|Urhobo Historical Society
Tribute By Rev. Father Patrick Otor, MSP
FATHER GABRIEL S.
Who Died on March 18, 2003
Rev. Father Gabriel S. Akemu, M.S.P. was born to the family of Mr. Akprekpre Akemu of Effurun and Madam Comfort Unuovorhaye Erhiaganoma of Orhokpokpo, Agbarho. His father died while Gabriel was only a boy. Consequently, his mother had to move back to her hometown of Orhokpokpo, Agbarho, and little Gabriel had to relocate with her.
It is noteworthy that neither of Father
Gabriel’s parents was a Christian at the time of his birth. Both
strong believers in African (that is, Urhobo) Traditional Religion. In
fact, Rev. Father Akemu's
mother only became Christian just a couple of years ago.
Father Gabriel went to
Little Gabriel was one of those children, who enjoyed Father Brown’s plays, jokes and presence. Unknown to the mother and close relatives, little Gabriel was secretly admiring the white missionary but could not aspire to be like him because he (Gabriel) thought only the white man could be a priest. Since he was black and African, he thought all he can ever do was to admire the white priest. While he was still wondering in admiration, God showed him a sign that a black man, an Urhobo man can be a priest. This strengthened his resolve to be a priest. This sign came, when Rev. Father Peter Ovadje, an Urhobo, and even much more an Agbarho man, was ordained to the priesthood in Warri in 1970. As a result of this, Gabriel, now a teenager, decided to be a Christian and was baptized by Father Peter Ovadje in 1971.
A year later, Gabriel could no longer hide his feeling and desire to be a priest like Fathers Brown and Ovadje. Although he was aware that letting his mother know of his desire to be a priest, would be taken as bad news, he went ahead to tell her of his intention to go to the (Minor) Seminary at Effurun, to start his training for the priesthood. His mother saw the idea as either madness or an expensive joke. She immediately informed other members of her family and a meeting of the extended family was convened. Gabriel was called upon to tell the entire family what he had told his mother earlier. Gabriel repeated with passion, all he told his mother. The extended family told him that if he intended to live a life of no wife no children, then he should consider himself no longer a member of the family.
That night he had nowhere to go except to the home of Mr. Paul Onar’akpobe- ruo, the Catechist of the Oviri-Agbarho church. Catechist Paul fed and housed him for a few days. When this became known, to his mother and family that he was in the Catechist’s house, they (the family) went there to pick a quarrel with the Catechist. But that was too late because Gabriel had moved the previous day to a friend’s place (Patrick Okorodudu). Not finding their son with Catechist Paul, they could not do much. From this time on Gabriel moved from one friend to another. He would spend the nights with these friends and go secretly to the Catechist and his Godfather for food. Two or so weeks later Father Ovadje came by to celebrate mass at Oviri-Agbarho and the Catechist mentioned to him Gabriel’s plight. Father Ovadje asked to meet Gabriel before returning to Warri. During his meeting with Gabriel, Father Ovadje advised Gabriel to pray for a change of heart for his mother and family. He also encouraged him to be strong in faith. Finally, Father Ovadje asked him to visit him (Father Ovadje) in Warri. Father Ovadje gave him Gabriel three shillings. At that time, it only cost one shilling to go from Agbarho to Warri. For almost a year he depended on the generosity of Catechist Paul Onar’akpoberuo, Father Peter Ovadje, his Godfather and other Christian friends. He was forever grateful to all these people for their help, support and encouragement.
In January 1973, Gabriel was admitted into the Holy Martyrs of Uganda Minor Seminary, Effurun. All through his days in the Minor Seminary, Gabriel spent his vacations either with Fr. Peter Ovadje, his Godfather, Catechist Paul Onar’akpoberuo or one of his other Christian friends. As a student in the Minor seminary, Gabriel was given the responsibility of Food Prefect as well as Seminary Bursar; the latter is a responsibility that is rarely given to students. He held both responsibilities so well that in his final year, he was relieved of the food perfect responsibility and was given even a greater one of the Seminary Senior Prefect, while still the Seminary Bursar. He graduated from the Holy Martyrs of Uganda Minor Seminary in June 1978.
In October that same year, Gabriel Akemu
proceeded to Saints Peter and
Paul Major (Senior) Seminary,
At the National Missionary Seminary of St.
Remo, Gabriel spent his first year, studying spirituality, technically
“spiritual year”. After his spiritual
year, he proceeded to do his study of philosophy and theology, as
Church Law for all students studying for the priesthood. He began in
and in October 1984, when the Seminary moved to its Abuja Campus,
Gabriel was a
third year theology student. He finished
his seminary studies in June 1986 and was ordained a priest for the
Society of St. Paul, on
Immediately after his ordination, Father
Gabriel Akemu, MSP,
was assigned to
Father Akemu was the head (
Father Akemu became seriously ill on
At his funeral mass in St. Peter the Apostle
Houston, Texas, Father Patrick Weah, a priest of the Diocese of Cape
who represented the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cape of Palmas,
said: “Father Gabriel, in very concrete and unique ways fulfilled
31-46, because he fed the hungry, gave something to the thirsty to
clothes to the naked, visited many people who were sick as well as
dead. He risked his own life many times to help my (Fr. Weah’s) people. He took Liberians as his people. He shared
his life with them and he served them with love." Continuing Fr. Weah
call him ‘Pa Gab’ because he was like a father to many of us. I was a
seminarian under him; he cared greatly for us (Seminarians). Pa Gab was
Vocation Director and Vicar General of the Diocese of Cape Palmas, not
there were no other priests around but he was the most capable and most
deserving”. He concluded by saying: “The Church has lost a very
missionary, a dedicated priest and a good man. Pa
Gab rest in
peace”. Also present at the
funeral were many Liberians from different parts of the
Nigerian Reverend Sisters (Nuns) in Houston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston, to whom he ministered before he took ill, visited Father Akemu several times while he was in hospital. Their presence at Father Akemu's funeral was most significant and very visible.They were very much present during the wake and funeral masses. The Missionaries of St. Paul and indeed this writer are grateful to them for all their prayers and support during our moment of grief. May the Good Lord bless and reward them.
All who knew Father Gabriel Akemu, MSP, will agree that he was a dependable, unassuming, dedicated, hardworking, generous and selfless priest as well as a committed missionary. He was a man of great faith.
According to the Constitution of the
Missionary Society of
St. Paul “Members are buried …in the last place of work” (Article 123). Following the constitutions, Father Gabriel
Akemu, MSP, was laid to rest at
Father Akemu has left behind an aged mother,
a brother, two
sisters, nephews and nieces all back home in
Many thanks to members of
Progress Association of Houston, Texas. They made several visits
Father Akemu while he was in hospital. They put up a strong presence
wake service and the funeral, dressed in their colorful Urhobo attire
of final farewell. Urhobo priests from all over the
I am sure some might be asking, what does
“MSP” mean? Or who
are the missionaries of