had happened to the Catholic Church because it "provided an answer to the contradiction between faith and life and creed and deed." He added that the "Catholic Church needs 'fanatics' [charismatic Christians] because it is possible to moderate the zeal of a fanatic but impossible to revive the 'corpse' of a 'dead' Catholic." [4] He often paid a visit to the apparition centers of Mary at Lourdes in France, Medjurgorje in Yugoslavia and that of Aokpe in Nigeria. He considered himself an exorcist. One of his favorite choruses was (in Pigeon English):

The biggy-biggy things Jesus done for me (x2),
He bless my papa, he bless my mama,
He buttered my bread and sugared my tea,
He carried Satan up; he nack'am for ground,
The biggy-biggy things he has done for me.
Gabriel Gonsum was a hard working priest; he taught himself foreign languages such as French, Italian, and German. He also spoke fluent Igbo, Hausa (the lingua franca of Northern Nigeria) and Ngas his mother tongue. Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka was a humble and simple person, approachable at all times by priests, laity, and non-Catholics. Among his colleagues he was popularly known as GGG. His motto was Nisi Dominus frustra (i.e. "In vain without the Lord"), taken from Psalm 127:1.

On November 11, 1999 the archbishop slept in the Lord in a New York hospital while receiving medication for heart failure. His body was taken to Nigeria and buried the same year in Fatima Cathedral where he had been ordained a priest in 1965.

Musa A. B. Gaiya


Notes:

1. Father Sands died in Kwa at the age of 33.
2. The diocese covered half of Kaduna State, all of Nassarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, and Taraba States.
3. Yilkora, Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka.
4. Ibid.

Sources:

Peter Chinme Yilkora, Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka: A Scholar, a Gentleman and a Saint (Vom: National Veterinary Research Institute, nd.).
John Gyang, Ganaka: An Encounter (Jos: Privately printed, 2003).
Jarlath Walsh, The Growth of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Jos 1907-1978: The Contribution of the Society of African Missions to its Development (Iperu-remo: Ambassador Publications, 1993).
Jos Diocese, 25 Years of Stewardship: The Silver Jubilee of the Priestly Ordination of His Lordship, Rt. Rev. Dr. Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka (Jos: Fab Education Books, 1990).
Interview with Mrs. Magaret Akabe, Archbishop Ganaka's cousin, November 4, 2004.



This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. Musa A. B. Gaiya, Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Jos Department of Religious Studies, Jos, Nigeria, as well as Project Luke fellow in Fall 2003 and Fall 2006.