Bishop Ignatius Hummel (3 rd . Vicar 1906-24) and the Era of Expansion

On 12 th April 1906, Bishop Hummel succeeded Bishop Klaus as Apostolic Vicar of the Gold Coast. Lay Catholics had spread the faith far and wide, and communities had sprung up all over. The method for extending pastoral care to these communities consisted in setting up residential stations, whose priests organized visits to the villages and outlying communities.

The Dutch Period

For whatever it was worth, Catholic presence in and around El-Mina would be practically snuffed out by the Dutch with the defeat of the Portuguese and the capture of the castle in 1637.

When Holland got involved in the trade with the Guinea coast, she made use of Portuguese and Spanish ports. With the defeat of Portugal by Spain at Alcantara in 1580, however, the king of Spain took over the administration of Portuguese interest and forbade the use of Portuguese ports along the guinea coast by the Dutch. As a result, the Dutch developed their own ports along the Guinea coast, at Shama, Kormentse and Moree in 1612, and tried unsuccessfully to capture the Sao Jorge castle at El-Mina in 1625. in 1637, the Dutch attacked the Sao Jorge castle a second time, and succeeded in capturing it. All the Portuguese who were found in the castle, with their African wives and children, were all banished to Sao Thomé. The vicar and the other missionaries were later deported to Brazil, to Pernambuco.

Catholic Re-entry to the “Mina” Coast in the 18th & 19th Centuries

1. Initial Attempts in the 17 th Century : 

When the French began to trade with the Guinea coast, the Prior of the Dominican General Novitiate in Paris had also been charged with the care of the missions of the West Indies. To this, the Propaganda Fide added the new mission in West Africa. And so, in 1687, Fr. Moisset set out to open a mission at Komenda, where the French Dominican missionaries had built a small church against Dutch warnings and threats. The Dutch, accordingly, organized local attacks on the French to foil the mission at Komenda.

2. The Coming of the SMA Missionaries to the “Mina” Coast : 

The Dutch ceded all their holdings in the Gold Coast to the English in the Treaty of The Hague in 1871; and in 1872, the English occupied the El-Mina castle. In 1874, a new charter created the Gold Coast Colony , consisting of the Gold Coast and Nigeria (Legos). This was a political and an administrative region, and it extended from river Niger to river Volta. Ecclesiastically, this region constituted the Benin Vicariate ; and it had its center at Ouidah. The Mina coast (now Gold Coast) politically and administratively belonged to the Gold Coast Colony . Ecclesiastically, however, it belonged to an area, which was under the jurisdiction of the vicariate of the “two Guineas” (Senegambia – Sierra Leone). Thus, while the Gold Coast (Mina coast) ecclesiastically belonged to the vicariate of the two Guineas , administered by the Holy Ghost fathers, politically and administratively, it belonged to the Gold Coast Colony , sections of which (eg. Ouidah and Lagos) were already being administered by the SMA Fathers. The Mina coast, therefore, belonged politically and administratively to one region ( Gold Coast Colony ), while ecclesiastically, it belonged to another circumscription the vicariate of the two Guineas). The SMA Fathers sought to simplify the situation by asking Propaganda Fide to entrust to them the mission of the Mina coast (Gold Coast) too. 

The SMA Fathers were a missionary society founded in Lyons, France. In 1856, a French Bishop who had returned to France from India, founded a congregation of missionary Priests and Brothers for missionary work among “the most deprived/abandoned peoples” (les plus abandonnes) . He was Bishop Marion de Brasillac; and his missionary congregation was the Society for African Missions (SMA).

The SMA Fathers had succeeded the French Dominican and Holy Ghost Fathers in the mission territory of the vicariate of Benin since 1861, and they had established mission centers in Ouidah and Lagos. The jurisdiction of the SMA Fathers did not extend to the Mina coast (Gold Coast). It belonged to the Holy Ghost Fathers of the vicariate of the two Guineas . The Holy Ghost Fathers however, had not begun a mission in the Gold Coast; but the SMA Fathers who wanted to start a mission in the Gold Coast did not have the permission of Propaganda Fide to do so.

It was not until 1877, that Sir William Marshall's letter to the Tablet in England pushed the Propaganda Fide over the edge to entrust mission in the Gold Coast to the SMA Fathers. Sir William Marshall, in a letter to editor of the Tablet , had written:

“I write from a part of the world, the West Coast of Africa, in which England now has almost exclusive interest and power, but for which the Catholics of England, Clerical and Lay, have as yet done nothing …… on the whole of the Gold Coast there is not a single Catholic Priest or mission of any nation” (R. Wiltgen, Gold Coast Mission History ….., 133-134). 

3. The Role of the Holy Ghost Fathers: 

In 1878, the Propaganda Fide asked the Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers, from their long presence in the area, to assess the chances of mission in the Gold Coast. The Holy Ghost Superior, Fr. Schwindenhammer, sent Fr. Louis Gommenginger, the head of the Sierra Leone Prefecture to do this assessment.

In 1878, Fr. Gommenginger landed at Cape Coast, traveled to Kumasi and there met the King, Mensah Bonsu and the Queen Mother in private audiences. Both asked for missionaries in Kumasi. (The missionaries were associated with education and schools). From Kumasi, Fr. Gommenginger traveled to Accra to check out the possibilities for a mission at Christiansburg. Thence, he traveled to Elmina and then on to Sierra Leone.

On July 16 1878, Gommenginger sent his report to this Superior in which he observed the following: 

• Town and villages of 3000 – 2500 inhabitants were not rare, and they were either fetishists, Muslims or Protestants (Basil Mission and Methodist). 

• Kumasi was inland and had a suitable climate; but it was financially impossible to start a mission there, because of the high cost of transportation from the coast (ships and ports). 

• Accra had good communication links; but it was unhealthy. 

• Cape Coast was not a clean town. 

• El-Mina , with 5000-6000 people, had been the center of Catholic faith before. The people were tidy and industrious. The town was scenic, healthy and with good communication links inland and abroad. 

El-Mina, therefore, was Fr. Gommenginger's choice; and for him mission in the Gold Coast could not be delayed any longer. He wrote:

“Think of it, we Catholics were the very first ones…… to take roots in the Gold Coast, and yet now we have not even a single missionary in the land. The Protestants themselves cannot figure it out. When they saw me arrive, they felt surely the sole purpose of my coming was to open a Catholic mission. Personally, I am convinced that the opportune moment has arrived. It is time for us to take up again the work began so propitiously by our missionaries of the …. 15 th century, and then interrupted so inexorably by the ascendancy of the Dutch. Conditions have changed and obstacles have in part been removed. God and souls are calling us back to the Gold Coast” (R. Wiltgen, Gold Coast Mission History ….., 138).|

There would, indeed, be a response to the “ call of God and souls” for a return of Catholic mission to the Gold Coast, but it would not be made by Fr. Gommenginger and the Holy Ghost Fathers. It would be made by the SMA Fathers, with a mandate from the Propaganda Fide

A Prefecture Apostolic of the Gold Coast for the SMA Fathers

Bishop Marion de Bresillac, the founder of the SMA missionaries, had died off the coast of Sierra Leone, and Fr. Augustin Planque had become the Superior of the SMA Fathers. 

Thinking that Accra had a healthier climate, he had asked Propaganda Fide for permission to begin mission a post in Accra, as a “ sanatorium” for his priests working in Lagos and Ouidah. When, therefore, he heard of Fr. Gommenginger's recommendation of El-Mina , instead of Accra, for a mission post in his report, he decided in October 1878 to verify the suitability of El-Mina from Mr. Hamel, General Consul for Holland on the Gold Coast. When in 1879 a response came, it was written by Mr. Brun, a French man, a Papal Soave and an agent of a French trader, Bonnat, in Axim. He had traveled to El-Mina to start a store. Mr. Brun supported Fr. Gommenginger's choice of El-Mina, which still retained some Catholic traditions from the Portuguese times and still had a chief who was sympathetic to Catholic mission and was ready to donate land for farm. Besides, El-Mina, with a Catholic commanding officer, offered a ready protection in the event of an uprising. Fr. Planque was convinced by the response.

Nine (9) years (1870-1879) had passed since Fr. Planque requested of the Propaganda Fide jurisdiction to enter the Gold Coast and to develop a sanatorium in Accra and to open missions in the Gold Coast. In the wake of Fr. Gommenginger's report, the Propaganda Fide decreed on April 28 1879 the erection of a Prefecture Apostolic of the Gold Coast , separating it from the vicariate of the two Guineas and entrusting it to the SMA Fathers. It extended from the river Volta to river Cavally in the Ivory Coast; and it embraced all the territory between the Vicariate Apostolic of Sierra Leone and the Vicariate apostolic of Benin.

On 7 th May 1879, Pope Leo XIII approved of the Decree, confirmed it and ordered it published. On 27 th September, the Decree was published and the Prefecture Apostolic of the Gold Coast was official. Fr. Planque and the SMA Missionaries were put in charge. 

El-Mina was to serve as the central station.

From there, it would spread; and the method was to be an intensive educational plan, for “a mission without schools is a mission without a future”.
Rekindling a smoking Wick: The Mission of the SMA Missionaries in El-Mina.

From the island of St. Helena, where they had been waiting, Fr. Planque sent Frs. Eugene Murat and Auguste Moreau as the firs SMA missionaries to the Gold Coast. They arrived at El-Mina on May 18 1880; and to meet them was Mr. Brun, who also helped them settle. Mr. Bonnat was their interpreter during their visits to the chiefs, elders, councilors, sub-chiefs and the people. To their surprise, they found in the home of some old worn statues .

Alongside traces of devotion to St. Anthony, they also discovered that on certain Fridays, a group that called itself “ sancta mariafo ” would march through town and conclude with some rituals of theirs. There were also a practice, which seemed to imitate the sacrament of Baptism; for seven days after birth, the child would be presented with a crucifix and candle, and sprinkled thrice with water. Indeed, even some called themselves “Catholic” and considered it passed on by their ancestors. These were the smoldering vestiges of the Catholics faith from the Portuguese days, which the new SMA mission on the “ Mina ” coast hoped to rekindle into a flame for all of Gold Coast.

The SMA Gold Coast Mission : a Test of will and Determination:

Barely two month after their arrival in El-Mina, on 6 th August 1880, Fr. Murat died; and his burial was the first public liturgy that his companion, Fr. Moreau, celebrated on the Gold Coast. But, out of the death of Fr. Murat, a new life was born! On Christmas day 1880, a year-old mulatto child was baptized into the church by a visiting colleague, Fr. Boutry. It was the son of the British Acting Administrator at Cape Coast, CS. Salmon, and Esi Rhule. Fr. Moreau was his Godparent. “In baptism the child received the name of the patron of El-Mina's first Catholic church, built in 1482, and the name of the godfather. The child was called George August Salmon” (R. Wiltgen, Gold Coast Mission History …, 153).
Fr. Moreau was joined by Fr. Michon, and they rented a house for a mission house and a school. Mass was celebrated on the verandah and Fr. Moreau prepared a Fante Catechism for religious instruction.

In 1881, at Christmas, five pupils of the school were baptized. These and others who followed to receive baptism became the first catechists ( lay apostles) , taking the faith beyond El-Mina and forming communities in preparation for the establishment of missions. One of these was Francis William Haizel Cobbinah, who was active in the evangelization of Cape Coast.

Soon, some adults (parents of the pupils) followed their children to embrace the new faith. Interest in the school grew and the number of children seeking education increased. Fr. Moreau, however, believed that lasting results for their mission required that girls were also trained and instructed in the faith. “Religion, in order to put down solid roots must be practiced at home and prayers learnt at the mother's knee”. Accordingly, he arranged for the assistance of the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) , to educate the girls.

On 26 th December 1883, the first two sisters arrived at El-Mina. They were accommodated at the “Bridge House”, which also served as school for girls. On 31 st March 1884, the girls' school opened with 26 pupils.

The Missionary Vision of Fr. Moreau:

With mission schools for boys and girls stared and well patronized in El-Mina Fr. Moreau began to look beyond El-Mina. He was thinking about mission in Axim and Kumasi.

Following a visit of Prince Boakye Tsentsen, the father-in-law of the Asantehene to El-Mina, Fr. Moreau visited Kumasi with a harmonium gift for the Asantehene, Mensah-Bonsu. With the gift went a request to stay in Kumasi and start a mission and a church-school. The king could not accede to the request. He was destooled was not destined to survive Fr. Murat by much; for, following the lead of Mr. the following year.

Back in El-Mina, Fr. Moreau traveled in a hammock to Axim, arriving there in October 1882. Axim had a small group of European Catholics, who introduced him to the chief. The chief welcomes the idea of a school and offered land for mission and school. News of the gift of land for mission and school thrilled SMA headquarters in Lyons. Fr. Moreau's companion, Fr. Michon, settled in Axim, making it the second residential station of the Gold Coast mission. 

They hoped that Axim would be the gateway for opening missions in the Nzema and Wassaw areas.

The enthusiasm of the missionaries was not matched by financial support from Lyons and from the local population. Fr. Michon got sick and had to abandon the mission post on sick leave. Axim remained without priest until 1902, when Bishop Albert would re-open the station. Things had changed a little bit. There was a small local support; for, Mr. C. A. Rhule form Elmina had settled there and had formed a small Catholic community.

A Mission House & a Church for El-Mina:

Back in El-Mina again, Fr. Moreau identified a hill across the lagoon on which he could build a mission and a church-school. He christened it St. Joseph's hill, and set to work, with the help of the local population. They used material from the ruins of ancient Portuguese and Dutch fortresses, local timber and rocks from the coast. But, Fr. Moreau took ill and died on the boat back to Europe on March 26 1886. he was buried in the sea off the coast of Axim. He left behind El-Mina with 600 baptized faithful, schools for boys and girls, and Fr. Pellat and his team.

On 27 th June 1887, the project was completed and the Fathers moved into the new mission house.

The OLA Sisters had increased to five; and they still lived in the “Bridge House”. For them too, Fr. Pellat would also build a mission and schools on St. Joseph's hill.
Up till now, classrooms had served for church and church had served for classrooms; but the people of El-Mina wanted a church. And so, again with local material and material from ruins of fortresses, and with Mr. Nelson mobilizing help for the project, the church was completed and roofed by Mr. Joseph Amissah. On December 29 th 1890, it was dedicated to St. Joseph for use.

El-Mina reaches out:

Using the best pupils in the school as catechists, Fr. Pellat began Catholic communities at Agona, Shama, Brenu Akyinimu and Cape Coast, where they taught catechism and prepared candidates for baptism.